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5 UCC Trends Taking Root This Fall

In the past two months, I attended seven industry-related events, as well as one post-conference briefing for one that I was unable to attend. While each event had its unique stance on the future of UCC, I identified several key themes and trends that were emerging across them, which included:
 
1. Video is Hot, Hot, Hot
Many years ago, Cisco’s John Chambers announced that “video is the new voice.” While he was early in his prediction, he saw video communications overtaking voice communications. We’re not there yet, but we’re certainly on our way, as evidenced by the growth of Zoom and other video players. Zoom has experienced 118% revenue growth in the past year, growing to $331 million in revenue. Zoom has added over 300 features in the past year, and attendance at its user conference, Zoomtopia, has doubled every year. As Oded Gal, chief product officer, Zoom, told the audience, “We are about empowering people to do more with video communications.”
 
Video device partners are also moving quickly to make their products simpler, easier to use, and more integrated with the various video conferencing services. Jumping on the Zoom bandwagon, device partners such as Poly and Neat have announced new appliances that natively integrate with Zoom to provide a more seamless video experience. Poly announced the Poly Studio X portfolio, including Poly Studio X30 and X50, which natively integrate with Zoom (and others in the near future), providing simplified deployment and installation, as well as reduced pricing. The two new purpose-built all-in-one video bars don’t require an external PC or Mac to drive the Zoom Rooms experience and include Poly MeetingAI capabilities built on machine learning and artificial intelligence. These slick devices are easier to deploy and manage while making it easy to initiate video meetings. Poly’s approach is different from others in that the hardware can work on other services, including Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, GoToMeeting, Amazon Chime, and Google.
 
Newcomer Neat announced a portfolio of products that natively integrate with Zoom. The Neat Bar is a purpose-built, compact meeting room system that comes with a dedicated controller and optional scheduling display to simplify video conferencing.
 
While Zoom certainly made the most noise in the video space, other vendors are actively developing their video capabilities. At the Mitel analyst conference, the company announced it’s building an entirely new video collaboration platform that dovetails with its MiCollab application and will be launched later this year. Mitel’s Open Video ecosystem brings together best of breed solutions, including Zoom, Blue Jeans, and others. The Mitel Teamwork video strategy leverages a video ecosystem (currently focused on Zoom video conferencing) and will soon add native integration for integrated video meetings.
 
2. Consolidation Continues
Another key theme is industry consolidation. We’ve seen a great deal of merger and acquisition activity, and there’s no end in sight. One of the biggest, if not the biggest example, of industry consolidation is the new NTT Ltd., which brings together the capabilities of 28 companies (NTT Security, NTT Communications, and Dimension Data). According to McKinsey, this is the largest technology integration of 2019.
 
At NTT Ltd.’s analyst conference, CEO Jason Goodall noted, “With the combined company there’s an opportunity to make sure we can lead with scale and start to take duplication of investment out of our model.” Goodall explained that “For the last 10 years, NTT has acquired 28 companies, and these companies have worked together and have been friends for years.” The new NTT Ltd. is focused on business modernization and disruptive innovation.
 
When it comes to consolidation, most vendors don’t hold a candle to Mitel. Mitel has been focusing its effort on its CloudLink microservices-based platform to make it easy to integrate the various communication/PBX systems it now supports (ShoreTel, Toshiba, etc.). At the recent Mitel analyst event, CEO Rich McBee (who subsequently announced his departure) reinforced the company’s acquisition and growth strategy. With Mary McDowell now at the helm, we’ll see if the steady stream of acquisitions continues. With Avaya no longer in play, it’s unclear who will be next.
 
Speaking of Avaya, those at RingCentral’s analyst conference were first to hear the news about the RingCentral/Avaya strategic partnership. While not an acquisition, RingCentral will be the exclusive provider of Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) solution to Avaya. In addition, the two companies are introducing a new solution, Avaya Cloud Office by RingCentral (ACO). In a discussion I had with an Avaya representative, the company noted, “This strategic partnership affirms our commitment to investing in technology, cloud, and innovation, and provides access to the global UCaaS market.” RingCentral is contributing $500 million to its partnership with Avaya and will also pay Avaya an advance of $375 million primarily in stock for future payments and certain licensing rights.
 
While many industry observers expected either an acquisition from Mitel or a private equity firm, this RingCentral arrangement gives Avaya more breathing room to continue to invest in its contact center and other offerings. Many questions remain, and I’m still trying to get my head around some of the implications of this arrangement.
 
3. Partner Ecosystems are Key to Success
Another key theme was the role of partner ecosystems. Whether it’s Mitel and Talkdesk, or Zoom and Five9, Twilio, Talkdesk, Genesys, and NICE inContact, vendors realize that partners and tight integrations are crucial. This is especially true when it comes to UCC vendors integrating third-party contact center technologies.
 
Almost every presentation to analysts included a slide displaying the vendor’s various technology partnerships, filling in the gaps where the vendor doesn’t have their own solution. Vendors realize they can’t do it all (and they shouldn’t even try!). Relying on technology partners that can provide best-of-breed solutions that can be tightly integrated makes a lot of sense. For example, RingCentral touts its open platform and “thriving developer ecosystem” and 200+ ready-to-use integrations. In addition, RingCentral Embeddable gives developers the ability to integrate RingCentral's communications capabilities into any web application using a few lines of code.
 
It takes a village, or in this case a partner ecosystem, to thrive in the UCC space.
 
4. Broadening the Product Line
Conversely, many vendors realize that in some cases, it’s better to own the technology and have more control over the roadmap. While technology partners are important, and no single vendor can provide it all, more vendors are trying to control their destiny rather than relying on third parties. Talkdesk is a great example, as it has developed its own AI technologies for agent assist capabilities, as well as workforce management (WFM) capabilities. Similarly, RingCentral has made several acquisitions to add to its contact center portfolio rather than relying on its integration with NICE inContact. Expect to see more and more vendors develop (or acquire and integrate) capabilities to expand their portfolios horizontally, especially for video and contact center technologies.
 
5. Innovation Matters
While all companies tout their innovation, some have more to brag about. At the NTT Ltd. analyst event, CTO Ettienne Reinecke noted that “Innovation is the only sustainable form of differentiation,” and that innovation is becoming the decision-making point for customers. NTT Ltd. Is focusing on what it calls “intelligent innovation,” connecting its clients and partners across the NTT family to harness its R&D investments, the power of its people, and intellectual property via its Open Innovation Framework to drive operational excellence. In fact, intelligent innovation is part of NTT Ltd value proposition.
 
Naturally, AI is an area where many companies are focusing on innovation dollars. Zoom announced several new AI-powered capabilities, including video and slideshow virtual backgrounds, allowing for mixed reality to integrate video and content share into the same screen for an immersive experience. Zoom also announced that it’s partnering with Otter.ai to provide the ability to transcribe meetings, capture action items, and automatically produce meeting highlights.
 
At the Five9 CX Summit, CEO Rowan Trollope told the audience that Five9’s next big transition is around innovation. The company doubled the size of its developer team and added 220 features. As CTO Jonathan Rosenberg told the audience, the company is using AI and machine learning to help “Go from a good contact center experience to a mind-blowing contact center experience.”
 
RingCentral and Talkdesk also announced several innovations that can’t be disclosed at this time, so stay tuned.
 
More Conferences Incoming
There’s never a dull moment in our industry – consolidation, innovation, new partnerships, and more. Expect to see even more news as we lead up to Enterprise Connect in March.
 
Conference season has been grueling, but it’s great to hear about the progress companies have made as they evolve and innovate in the unified communications, collaboration, and contact center spaces. Now, time to pack for the next conference…