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Heading for a Cloud-Based, Software-Intensive Future

I noted in last week's No Jitter post that we're not seeing any clear indications that many large enterprises are migrating to the cloud for their core unified communications/PBX functionality. But that doesn't mean the cloud has no role to play in, or relationship with, enterprise communications.

The most obvious example is contact centers: The cloud has definitely become a powerful paradigm for contact centers, and the most aggressive vendor in this space, Interactive Intelligence, has now crossed an important milepost -- in its last quarterly report, Interactive noted that 55% of its new orders were for cloud-based service.

The cloud is also a factor in more indirect ways. Essentially all of the freemium/over-the-top (OTT) apps that enterprise users download and use on the job are cloud-based. This is the most difficult use of the cloud to get a handle on; it tends to be BYO in nature, and the cloud services themselves, be they messaging apps like Slack or document sharing like Dropbox, are not necessarily enterprise-grade.

There's another place where cloud is emerging as a possible delivery vehicle for enterprise communications: APIs and specialized software features.

On Wednesday, March 18, at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2015, I'll be joining Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst of ZK Research, to moderate a panel called, "Life in a Cloud-Based, Software-Intensive Future." And while our Enterprise Connect general sessions are usually dominated by the strategic vendors and platform market-share leaders, this session is different -- the panelists are from companies that are relative up-and-comers in the enterprise communications space, and are approaching the market with a fundamentally different idea about how to provision next-gen communications for your enterprise.

Three of the panelists represent companies that are promoting the idea of cloud-based communications APIs. The pioneer in this approach, Twilio, will be represented, along with Genband, which last year rolled out Kandy, its answer to the Twilio offering. And the newest entrant in this area, Respoke, is a similar service just announced by Digium, the company that introduced the Asterisk open source PBX.

These three vendor companies will be joined by two service providers: 8x8, well known as one of the more successful hosted-UC providers, is seeking to go upmarket and break into the larger enterprise; we'll be asking it how a provider with a traditional SaaS approach to UC views these trends. And our final panelist, from Corvisa, will describe that company's unique approach. Corvisa in some ways bridges the worlds of the hosted platform and the hosted API. It offers a cloud-based platform hardened for the most stringent security/compliance requirements that a sensitive industry like healthcare might have while still providing the means for customers to create their own customized applications off the platform.

The common thread among all of these providers, besides the cloud itself, is the idea that communications is not monolithic, but is a series of features or functions. It's an approach that embraces the fragmentation that we're seeing in enterprise communications itself. To meet the communications needs of all its employees, an enterprise today must have a strategy that embraces not just traditional call control, but mobility, multiple channels/media, multiple endpoints, and business-application integration, among many emerging considerations.

What software APIs and the cloud bring to this new set of challenges is agility; as I noted in that earlier cloud post, Nemertes Research found that, after cost, the most compelling reason that enterprises were considering the cloud for communications was to "improve agility." Using APIs lets you add communications features and functions in the right places, and using the cloud lets you do it in a timely fashion, without having to upend your entire budget, communications architecture, and backend processes.

I hope you can join us for what promises to be a lively and useful conversation about how these broader IT trends can help you deliver the communications services your end users need.

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