Fuze Positioning Itself at Center of Cloud World

As you may have seen, Forbes last week published its 2017 Cloud 100, a list of the "hottest private tech companies in cloud computing." Scroll the list and you'll find a handful of communications and collaboration companies on it, not surprisingly given the growing trend we've seen to forego legacy-style, on-premises deployments for the flexibility enabled by cloud software.

Forbes compiles the list based on operating metrics like revenue and funding, with the help of 25 public cloud CEOs as well as VC firms Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP) and Salesforce Ventures. In enterprise communications and collaboration, the list includes team collaboration startup Slack at the number three spot; video providers Zoom at 18, and BlueJeans Network at 70; contact center players NewVoiceMedia at 71, and Talkdesk at 79; and UCaaS platform provider Fuze, at 39.

Having recently spoken with Bob Goodman, a partner at BVP, one of the initial institutional investors in Fuze, I wasn't surprised to see the UCaaS provider on the list. Fuze, to BVP's way of thinking, has a promising future -- i.e., it'll be able to deliver cash flow while satisfying customer needs. In May the company secured $30 million in capital, bringing its most recent financing round to $134 million.

Ready to Consume

The PBX in the wiring closet is going the way of the rotary phone, Goodman said. "Cloud communications will eat the world."

And Fuze is ready to gobble up the opportunity, Steve Kokinos, co-founder and executive chairman, told me in a separate call. His mission for Fuze: Be not just the top cloud communications company but one of the top SaaS companies, period.

Steve Kokinos, Fuze

"We think there's an opportunity to be the best-of-breed SaaS player that's based on communications. We want to be in that same breath as Workday, Salesforce, Zendesk, or ServiceNow -- if I'm an enterprise, what's the tool people use every day to communicate? 'Fuze,' " he said.

Admittedly, when Fuze (then Thinking Phone Networks) was starting out 10 years ago, the company's notion of building a big, meaningful brand was a "little bit fanciful," Kokinos said. "But now I think we actually have that in line of sight."

For one, he said, Fuze offers a single platform from which users can pick their optimal mode of communication, be that voice, video, messaging, or conferencing. And it's constantly working to improve the user experience, given that people are spending the better part of their days in the Fuze platform, Kokinos said. "We're starting to see that when you break down the friction of having multiple tools for multiple jobs ... people start using the tools in new ways -- and that's a really exciting prospect."

On average, Kokinos said, his company sees between six to 10 different communications tools in use at potential customers, and Fuze ends up displacing four on average.

Heart of Data

Fuze customers tend to want a single pane of glass. But the real competitive distinctions for Fuze center on data. The Fuze platform can plug into data warehouses and integrate with business intelligence tools for the real-time flow of--and analytics on--communications and collaboration data, Kokinos said. "We're exposing our data via APIs, fortifying insights, and making people's lives better."

Indeed, one of Fuze's goals is to help enterprises enhance their investments in other cloud tools like Saleforce and Workday. With the Fuze platform, for example, a user doesn't just see a names directory. It sees the customer's name plus picture, title, and company, as well as open support cases associated with the caller, information from Salesforce, and so on. "We're about to pull data from all sorts of applications where institutional knowledge lives, and deliver context around who the person is and why he's calling," Kokinos said.

Likewise, a company can allow users to search for people and have that same information at their disposals, even if they don't have access to the Salesforce database, for example. While some companies may not allow complete openness for one reason or another, most are open to sharing data that provides a better view of who users are doing business with and enables them to keep in touch, Kokinos said. "These are things that really enhance people's days," he added.

This sort of contextual communications also delivers benefits on the operational side, Kokinos added. While many companies are investing heavily in business intelligence and data visualization tools to assess their operational efficiencies and business performance metrics, almost none incorporate communications data into their analysis. They might have some calling data, but little around meetings, messaging, or video use -- and nothing all in one place, he said.

But with Fuze, because of its database integrations and analytics, they can figure out why, for example, three particular salespeople outperformed all others. "They can look not just at their calls but also see that they spent 20 hours a week in meetings with customers on video, and then start to correlate information across applications that are normally don't share data. That's when you start to drive real meaningful business conclusions you simply can't do any other way."

Such a Pretty Package

So, yes, as Forbes wrote in its Cloud 100 article, "the world is moving online, and business is going with it." And if that means your customer resource or workforce management databases are in the cloud, the logic would have it that your communications should be there, too -- especially if you can tie everything together with a big bow.

Fuze and its investors gets it, hence its positioning on the list. As Kokinos said, "We see ourselves at the center of a broader story around the movement to the cloud and reliance on analytics. Without communications data, that story is radically weakened."

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