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Marching Toward Communications Ubiquity

As I sit down to write this post, I look at my desktop and know there's no hiding. Should you so desire, you could ring my office line, call or text me on my work or personal mobile, send me an email via Outlook, Gmail, or Yahoo, or ping me with an instant message. And, of course, the communications follow me wherever I might go, as only my desk phone is tethered.

Still, as ubiquitous as communications might seem, it isn't -- not yet. But we're getting closer, as industry thought leaders discussed last week at Enterprise Connect 2015 during an EC Summit panel, "Life in a Cloud-Based, Software-Intensive Future," which you can watch in its entirety here.

Communications ubiquity, panelists agreed, will ride in on the cloud, WebRTC, and embedded communications wave starting to build now. It'll be the third stage of changes that have revolutionized how we work and live, said Brad Bush, executive vice president and CMO at Genband, which provides real-time communications software. First came data ubiquity, initiated with the rise of the Internet. Then came computing ubiquity, with Apple making screen prices significantly less expensive. And now the time has come for communications to make its mark, he said.

The goal is to create communications opportunities that don't require pulling your phone out of your pocket but make "communications available at the point of business," Bush said. "The closer we get this to be like walking around the cube barrier and talking to the person next to you, the better we'll be as a human society," he added.

One Step at a Time
Bryan Martin, CTO of cloud communications provider 8x8, explained why he thinks a cloud-based, software-intensive future matters so much:

"The cloud unlocks everything an enterprise wants to do today to be competitive, to save money (I'll have that debate with you for as long as you want) but to really be more productive, to generate revenue. There is admittedly a huge investment that's in place, and it's going to take time, but taking the software approach to that means you have the flexibility."

Martin compared the migration to cloud-based, software-intensive communications to mountain climbing. "You don't go straight to the top of Everest. You go to base camp, get acclimated, then go up a level, and then another level. Eventually you'll find that you're using all this stuff across the board."

Taking a cloud-based, software approach to communications has many advantages -- real-time scalability and flexibility of modification among them, agreed Matt Lautz, CIO and president of Corvisa, a cloud communications platform provider. "We're empowering our customers not just to use our product, not just to use the configuration, but to really have code-level access to do exactly what they want ... to take control of what their businesses are looking for," he said.

That's something you can't do with traditional telephony, panelists agreed. But questions about approach abound: Do we need to be serving up customizable communications via a cloud delivery model, a la communications platform as a service, or CPaaS? Does offering up application programming interfaces (APIs) for use in creating embedded communications suffice? How do we merge the old world with the new, all the while addressing concerns such as latency? Startups might have the luxury of starting their communications initiatives from scratch, but legacy companies certainly don't.

Making the Future About What's New
The cloud is indeed exposing new interactions that weren't possible before, noted Billy Chia, marketing lead for Digium's Respoke, a cloud communications development platform. Using an API like Respoke (or Genband's Kandy or Twilio), "a Web developer with a little bit of JavaScript can now embed communications ... and so now there's a transition from VoIP to software-based communications."

But Chia added a cautionary note about "dumbing down to the lowest common denominator" when using gateways to help transition from the old to the new. In the short term, being able to make a call from a Respoke Web client out to the PSTN and down to a mobile number is important -- "we want to go iteratively and move forward intelligently as we add in Web communications," Chia said. "We don't want to rip and replace but add in new rich communications experiences, and in some cases that will be through a gateway."

However, that's not the future, he added. "The future isn't doing the same old thing with new technology. The future is doing new, exciting things with new technology."

Like Digium with Respoke, Twilio also offers a communications API and offers a way to integrate between traditional and cloud telephony. These communications APIs are not the "third stepchild" of old, following in the footsteps of GUIs and command-line interfaces, said Manav Khurana, vice president of product marketing at Twilio.

"A product with an API is different from an API that is the product -- there's a technology difference, and even an operational difference," Khurana said. "For a product with an API, you constantly have to make sure you stay up to date on the latest features. But with a product built as an API, every feature is always available. That's a huge difference between the present and where things are going."

A Matter of Use Case
And the "where things are going" isn't going to be in a single direction, panelists agreed -- although they certainly all have their biases.

As Khurana noted, "We're on our way to more powerful, better communications, but the point is that the choice of whether I should go with prepackaged software or another model versus an embedded route depends on the use case. If I want to differentiate and not copy what everybody else is buying, then yes, I should embed because that's relevant to my use case."

Likewise when addressing latency, said Corvisa's Lautz, "It's important to reiterate what type of application you've got -- is it an enterprise model or more of a consumer model?"

Milliseconds of delay may make a huge difference in one case but be irrelevant in another. "Look at your use case, and then make a decision."

As Eric Krapf, No Jitter editor and newly appointed general manager of Enterprise Connect, pointed out in wrapping up the session: "If you thought you knew the cloud, you really didn't."

This is such a rich topic, with lots to learn about the different approaches to take. This is not simply about, "Do I outsource or not?"

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