WebRTC: 'Yooge' in the Enterprise
WebRTC hype may be dying down, but implementation is going strong.
In a recent Enterprise Connect 2016 recap post, UC analyst Zeus Kerravala noted that he came away from the event with the sense that WebRTC is "losing steam." My takeaway is just the opposite: The hype may be dying down, but WebRTC implementation is going strong -- or, as the Donald would say, WebRTC had a "yooge" year!
For example, WebRTC played a major, if not dominant, role in products featured during three of the five keynotes: Spark for Cisco, everything for Google, and within Avaya's new Zang solution. And while the other two keynotes did not dwell on WebRTC, the vendors represented -- Oracle and Microsoft -- are every bit as involved in WebRTC-related work.
WebRTC in the Workflow
WebRTC also has a big role to play in workflow communications and collaboration (WCC), another hot topic at the event. What many missed is that WebRTC is the core communications fabric of virtually all of these WCC solutions. Cisco's Spark and Atlassian's HipChat are based on WebRTC, for example, and Avaya's Zang has a WebRTC component. And of course the new social unicorn, Slack, uses WebRTC for its real-time services, including voice conferencing and screen sharing. And innovations like Chime from CafeX Communications are based on WebRTC, extending the capabilities through innovation using peer-to-peer services to create MCU-less clusters for network efficiency and cost reduction (see related post, "How CafeX 'Makes Music' with Chime"). WebRTC is a technology, a protocol, and an API, not a product.
Take a look under the covers at the range of emerging Web and mobile apps that are integrating real-time capabilities, and you'll see that the vast majority use WebRTC. Further, while WebRTC is an enabling technology, the key shift is the emerging Web paradigm for communications in which we do not have a single server managing our inbound and outbound communications but rather each event is managed within a separate environment. When I run a Google search, the traffic flows directly between my device and the results site I've selected without an intermediate node. It is increasingly clear that this Web model is taking hold as communications gets embedded in more and more apps (Slack, Salesforce.com, etc.).
Clearly, WebRTC is the basis for much of the innovation in the communications market today -- with good reason. By using WebRTC, companies get access to a broadly implemented, leading-edge media engine technology that has the bonus of open operation on Chrome and Firefox.
The protocols and APIs are well-defined standards, and include the capability to implement key elements like signaling in the best way to accommodate a specific communications situation. This combination makes development dramatically easier, and companies are able to deliver an experience that is equivalent to or better than most of today's proprietary implementations. The fact that WebRTC is based on an open standard and the technology is open source is icing on the cake. And open innovation leads to continual improvement.
Another key indicator of the Web communications model is the death of federation. That I didn't hear much discussion about UC federation at EC16 I see as acceptance of the new model in which servers do not federate, but rather users go directly to the resources driving the communications or collaboration event.
For example, Cisco and Microsoft have each introduced Web guest versions for their apps that do not require downloads to join a meeting. Cisco uses WebRTC today for the Spark version, and even enables a user to have a free Spark account so he or she can fully participate with paying customers, all via WebRTC. And Microsoft has indicated it will use ORTC when that is available.
Based these factors, I think WebRTC and the real-time Web it enables is the true adoption model of a transformational technology and methodology that is rapidly changing the communications landscape. As futurist Ray Amara famously said, "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Just ask BlackBerry about the impact of the app store on BlackBerry device adoption.
For enterprise communication managers, the realization that the PBX (or its descendants) will not be the singular real-time communications mechanism in their organizations should be a critical take-away from this year's Enterprise Connect. Your users will be invited to many communications and collaboration events that are hosted outside of your organization and do not rely on federation, your servers, or IT actions to work.
WebRTC is transforming communications in the same way the Web transformed information 15 years ago. Remember the days when the concept of users accessing any server on the Web was so foreign, or when most organizations routinely blocked Internet Web? The shift to open Web access has transformed work by making information available for a range of decision making and analysis. Understanding that WebRTC is being implemented virtually everywhere and the result is a major shift in how we communicate from the big federated network of the PSTN to the new Web-based model is critical in planning investments and options going forward for enterprise communications managers.
For enterprises, WebRTC is a true double-edged sword. On the one hand, all of the major telecom and contact center vendors delivering enterprise solutions have some plan for WebRTC, ranging from the all-in of Cisco to more tepid focus by others. The result will be a rapid increase in expectations of users and customers to have seamless easy communications and collaboration in all interactions, something that, if not provided, will be missed. If you are delivering a closed internal communications system or keeping your users in the PSTN paradigm of last decade/millennium expect to get complaints and comments, much as consumerization drove the iPhone use in the enterprise. Perhaps we should coin a new phrase, BYOC -- bring your own collaboration.
But that is only one side of the challenge. For all of the companies that have a mobile app or a Web presence, integrating voice, video, data, and screen sharing into that application may be a critical element for core business success. As the real-time Web rolls out, consumers and customers will expect to be able to use real-time interaction to enhance any app and increase its business value. And real-time communications can enhance virtually any app that has human users, whether intended for business to business, business to consumer, or consumer to consumer.
For the enterprise telecom group, this is an opportunity to grow influence and impact... or it is a threat chipping away at even more of the services it traditionally has delivered. Clearly taking a leadership role in the real-time integration into the business is a clear opportunity for career growth and new horizons.
As discussed elsewhere on No Jitter, browser barriers are falling, and the WebRTC adoption cycle will accelerate in 2016. This is not the time to underestimate the impact of WebRTC and the Web model of communications.