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The Top 10 Enterprise Communications Acquisitions in 2021
2021 was a very active year for acquisitions. Actually, that’s an understatement. Worldwide deal-making likely experienced a record year — especially in technology.
The COVID-19 crisis permanently changed the way we work and interact. It has catapulted consumers and businesses into the digital age much faster. Some companies were ill-prepared for the barrage of obstacles such as distributed workforces, new government restrictions, and constraints on supply and demand. Other firms profited from the disaster, and those with strong balance sheets seized the opportunities to accelerate IP and reach.
The enterprise comms sector saw significant change and consolidation. I’ve selected 10 acquisitions below that I consider the most significant for enterprise communications in 2021. They span unified communications, contact centers, video, and communications platforms as a service.
For the past few years, I have written an annual post on the most significant deals in enterprise communications. It was a tougher task this year, there were a lot of very significant deals. Here’s my list in chronological order of announcement:
1) BCM One acquired SkySwitch: BCM One is held predominantly by Thompson Street Capital Partners, a private equity firm that evidently did not get the “sell-all-the-parts” memo. Instead, BCM has been busy acquiring. Before 2021, BCM One acquired nexVortex, SIP.US, SIPTrunk, and Arena One. In addition to SkySwitch, it also acquired LincLogix and CoreDial this year.
I selected this particular acquisition because it is reflective of the tremendous activity (M&A and new options) occurring in private label UCaaS. BCM One will likely power its new CoreDial acquisition with the SkySwitch platform. SkySwitch is powered by Netsapiens, which was acquired by Crexendo. The emerging vendor landscape of solutions that enable private label UCaaS is seeing significant changes.
2) Amazon acquired Wickr: Wickr offers secure communications for voice, video, and chat with targeted solutions for military, government, and enterprise. Earlier in the year, the NSA examined 17 different collaboration and conferencing applications from a security perspective, and only Cisco Webex, Wickr, and Wire offered E2EE on all five evaluated modalities. Amazon’s acquisition of Wickr stands out as a bold move toward secure enterprise communications.
E2EE has been an area where enterprise communications providers have lagged. In the past few years, we’ve seen significant encryption developments from 8x8, Zoom, and others. Just this month, Microsoft released encryption for one-to-one calls in Microsoft Teams. Amazon appears to be interested in joining the party.
We recently learned that In-Q-Tel, an CIA investment firm, poured more than $1.6 million into Wickr before the acquisition.
3) Sangoma acquired StarBlue: Sangoma doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, but the company has a knack for acquisitions. StarBlue brings to it larger accounts, broader distribution, and some disciplined processes. This is a nice combination that strengthens two UcaaS offerings: Star2Star and Switchvox. Sangoma got Switchvox UcaaS and PBX when it acquired Digium in 2008, and it’s now merging the best features of each service.
Sangoma is one of the few UCaaS providers that also has a CCaaS, premises-based solutions, virtual desktops, and produces its own hardware. It’s also profitable and growing. It has global reach, and works with MSPs, agents and master agents, distributors, and VARs/interconnects.
4) Genesys acquired Bold360: During the pandemic, Genesys launched a digital business unit, but its existing digital channels weren't sufficient for its expanded vision. Many of Genesys’s customers were already using Bold360 to supplement their contact centers. Genesys’s acquisition of Bold360 is really about Genesys’s focus on two transitions: voice to digital, and transactions to journeys. Bold360 brought to Genesys additional capabilities in AI and dynamic knowledge bases. We have seen similar moves from NICE, Cisco, and others.
5) NICE acquired MindTouch: This acquisition immediately resulted in a new Digital Solutions Group within NICE and its CXone Expert, an AI-powered, knowledge management solution designed to reduce the frustration found in so many self-service solutions in the contact center.
CXone Expert applies AI and NLU to data both generated by and accessible to the contact center. It manages content across multiple channels to generate personalized interactions to provide either frictionless self-service or streamlined interactions with human agents by providing more context and visibility to the customer’s journey. This is going to be a huge area for contact centers, and NICE is positioned well to show what’s possible.
6) Cisco acquired Socio: The pandemic has forced us to reevaluate meetings and travel, two activities that come together in industry events. In Q4 of this year, I attended three physical events, and all three had a virtual component. During the past two years we saw significant development and expansion of virtual events from the likes of Microsoft, Cisco, Hopin, Zoom, and others. Cisco is expanding the solution scope further by also addressing physical events with Socio.
Cisco intends to provide event organizers with everything they need to successfully host in-person, virtual, or hybrid events. The solution set spans registration, content streaming, printing for badging and ticketing, monetization, content distribution, and break-outs. Cisco is also integrating is prior acquisition of Slido for polling, quizzing, and Q&A services.
7) Dialpad acquired Koopid: Dialpad started 2021 with a fairly basic CCaaS offering. During the year it announced a partnership with Playvox and acquired Kares Knowledgeware, but it was its acquisition of Koopid that really announced its arrival as a CCaaS provider. Koopid is a conversational AI company that goes beyond chatbots.
Koopid embeds what appears to be a native conversational experience into all digital channels as well as mobile apps and websites. Koopid blends automation and live assistance throughout a conversation — even if it spans across channels and sessions. Koopid supports all the major digital channels, and will be Dialpad’s foundation for omnichannel digital engagements. Koopid was just one of Dialpad’s moves this year, the company had a steady stream of announcements culminating with its news that it nearly doubled its valuation.
8) Pexip acquired Skedify: Pexip expanded into video-enabled customer engagement with the acquisition of Skedify. The buy brings Pexip scheduling technology for hybrid customer engagements, and also offers lead qualification and video engagement.
Years ago we saw the video platforms consolidate, but 2021 was the year for video services and APIs to consolidate. MessageBird’s acquisition of 24Sessions is about video-first customer engagement. A few other deals include Alianza and CounterPath, Uniphore acquiring a video and emotion AI startup called Emotion Research Lab, and Microsoft acquiring Climpchamp and Peer5.
9) Ericsson acquired Vonage: Vonage confused a lot of analysts when it acquired Nexmo back in 2016. Since then, we have seen many more UCaaS providers expand into CPaaS, including Microsoft and RingCentral. Vonage used its CPaaS capabilities to rebuild its UCaaS platform. Was Vonage a UCaaS company with CPaaS or vice versa? That debate may have ended when Ericsson heavily cited CPaaS as its motivation to acquire it.
2021 was a big year for CPaaS. Cisco and Avaya are both citing crediting it heavily for the growth they are experiencing. Modern enterprise communications will be more extensible and that may include 5G.
10) 8x8 acquired Fuze: Contributions from these two pioneers created what’s known as modern UCaaS. For example, 8x8 was among the first to launch a videophone service in 2003, and Fuze was one of the first to launch mobile apps in Apple’s AppStore. Both providers have a long history of acquisitions. Fuze started as Thinking Phone Networks in 2006, became Fuze in 2015, and now becomes part of 8x8.
8x8 is expected to pay about $250 million to acquire Fuze. This deal is expected to give Fuze investors an exit, and it gives 8x8 additional scale, talent, and global reach.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.