UCC Status Report: Expectations Versus Reality
Keeping myself honest on the hopes and predictions I laid out a year ago
Last year at this time, I wrote a No Jitter article espousing my hopes and expectations for 2016. I thought it would be interesting to see what did and did not come to pass, so let's take a look at each.
"I expect 2016 to bring about a huge number of acquisitions, especially in the cloud space as providers look to fill in gaps in their portfolios -- whether those be contact center capabilities, team collaboration, video, or other capabilities. ...
"Cloud-based contact center will be another key area for acquisitions, as any UCaaS provider that doesn't have full contact center capabilities is missing out (with the exception of Microsoft, which has been reluctant to move into that market and relies on creative partners such as Clarity Connect). I expect to see acquisitions as UCaaS providers like Vonage, RingCentral, 8x8, and Mitel flesh out their contact center strategies."
It's very fair to say that we experienced not only a large number of acquisitions, but also some extremely important ones, such as Microsoft's purchase of LinkedIn, Vonage's pick up of Nexmo, and BroadSoft's acquisitions of Transera, Intellinote, and VoIP Logic. In the cloud contact center space, Genesys acquired Interactive Intelligence, which includes ININ's PureCloud offerings, and NICE acquired cloud provider inContact. I was surprised that neither Vonage nor RingCentral acquired a cloud contact center company but rather decided to leverage their existing contact center offerings from BroadSoft and inContact, respectively.
"Team collaboration, also called workstream communications and collaboration (WCC), will be hot, hot, hot. UC vendors that don't have those capabilities will look to build or buy them, as RingCentral and Vonage did last year with their respective Glip and gUnify acquisitions, in order to have offerings comparable to Cisco Spark and Unify Circuit."
In 2016, Microsoft announced Teams, which "brings together people, conversations and content -- along with the tools that teams need -- so they can easily collaborate to achieve more," as Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate VP for the Office team, wrote in the announcement post. In addition, BroadSoft announced Team-One (renamed from Intellinote), Mitel introduced MiTeams, and Zang debuted Zang Spaces. Along with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise OpenTouch Teamshare, Cisco Spark, and Unify Circuit, this covers the majority of UCC vendors, with a few notable exceptions. For example, ShoreTel's solution will go live in March, so we can't add it to the list quite yet.
"The channel is key, and I expect to see a push from the cloud vendors to get new channel partners that know how to sell 'solutions,' including business application integration. We'll see a big shakeout of channel partners that can't cut it in the new world of cloud services because they haven't figured out how to add value and stay profitable and cash positive."
Based on the many conversations I had at the UCStrategies BC Summit in November, most vendors are quickly ramping up their channel programs to add new partners adept at selling cloud services while, at the same time, they are weeding out those that can't make the transition to the cloud. One of the most frequent types of inquiry I receive is about how to find the "right" channel partner -- one that not only can sell cloud services, but also talk about business challenges and issues, and sell solutions, not just boxes. Finding the right types of channel partners is a challenge that will persist for several years, and competition for these partners will be fierce.
In last year's look ahead post, I also wrote about my hopes for 2016.
"...I hope more companies and contact centers will focus on the customer experience, making it easy for customers to get the help and information they need -- whether through self-service or assisted service -- and to let customers speak or interact with representatives through any channels when desired."
While I believe I'll be hoping for this for many years to come, 2016 saw some good improvements as more companies embraced the concept of the customer journey, as well as the use of bots for improved self-service customer care. The Amex bot for Facebook Messenger, which lets consumers see real-time purchase alerts and key information about American Express benefits, is one example. Another comes from Dutch airline KLM, which is testing the use of blending answers from human customer service agents and automated bots. And Taco Bell's TacoBot lets customers order food on Slack chat, while Sephora customers can order make-up using the messaging app Kik. Expect to see much more activity in 2017 as companies roll out bots and use messaging technologies, notably Facebook Messenger, as another customer care channel.
"I hope 2016 is the year when we see more business application integration -- not necessarily business process integration, but integration of UC capabilities with business and vertical applications."
Thanks to communications platform as a service (CPaaS) and communication APIs, we certainly have seen an increase in communications integration with business applications. For example, ZipRecruiter uses Bandwidth communications APIs to send out SMS job alerts and allow users to apply for jobs, respond to interview requests, and even see when hiring managers have opened their job applications. Callidus Health uses ShoreTel Summit CPaaS to incorporate voice and SMS functionality into its communications solutions for patients and doctors, while ensuring low latency and HIPAA compliance. Catalina Labs uses Avaya Breeze with its Wixi application for fixing consumers' Wi-Fi issues remotely, giving customers the ability to speak to the ISP directly from the app.
I could cite many more examples, and you'll be able to hear some at Enterprise Connect Orlando, coming March 27 to 30, during the "Case Studies: Working with Communications APIs -- Tales from the Trenches session I'll be moderating. (Register now, using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or a free Expo Plus pass.)
What do I foresee for 2017? I see lots more disruption, especially from the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media organizations, as well as from Amazon. The lines will blur between CRM and contact center, as CRM vendors will continue on their paths to becoming contact center vendors. Salesforce and Zendesk are well on their way and will give some of the traditional vendors a run for their money.
We'll certainly see a rise in the use of virtual assistants with voice commands and conversational bots for customer service. Virtual and augmented reality will still be a novelty, and we'll see some innovative applications and use cases, but don't expect to see everyone walking around with VR/AR goggles -- that might have to wait for 2018.