Enterprise Communications: A Look Back, a Look Ahead

This year was an interesting one in business communications, with lots of consolidation, technology innovations, and real deployments of some emerging technologies. In 2017 we witnessed big changes in terms of the vendors and the technology, paving the way for even more change in 2018.

Vendors: A Look at the Changing Players

UCaaS vendors focused on moving up and out in 2017, with key players such as 8x8, Fuze, RingCentral, and Vonage continuing to reach upmarket while expanding their global footprints with new regions and localizations. The two trends go hand in hand -- the multinational enterprises encountered upmarket want a single communications service to unite their various geographical regions. In 2018 expect to see UCaaS vendors expand to additional countries, adding local channel partners as well as localization of services and support.

As always, mergers and acquisitions marked the year. Most recently we saw Cisco announce its intent to acquire BroadSoft, and earlier Mitel acquired ShoreTel, and Sonus and Genband merged into an entity called Ribbon Communications. Of the various mergers, I expect the Cisco-BroadSoft combination will have the biggest impact in 2018. With BroadSoft, Cisco will have a viable cloud solution for Tier 2 and 3 carriers and service providers, and be able to put pressure on companies like Metaswitch and Ribbon. The big question will be whether or not Cisco offers BroadSoft's BroadCloud UCaaS platform directly to businesses, going around service providers and essentially competing with companies like 8x8 and RingCentral.

New players emerged, as well; most notably, Amazon Web Services (AWS) became a contender in both the contact center (Amazon Connect) and collaboration (Amazon Chime) spaces. While these are basic products limited in features and functionality (Connect is voice only, for example), AWS certainly has deep pockets and can invest in R&D as well as acquisitions. In 2018, I expect to see the company make a play for a cloud contact center vendor, or possibly a company like 8x8 that has both cloud UC and contact center offerings.

This leads to the question, will 8x8, Five9, RingCentral, Serenova, and Talkdesk still be independent cloud companies by the end of 2018, or will they be acquired? My guess is the latter for at least one or two of them; besides AWS, other potential suitors include Facebook and Google. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft finally provide its own cloud contact center service, and the best and easiest way to do this is by acquiring a company that already has a service and expertise.

Of course, Avaya's financial restructuring and impending exit from Chapter 11 has been big industry news, and good news for the company. Avaya has lots of work to do in 2018, as it'll need to fight hard to regain its mindshare and market share. While the company has continued investing in R&D, it'll need to convince new and existing customers that it's back on track. It'll also have to prove that it has a competitive cloud story. While Avaya has a loyal customer base, the company hasn't acquired many new logos in the past year, and a good number of channel partners have taken on additional vendors' product/service offerings. Avaya's year will be an interesting one as the company works to continue being seen as a viable long-term player.

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