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UCC YTD: 4 Eye-Opening Developments

We are not quite three full months into 2017, but it's already been a busy year in enterprise communications. And with Enterprise Connect coming up next week, presumably we'll soon be hearing a series of additional announcements from many of the top enterprise communications vendors.

This week, prior to Enterprise Connect kicking off, I offer my picks for the most significant developments this year to date.

Amazon Chime

In February, Amazon announced yet another conferencing service without any new features. In case you missed the news, see my recent blog on the new solution, "Amazon Chime: Priority or Experiment?" To sum up, Chime is nearly identical to a little-known service called Biba, which Amazon acquired in the fall of 2016.

Biba was, and Chime is, a fine service that will offer a true visual and auditory upgrade for many users. But that isn't particularly interesting, seeing as how many services can do that today. What is interesting, and still largely unclear, is Amazon's intentions.

Amazon has a habit of blundering into services before changing everything about an unsuspecting sector. Virtually all of Amazon's best services -- retailing, Web hosting, Prime memberships, and more -- were all panned as dull by many professionals prior to becoming game changers.

With Chime, Amazon expands its enterprise cloud-services vision from infrastructure and platforms, up the stack to applications as a service. Simultaneously, the entire enterprise communications industry has been moving toward Amazon's core offerings. Many UC vendors and providers today rely on Amazon Web Services to power their offerings.

Chime is priced to disrupt -- though not necessarily from Amazon. Chime has announced two partners so far, Vonage and Level 3. Vonage is bundling the advanced level of Chime into its Business Phone services for no additional charge.

Cisco Spark Board

There's really no shortage of touch-sensitive collaboration devices on the market, which makes sense seeing as how it's not really even a new technology. But Cisco's Spark Board is unlike the competition. It is possibly the first hardware specially and exclusively designed for workstream messaging -- an increasingly crowded and growing sector that otherwise gives users a choice between a software client and browser.

Cisco is using its expertise in conferencing and hardware to differentiate Cisco Spark from competitors such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, with a fit-for-purpose video room system that doubles as an electronic whiteboard. What makes it particularly compelling is ease of use. For example, a Spark user can just as easily host a meeting on someone else's Spark Board as their own. That's because the Spark cloud leverages its smartphone app for user identity and permissions.

Avaya's Zang Office

For the second time, Avaya has decided to launch a UCaaS service. This time, Avaya is a bit late to the party, and came with a relatively limited offering -- called Zang Office. So, Avaya is offering the service with an aggressive (half-off) discount while it continues to develop Office into a more comprehensive service.

Will it be competitive? It certainly could be. The folks doing the development have strong expertise with Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce integrations. As another point of differentiation, consider that Avaya is one of the few providers that manufactures endpoints and is thus capable of creating a highly integrated end-to-end service. Also, Avaya is demonstrating out-of-the-box thinking by utilizing third-party technologies at the core of the service.

Google is Back

In terms of enterprise communications, Google has always been a few cards short of a full stack. It's been a lot of fun covering Google over the years, but not particularly rewarding as the company just never seems to fully commit to creating a competitive service.

Google Apps (now G Suite) was groundbreaking, but a footnote today when compared to Microsoft's Office 365, which came much later. Google Voice appears to be more of a hobby for the company than a service. Google Wave amounted to nothing, and YouTube and Hangouts are largely viewed as consumer-first services. Google Plus remains a social curiosity. Android is impressive, but is yet to have the impact in the enterprise that iOS has had.

Google's enterprise announcements significantly declined over the past few years -- until recently. In September of last year, the company renamed Google Apps to G Suite. This year there have been several announcements that imply Google, once again, has enterprise aspirations.

Google announced improved administrative controls for G Suite, which now claims more than 3 million paid business customers, including Verizon, based on fourth quarter 2016 earnings results announced in January. Because of Google, RCS has made significant recent progress as a business-savvy SMS replacement. Most recently, Google announced Hangouts Chat which looks an awful lot like an enterprise team messaging application.

Like Apple and, more recently, Microsoft, Google is taking hardware more seriously. Last year it began designing its own tightly integrated smartphones (Pixel), which gives Google more control over the user experience and addresses the top concerns limiting Android in the enterprise. The same can be said of its new Jamboard, a video conferencing and electronic collaboration room device that is tightly integrated with G Suite.

Google has enterprise apps, cloud services, Chrome and Chrome-OS, Android mobile OS, office productivity, team chat, PSTN and WebRTC, room systems, and an impressive network. Chris Kranky claims that Google's network has more than twice as many interconnection points (ISPs, data centers, and exchanges) than its closest competitor, which enables superior performance for conferencing and other services.

The question is, does Google have the desire and vision to provide enterprise communications? For the first time in years my answer is upgraded to... maybe.

It's been a busy start of the year, as enterprise communications expands into newer and broader forms of communications.

Dave Michels is Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.

Learn more about UC&C trends and technologies at Enterprise Connect 2017, March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla. View the Unified Communications & Collaboration track, and register now using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or a free Expo Plus pass.

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