Twilio Takes Comms APIs to Next Level

Twilio kicks off its Signal conference for developers today, looking to draw "the best and brightest" to San Francisco for two days of geeking out over "the future of communications technology."

Ask any "Twilion" what the future of communications is, and you'll surely hear about APIs and the concept that these bits of code provide enterprises with the keys to own and control their own communications roadmaps. That's no secret -- Twilio is well-known by now for what it has come to call "imperative APIs," such as its Programmable Voice or Programmable SMS products.

But now Twilio is entering its next phase, that of "declarative APIs," as Patrick Malatack, GM of messaging and VP of product at Twilio, told me in a recent pre-briefing on the news coming out of the event. Declarative APIs, he explained, enable enterprise developers to define relationships (i.e. contact center agent to customer, driver to passenger, etc.) and hand over the reins to Twilio to handle the logic necessary for building and managing multichannel communications for those different relationships.

"One of the big things we've been hearing is [customers] love the power and flexibility of building with APIs, but want us to solve more end-user problems," Malatack said. "In terms of the customer experience, they want us to do more of the heavy lifting around common patterns. This next wave of APIs is really around figuring out what business processes customers are trying to [address]."

To that end, Twilio announced several new offerings today, under the umbrella of the Twilio Engagement Cloud, which is a collection of APIs that provide businesses with the necessary logic for building multichannel communications with customers. This collection includes Twilio Proxy, an API aimed at powering private text and voice interactions between customers and mobile workers.

Think of Proxy in terms of a business model, such as at Uber or Airbnb, that uses communications as the bridge between two defined types of individuals, such as a passenger with a driver or a guest with a host. These kinds of communications have required considerable software development to ensure the high levels of privacy needed on both sides of the interaction. "Proxy allows you to define those relationships with Twilio, and then Twilio manages interaction routing thereafter," Malatack said.

Specifically, Proxy capabilities include:

  • Multichannel masked communications -- enables developers to define a relationship in a conversation for Twilio to take over for routing and logging. Proxy supports two-way communications over voice, SMS, and messaging services like Facebook Messenger, Slack, and Atlassian HipChat.

  • Phone number management -- handles communication logic and sets up intermediate phone numbers for text and voice conversations, keeping personal phone numbers and user IDs private. Proxy takes geographic considerations and individual number capabilities in account when automatically selecting the most appropriate phone numbers for a given interaction.
  • Content moderation -- lets developers configure rules for filtering and redacting messages to prohibit the sharing of sensitive information. Developers can even set specifications to filter out profanity, for example.
  • Time-bounded sessions -- provides the ability to manage mobile communications and set lengths of time that a customer can contact a mobile worker. An example of a use case for this would be the ability to shift communications from one mobile worker to another based on shift schedules or personnel changes.

In addition to Proxy, the Twilio Engagement Cloud also includes Notify, an API for orchestrating automated notifications across messaging channels, announced last year at Signal; TaskRouter, a skills-based routing API for contact centers; and Two-factor Authentication, an API for securing accounts.

This next phase of APIs is "really about Twilio solving more and more of the things that get in the way of you building the right customer experience," Malatack said. "We're allowing [developers] to offload a lot of the work and complexity of building with Twilio and still gain the flexibility."

All of these declarative APIs are built directly on top of imperative APIs, he added. "It's about getting to production scale as fast as possible."

For more perspective on Twilio and communications APIs, check out the latest No Jitter On Air podcast, featuring Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice. Winther gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks to address maturing enterprise needs.

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