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Opening Up About APIs

If you haven't heard by now, the hot news of 2017 is APIs. Almost every vendor in the UC and collaboration space is focused on the use of APIs to integrate UC and collaboration solutions with each other and with other applications. I've written about this topic several times over the past six months, noting that the biggest "revolution" in business communications today is clearly the ability to integrate communications into applications, business processes, and workflows, and I even proclaimed 2017 to be the Year of the Developer.

We're clearly in a new phase of market evolution, and things will only get more interesting. Before, during, and after Enterprise Connect 2017, the many vendors I met with all touted their openness and use of APIs. Some of the vendors are focusing on communications platform-as-a-service, or CPaaS, offerings. Via CPaaS, they provide cloud-based APIs and pre-packaged plug-ins or integration modules that developers can use to embed messaging, voice, and video into their applications. Following the "as a service" model, the vendors generally price CPaaS on a per-transaction model. With CPaaS, developers can create disruptive applications; Uber, for example, is the poster child for CPaaS-based interactions between the driver and passenger.

Other vendors are going in a different direction and offering open platforms, integrations, and APIs... but not CPaaS.

Here are few examples of companies I met with at Enterprise Connect that discussed their API solutions and strategies (forgive me if I forgot to include your company):

  • 8x8 -- Prior to Enterprise Connect, 8x8 announced the "8x8 Communications Cloud," combining unified communications, team collaboration, contact center, and real-time analytics in a single, open platform. 8x8 also announced new integrations with enterprise applications, as well as the introduction of new open APIs for customers and partners, and Script8, "a dynamic communications flow and routing engine that provides enterprises with robust communications control, data source integration and intelligent routing." During a meeting at Enterprise Connect, the folks at 8x8 explained that in order to provide a "communications cloud, you need all the components -- cloud communications, collaboration, contact center, real-time analytics, integrations, and APIs -- integrated together and with business processes and workflows." As opposed to offering CPaaS capabilities, 8x8's approach to APIs is to focus on the enterprise, rather than the developer. The company's API strategy is to provide conversational experiences across clouds by embedding and customizing communications into business workflows, making it easy to connect intelligently and share data.
  • Genband -- Genband offers CPaaS via the Kandy platform. I met up with Kandy folks for a discussion of how the company is differentiating itself by focusing its CPaaS offerings on service providers and carriers, calling it "CPaaS for SPs." Kandy CPaaS provides APIs and SDKs "bolted on" to a larger network. Genband uses the carriers' QoS to complement its APIs and SDKs to create a robust CPaaS solution, noting that the SP partners are key. "Genband plus the carrier/SP create the robust CPaaS offering," claimed Paul Pluschkell, EVP of strategy and cloud services, for Genband.
  • Masergy -- Masergy discussed its partnership with Cloudpipes to enable its UCaaS customers to connect with more than 150 cloud and SaaS applications. Masergy is the first global UCaaS provider to offer this capability with Cloudpipes, using an "if this than that" approach for the enterprise, said Dean Manzoori, VP of product management at Masergy. "We take the Cloudpipes SaaS apps and normalize the APIs into a GUI interface that lets you drag and drop to create workflows. Each channel or API will have queries, triggers and actions, such as a phone call to an extension, which then opens up a pipeline or business macro." This eliminates the need for coders or professional services. Manzoori calls this approach "business process automation spiked with communications."
  • Vonage -- At a meeting in its see-through orange room on the exhibit floor, Vonage of course discussed its Nexmo platform, as well as its Voice API, or VAPI. "CPaaS is changing the conversation with customers," said CEO Alan Masarek, adding that the company has 25 use cases to demonstrate how businesses can use CPaaS and personalize the customer experience. One of the best examples is the "soggy fries." A fast food chain that is building up its take-out business was having trouble keeping french fries crisp between the time of order and pick up. By using CPaaS paired with a customer's GPS, the food chain now can identify where customers are located, when they'll arrive, and when to start cooking the fries so they'll stay crisp -- and it'll even bring the orders out to the parking lot when the customers arrive. In addition, Vonage is working with third parties providing artificial intelligence and chatbots, and is using Nexmo's social connector API to create interesting integrations with Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and other messaging applications.
  • ShoreTel -- At a breakfast meeting for analysts and consultants, I spoke with ShoreTel's CMO Mark Roberts, who explained how ShoreTel's CPaaS offering, ShoreTel Summit, is the only CPaaS platform with an event stream to capture interactions as events and push them to data stores and take further action. ShoreTel's approach is simplicity (the company's tag line has long been "Brilliantly Simple"), said Roberts, noting that the Summit platform doesn't require the use of the Amazon Web Services cloud, and that Summit provides end-to-end capabilities. "This is CPaaS being simple," he added.
  • RingCentral -- At an analyst lunch meeting, RingCentral discussed its RingCentral Connect Platform, which lets you "put UCaaS where you need it to best do your job," whether that's in Salesforce, Office 365, or other applications and workflows. With its RingCentral Connect Platform, the company has a developer platform, as well as a community with 2,000 developers. During the meeting, Jose Pastor, VP of product management, noted that the company opened the Glip API platform so that developers can now integrate with Glip. When asked about use cases, he described a scenario where you can ask RingCentral Office to tell you the last time you spoke to someone, and it looks into information from your calendar, emails, and phone logs to find the last correspondence. RingCentral noted that it is focused on APIs, not CPaaS, and that using prearranged building blocks lets companies assemble what they need quickly, making it easier for developers to embed RingCentral's communication and collaboration capabilities into business applications and workflows.

The key message from all these vendors is that they're finding ways to differentiate themselves from each other, and of course, from Twilio. There's increasing overlap between UCaaS and CPaaS. It's interesting to see how several of the UCaaS vendors are expanding by acquiring CPaaS players and moving into that space (e.g. Vonage), while others prefer not to become CPaaS players and are instead focusing on APIs, open platforms, and integration (e.g., 8x8). Which makes the most sense -- APIs or CPaaS? A pure-play CPaaS vendor or a UCaaS vendor that also offers and integrates with UCaaS? I have my personal preferences, but I'll let the developers decide which approach is the best for their needs.

As Al Cook, Twilio director of product, mentioned during a general session on APIs, "The number and types of APIs are increasing, and use cases are increasing." It will be exciting to see what types of use cases show up in the next few years, and how developers and organizations will use APIs and CPaaS to create applications and integrations to workflows that change the way business gets done.