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Will Public Cloud Providers Be the UC/UCC Winners?

It's easy to view cloud-delivered UCaaS as a Web meeting service, and there's certainly some truth in that. There are a lot of popular Web meeting tools, including Cisco's Webex and LogMeIn's GoToMeeting, and what I'm calling cloud-delivered UCaaS tools can do many of the same things. You'd normally expect that in a competitive market, with newer products like Microsoft's Skype for Business and Amazon's Chime better directed at the future market's needs. If that's true, the future may be very different.

First-Glance Differentiators

Most people use, or have used, Skype. In its original form, it was an Internet-based calling service, a kind of VoIP where people were known by a logical "Skype name" rather than by a phone number. The service evolved to include dial-in and dial-out interconnection with the public phone network, as well as video calling, conferencing, whiteboarding, and so forth. Microsoft, which acquired the company in 2011, eventually began offering Skype in a business form.

Skype for Business adds in call-handling features and integration with other Microsoft Office applications; it's included with the premium tiers of Office 365. Since you can load a Skype for Business client on virtually any desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet, you can use Skype for Business as a UC/UCC system for a small or even midsized business, which makes it a classic, traditional, UCaaS strategy, no greater threat than any other.

On the surface, Amazon Chime is aimed at competing with Skype for Business, and that's how it's been described in the media. The features are very similar, but the ways they're organized and paid for are different, and there are deeper differences in overall strategic focus. Some of them can be attributed to Amazon's need to play catch-up, but others may reflect Amazon's long-term goals in UC/UCC, and those may retune the space overall.

More Than Meets the Eye

Chime Basic is something like Skype's basic service; there's no charge for calls between users, chats, video chats, screen sharing, etc. You can dial in or out and pay a connect charge, too. What you don't get with the Chime Basic feature set is group conference. For that, you have to go to the Pro version, and this will let you do conferences of up to 100 people. What's different about Chime is that the organizer uses Pro and the attendees can join via the Basic version. For Pro meetings, Amazon charges $3 per user per day with a cap of $15 per user per month. Companies can define their users and assign permissions (Pro or Basic) to each, and the "user" can be an employee, customer, partner, or pretty much anyone.

What Chime doesn't provide is any form of call routing, which means that it's not really a Skype for Business competitor. That's the point that raises the question about the future of UC/UCC. Why would Amazon leave it out?

Part of the answer probably lies in another offering, Vonage Business Cloud, which includes Amazon Chime. Vonage has, in some of its tailored packages, almost all the features of a PBX. Could Amazon be looking at making Chime a kind of Web element in third-party platforms?

Microsoft is already the leader in cloud computing services to enterprises, according to most research (including my own). Amazon generated its overall cloud leadership in no small way by selling AWS not to enterprises but to other service providers. Chime is a part of AWS, and Amazon may be using partnerships to flesh out its overall UC/UCC features, making Microsoft's incumbency a weakness by targeting Chime at the partners with which Microsoft's Skype for Business competes. That's consistent with Amazon's overall AWS strategy, which has been to chase other business or social media service providers.

The other possibility is that Amazon is looking at UC/UCC as an application component, integrated with AWS. Developers can use webhooks to link an application, event, or Amazon Lambda process with Chime. The webhooks let applications generate messages to Chime chatrooms, allowing a community of workers to respond or to generate a discussion. Amazon uses webhooks fairly extensively in AWS and to run code with Lambda, and the fact that it highlights the use with Chime makes me wonder whether the company sees a future where event processing drives collaboration.

Is It a Call or an Event?

I've always said that collaboration isn't about people but about what people are doing. The "doing" part is an application or outside event that's expected to trigger a discussion or joint task. The fact that Amazon is building this into Chime from Day One and not bothering to field its own set of PBX features could also suggest that "calls" might be "events" and that Amazon is more interested in the general case of event-driven collaboration than in the specialized needs of call handling. Handle events, in short, and you handle calls by default.

Today, consumers are much more likely to chat than to call, and Amazon may well believe that the future of UC/UCC isn't call handling. If that's the case it makes more sense for the company to focus on the future than to chase Microsoft down what could prove to be a backwater. If Amazon makes a go of an event-driven Chime model, Microsoft will surely follow suit, and that could take UC/UCC to a place where traditional players can't easily go, where public cloud providers hold all the cards.

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