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Five9 Preps for Digital Era

"Disrupt or be disrupted" is perhaps the signature slogan for the digital transformation era. It means continually innovating even if that requires disruption because, if you don't, some smart company will come along and put you out of business.

One of the most successful companies born in the cloud era is Five9, which caught the cloud wave in the contact center industry with its best-in-class platform, Virtual Contact Center. Five9 has steadily continued to meet or beat its forecast every quarter, and now has a market capitalization of slightly more than $1 billion. For a company that lives its life in the cloud, the future certainly seems sunny.

Because of its success, a reasonable expectation is that Five9 would continue leveraging its current platform in riding the contact center-as-service (CCaaS) wave. Instead, the company chose to look ahead and innovate with a new platform, introduced today (see related news article from No Jitter blogger and contact center analyst Sheila McGee-Smith, "Five9 Takes on the World). As Sheila covered, Five9 rolled out some cool new features, such as global voice and end-to-end integration with some of its cloud partners, as part of its Summer Release 2017. Most interesting to me is the new platform, which enables it to roll out features like global voice.

Similar to most communication cloud providers, Five9 built its existing product set on a vertically integrated platform that enabled the company to sell a robust set of applications. The challenge for Five9 with the vertically integrated model, however, is that rolling out new services could be a lengthy process -- it would need to test the entire software stack and then add features to each data center. In addition, Five9 found itself limited by the scale of the solution -- not satisfactory when growing an enterprise business and needing to serve customers with thousands of concurrent agents instead of hundreds.

As Sheila noted, the modernized architecture is modular in nature and built on a set of microservices, similar in design to platforms from Web-scale companies. Five9 will handle voice capabilities via a new, homegrown carrier-grade softswitch that can dynamically select the best call path between agents and callers. Instead of using custom code to tie the features together, the components share information and communicate using REST APIs.

In actuality, Five9 built its current "Freedom" platform on microservices, but the new architecture (see graphic below) extends those efforts by decoupling the back-end services (ACD, voice, Web, etc.), front-end layer (application, language and mobile templates, APIs, digital channels, etc.), and applications (agent desktop, dashboard, mobile, etc.). This gives Five9 a high degree of flexibility and the ability to add new services or modify existing ones without disrupting its customers. For example, if Five9 wanted to make a change to its streaming service, it could update that module only without having to recompile the underlying platform.

Five9's new modular architecture

The ability to enable quick updates of this nature becomes increasingly important in the digital era, in which companies need to be able to move with speed. The communications industry continues to evolve at an accelerated pace, meaning the vendors need to ensure their customers always have the latest and greatest features to meet the demands of an audience that changes loyalties seemingly with every good or bad experience.

In addition, the new platform is self-contained. This means Five9 can run the platform in its own data centers, like it has in the U.S. and Europe, but also drop it into data centers owned by any of the major cloud providers. With such flexibility, Five9 can expand into new regions as the opportunities present themselves.

Five9's recent expansion into Asia-Pac and Australia resulted from its ability to deploy the platform into regional Amazon Web Services cloud centers. This is a considerably faster move into a market than possible should Five9 have had to build out its own data centers.

Initially Five9 will use this public cloud approach to expand its presence in its U.S. and European multinational base that uses the CCaaS offering in their local regions. I've talked to Five9 about where it'll bring services to next, and while it has nothing on the immediate roadmap, the cloud-agnostic approach gives it the flexibility to expand wherever needed in a fraction of the time it previously would have needed.

In my pre-Enterprise Connect 2017 webinar, "Crafting Cloud Strategy," I pointed out that the value of the cloud was shifting from being something that enabled businesses to do things cheaper and more efficiently to being a platform that could create entirely new experiences. This is one of the fundamental tenets of digital transformation. The vendors that want to enable these new experiences and participate in the unprecedented growth opportunities need to ensure their platforms are as agile and dynamic as their customer's business models. Five9 has a great business going, but its new platform will allow it to accelerate its growth opportunities.

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