Setting the Stage for Enterprise Connect

With Enterprise Connect 2017 less than a week away, I've been thinking about the changes that our industry is going through, and how they might manifest themselves next week in Orlando. Our industry has never been one to turn on a dime, or even a manhole cover or crop circle. But change does come as new technology makes its way through the broader IT environment.

Of course the last time we really saw this was when voice telephony started to move from TDM to IP. The breakthrough technology acquisition that time around was Cisco's 1998 purchase of Selsius Systems, one of the first companies to manufacture an IP-based PBX. Of course, 1998 was near the peak of the first Internet boom, and everybody wanted everything to relate to the Internet. Cisco, whose switches and routers ran the Internet, was keenly interested in finding new kinds of traffic to fill up bigger, better routers and switches. At the same time, folks who'd tried the original Skype were amazed that they could make international calls for free that didn't sound half bad.

And while some of that time involved hype and people trying to catch a wave, our industry came to understand that running voice over IP really would change communications for the better. It would open up new media and new ways of running real-time traffic to endpoints that users were growing more attached to than their legacy hard phones.

It took more than a decade, but eventually the industry did move to IP telephony -- though TDM is still being shipped. And now, the winds of change blowing out of the broader IT world will bring new opportunities to the IP-based communications we take for granted.

The underlying trend, of course, is the transition from hardware to software, which enables communications to be integrated cost-effectively into other forms of software. Which is why application programming interfaces (APIs) are one of the keys to what's coming next for our industry.

We have a track at EC17 on Communications APIs, where much of the focus will be on how you might use APIs to build discrete communications services for your enterprise, or add communications to existing applications. That's fairly exciting stuff, but I think many enterprises are still coming to grips with both the value proposition and the technical and organizational challenges that this opportunity presents.

But APIs are also critical to another trend that we're seeing get a lot more traction a lot quicker: Team Collaboration, for which we also have a track. This new class of application, popularized via the viral spread of Slack, is now pretty much a must-have for most enterprise communications vendors -- witness the strong commitment that Cisco has made to the space via Spark, and Microsoft via Teams.

Team collaboration is also one of the ways that new players are challenging legacy vendors for enterprise business. Most notably, Amazon Web Services last month announced a product in this space, and Google this month debuted a Slack-like product and upgrades to Hangouts for enterprise collaboration. Both of these companies are trying to move "up the stack" from their public-cloud infrastructure-as-a-service base; and both will be keynoting in Orlando next week (along with Cisco, Microsoft, and Twilio, the pioneer in API-driven communications platform-as-a-service, or CPaaS).

Team collaboration apps feature cool upgrades to traditional messaging such as persistent chat, but the real game is to integrate other features and functions into team collaboration via, yep, APIs. My colleague Beth Schultz is moderating our Wednesday general session on the subject, http://schedule.enterpriseconnect.com/session/messaging-team-collaborati...">Messaging and Team Collaboration: Overhyped, or the Next Platform?" APIs are what make team collaboration a contender for that "next platform" distinction.

So if IP telephony is any guide, all of this new, connectable, API-driven software integration of communications into other stuff should take about a decade to hit critical mass. But here's the thing: IP telephony may not be a guide. The pace of change continues to speed up, and while no one's going to throw out a five-year-old PBX that does what it does reliably, you're increasingly likely to believe you need to augment what that old standby does.

And I haven't even talked about cloud-based Unified Communications, artificial intelligence and analytics, or the increasing opportunities and importance of the contact center, all of which will also be prominently featured next week. There's still time for you to register and make your way down to Orlando; use the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event or Tue-Thurs conference pass or a free Expo Plus pass. We'd love to have you join us. You might just see the next big thing.

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