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The UC Platform Wars Have Arrived
The last several weeks have been busy for the unified communications (UC) market. Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and Zoom held customer events, releasing a slew of new features, while RingCentral held an analyst event in October to share its accomplishments and future plans. Across all these events and introductions, one theme emerged — the UC platform.
UC vendors (including the above and 8x8, Dialpad, GoTo, Mitel, Vonage, and others) are rapidly broadening their product lines to add new capabilities like virtual events, digital whiteboards, office space reservation, remote support, analytics, AI-powered voice and video enhancements, virtual reality, expanded meeting features, and more recently, ad-hoc and asynchronous collaboration.
In addition, vendors are opening the doors to developers through expanded APIs and developer education efforts designed to make it easy for customers to adapt UC apps to specific business needs and use cases. For example, during an industry applications session at Zoomtopia, Zoom product leaders touted the ability to adapt Zoom to support use cases in education, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing. RingCentral noted that it currently has more than 75,000 developers who have built thousands of custom apps, and Cisco touted a two times increase in Webex API usage over the last year.
UC Vendors Embrace Platform Approach, as Competition Heats Up
The need for UC vendors to become platform vendors is clear, especially as they increasingly compete with the likes of Google and Microsoft, which leverage their market penetration in the mail, calendar, office productivity, and file storage spaces to try and win market share in UC apps. For the more traditional UC and UCaaS providers, the only way to effectively compete is to provide superior real-time communications and collaboration tools and offer integrated cross-platform components, including contact center and events.
A common offering among UC and UCaaS vendors is the ability to easily bridge contact center and other UC apps, including meetings, messaging, and voice to eliminate barriers to communication between front and back office, including those in the field. More recently, UC & contact center vendors are focusing on bringing contact center features like conversational AI and call quality analytics into the back office. For example, Zoom now offers IQ for Sales, which brings conversational AI to sales teams to improve their ability to better understand and improve prospect interactions.
These advancements are critical to the ability of UC vendors to compete with those offering bundled office suites and productivity apps. A recent Metrigy study of more than 500 end-user organizations found that nearly half (45.4%) start with the office productivity suite as the core of their collaboration strategy, adding on additional components where it makes sense, and where they provide additional value beyond what is natively available as part of the office suite. Just 20% start with the phone system and build from there. Beyond platform features, UC vendors also often compete on price, reliability, security, and more.
A Changing Reality for IT Buyers
For buyers, the days of provisioning separate calling, meeting, and messaging apps are coming to an end. Taking a platform view means doing additional due diligence on available features from existing and potential new providers and determining potential to improve workflows, reduce costs, and increase customer satisfaction. It also requires assessing available APIs and development tools, including no- and low-code capabilities, to identify opportunities to optimize employee and customer engagement. Metrigy has found over the last few years that teams responsible for communications and collaboration have rapidly added in-house development capabilities, and we expect this trend to continue.
This new platform reality also requires determining where to draw the line with overlapping applications. For example, those with Google Workspace licenses already have Meet as a meetings app but may wish to use a third-party meeting app for a variety of reasons. Zoom recently announced plans to add calendar and mail clients to its app, making it easier for those using other mail services to schedule meetings within Zoom, as Dave Michel’s shared in his latest article on the announcement.
Companies may be loath to support multiple apps, especially at an additional cost during uncertain economic times, but user demand for optimal experiences is likely to drive IT to allow some level of user choice. Additionally, our research shows that licensing isn’t the only cost component. It is often cheaper from a CapEx and OpEx perspective to use a separate UC platform for features like calling and meetings than it is to use the native capabilities available from within office suites.
Those responsible for communications and collaboration architecture should proactively evaluate new platform capabilities from their existing and planned future vendors and be prepared to shift lines of demarcation as necessary, and to leverage available APIs and other features to deliver measurable improvement for employee and customer engagement.