6 Trends Recapping Enterprise Connect 2019
Once a niche show, the need to be at Enterprise Connect has exploded along with the realization that businesses can’t transform digitally without communications. Everyone wants to be at the forefront of the evolution in communications making this possible. Attendance this year soared above 6,500 people and in excess of 200 exhibitors showed their wares on the Expo floor, both records for the event. Lots of themes came out at during the busy conference, but the following stood out to me.
- AI Means “All In” -- Without a doubt, EC19 will be remembered as the year artificial intelligence (AI) came alive at this show; everyone talked about it. Cisco positioned AI as a pillar of its cognitive collaboration vision, but it wasn’t alone. Cloud contact center vendors Amazon Web Services (AWS), Five9, and Talkdesk announced AI-powered features (see below) and Google Cloud has a number of G Suite features that use AI to streamline communications. The use of AI isn’t limited to big vendors either. SmartAction, for example, demonstrated an AI virtual agent and I got a taste of AI-powered “smart calling” at the Voximplant booth. One of the best AI tools I experienced came from Otter.ai, which is able to produce real-time transcripts via a mobile app. I used the app during the keynote address by Amy Chang, SVP of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group, and while it confused a few words – transcribing “room kit mini” as “room kidney,” for example, it did an effective enough job that I didn’t need to take notes. AI will forever change the way we work together and service customers -- and everyone should be excited about this.
- Voice Is Sexy Again -- So much for voice being dead. Some experts predicted we would text, message, email, use social posts, video… and anything else other than call each other. It appears people still like to call, and will continue to call well into the future. Early this year Zoom jumped into voice calling, and at EC19 a number of other providers made voice-related announcements. These include AWS, which has added calling to Chime, and PGi, which announced a shift to UCaaS, with voice calling part of the feature set. Another interesting voice-centric move came from Google Cloud, with the first phones -- the VVX phones from Poly (previously known as Plantronics-Polycom) now compatible with Google Voice. So, many workers apparently not only want to make calls, but also continue using desk phones. Long live voice.
- Contact Center Wars Heat Up -- Remember when all anyone wanted to talk about was UC? Then the mania turned to team messaging. Now contact center is the place where all the cool kids are hanging out. CCaaS leader Five9 took the covers off its spring 2019 release, which includes an adaptable contact center; enhancement to the reliability, scale, and security of the contact center; and AI-infused agent empowerment tools. Cloud challenger Talkdesk rolled out an integrated workforce management tool that uses AI to predict call center workloads. Not to be left out, AWS created turnkey AI solutions that can easily be dropped into its Connect platform. Lastly, Vonage threw its hat into the ring with its own CX Cloud Express, built on the Vonage Business Cloud.
- The Cloud Debate Rages On -- The only word that might have been said more at EC19 than “AI” is “cloud.” Public clouds, private clouds, hybrid clouds, cloud management, cloud analytics -- whatever flavor of cloud you wanted, you got at EC19. Pure-cloud vendors say that the only way forward is to leverage the massive scaling and compute capabilities of public clouds. Others say, “Not so fast; there are ways of transitioning to cloud while maintaining stuff on premises.” One challenge for buyers is that there are so many flavors of hybrid cloud that knowing which provides the best route can be very confusing. At EC19, Avaya introduced its Cloud Transformation Program, aimed at simplifying the process of choosing the cloud path that best meets a customer’s needs. Another decision point is single cloud or multiple ones? Vonage is the first cloud provider to offer CCaaS, UCaaS, CPaaS, team messaging, and meetings from a single platform. On the other hand, RingCentral has taken a “best of breed” approach by offering its own tools for UCaaS and team collaboration and then relying on partners for meetings and contact center. Which approach is better? Time will tell but for now, despite the messy landscape, sales of cloud seats continue to skyrocket.
- Where Did IoT Go? -- The topic of Internet of Things (IoT) has been a hot one in communications circles for giving machines a voice. UC enables people to talk to people and IoT lets machines talk to machines, so bringing the two together lets people talk to machines and vice versa. Because of these, IoT has been prominent at EC in years past, but I felt it was largely missing from EC19. I heard IoT mentioned in a few sessions, but didn’t see any content exclusively on IoT nor demos on the show floor involving IoT. I believe this is a topic worth exploring and hopefully we will see more at EC 2020, which, by the way, is slated to take place the week of March 30.
- Women in Tech Take Center Stage -- The women-in-tech movement has been gaining steady momentum over the past few years. At EC19, women presented three of the five mainstage keynotes, and this was great to see. Lori Wright, GM of Microsoft 365, Cisco’s Chang, and Rany Ng, director of product management at Google Cloud, all did excellent jobs and wowed the audience with their stage presence and intellect. It wasn’t just in the keynotes where women featured prominently; many shared their experience in mainstage and break-out sessions, too. For example, the Team Collaboration Growing Pains session I moderated included Lorrissa Horton, Webex Teams VP and GM, and Christina Kosmowski, VP of Global Customer Success at Slack, both of whom were awesome panelists. Diversity will only help the technology industry, and it’s great to see incredibly smart and energetic women be at the forefront of the next wave of this industry.
EC19 was the typical exhausting conference with too many early mornings and just as many late nights. It was well worth it though, as it’s become the place to see how the communications and networking industries are changing to meet the demands of digital transformation. I’m so excited, I might go book my room for EC2020 now! See you then!