Reflecting on UCaaS Announcements around Enterprise Connect 2019
Yet another busy, informative and exciting Enterprise Connect is over. Many vendors, service providers, resellers, enterprise buyers, consultants and analysts spend three to five days under the glass dome learning about new technologies and solutions, engaging with industry experts and just socializing with like-minded people. The flagship unified communications and collaboration (UCC) industry event in North America is typically the launching ground for many and enhanced new products, partnerships and even corporate rebranding. Not unlike previous years, Enterprise Connect 2019 was marked by a plethora of announcements, including many in the unified-communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) space. While the temperatures in Orlando, FL, were much cooler than expected, the UCaaS market heated up as new providers entered the market with innovative offerings and many existing UCaaS solutions received significant enhancements.
Here follows a summary of notable UCaaS announcements and conversations that I had with UCaaS vendors and service providers before, during or right after Enterprise Connect. This is not an exhaustive list. Neither is it a thorough analysis of market trends or recent developments. It is a brief overview that can be supplemented with Frost & Sullivan’s studies and more detailed discussions with the Frost & Sullivan Connected Work research team. The companies are reviewed in alphabetical order.
8×8 announced contact center enhancements via Google Cloud Contact Center AI integration; a new video meeting experience leveraging the recent Jitsi acquisition; AI-based speech analytics for the entire organization; and 8×8 Dynamic Integration Platform to embed communications into core business applications. 8×8 also shared robust performance metrics based on FQ3, which demonstrate both solid overall growth and increasing penetration in the mid-market. Also notable is the high attach rate of contact center capabilities in UCaaS sales, typically at approximately 50 to 60% of the company’s new UCaaS deals. Even more significant, with the new X Series, 100% of new contact center deals are associated with a UCaaS deployment.
Takeaway: The recent solution enhancements solidify 8×8’s offerings with differentiated capabilities aligned with key customer requirements and market trends. 8×8 is responding to growing customer demand for AI automation in customer interactions; advanced video collaboration, tightly integrated with the rest of the user experience; advanced and pervasive analytics; and flexible communications integration with mission-critical business software to enable greater user productivity. While not entirely unique, the new capabilities round out 8×8’s portfolio to position it for greater success in future competitive bids. Particularly significant is the company’s strong focus on the customer care space and the integration of enterprise and contact center solutions for greater customer value. Also important is the focus on next-generation architectures—e.g., the Jitsi agile development platform; the 8×8 X Series micro-services communications, contact center and analytics platform and the Kubernetes-based dynamic integration framework—which will enable rapid innovation and high scalability going forward. However, 8×8 may need to tighten its execution to maintain market share and respond to key competitors’ aggressive sales and marketing posture.
Amazon announced Amazon Chime Business Calling and Amazon Chime Voice Connector. Amazon Chime Business Calling enables Amazon Chime customers to use the Chime interface (i.e., desktop, mobile or web clients) to make and receive calls and SMS and receive voicemail via the PSTN using Amazon’s on-demand payment model. Amazon Chime Connector allows businesses to route calls from their PBXs to the PSTN via the Internet or Amazon’s Direct Connect service.
Takeaway: Amazon Chime Business Calling represents a rudimentary UCaaS offering, which is not likely to present a large threat to existing UCaaS solutions and providers. Amazon Chime Voice Connector is a SIP trunking solution, which can gain greater traction among businesses looking to connect to the PSTN using more cost-effective VoIP access services. Amazon’s pay-as-you-go model is likely to resonate with many businesses considering next-generation VoIP services. However, to become a significant player in the UCaaS market, Amazon will need to considerably enhance its new offerings with more features.
Following the recent launch of Avaya OneCloud portfolio of private, public and hybrid cloud communications and customer care solutions and Avaya Intelligent Xperiences (IX), Avaya announced the Cloud Transformation Program to better assist customers on their cloud migration journey. The program is comprised of business goals and technology needs assessment services; cloud model selection; identification of key processes and APIs that need transformation; as well as a stepped approach to cloud adoption. Other key elements of the program include license credits, reduced per-seat license prices and removed penalties for maintenance contract cancellation for existing premises-based customers moving to Avaya OneCloud services.
Takeaway: Avaya ‘s recent portfolio and strategy announcement show that the vendor is determined to reposition itself as a successful cloud solutions provider. Owing to its heritage as a large enterprise vendor, it continues to focus on private deployments to address customer preference for more secure and customizable dedicated communications solutions but has also continued to grow its public cloud deployments through the recent announcement of a one-stop-shop storefront offering UCaaS & CCaaS. Overall, Avaya has assembled a well-diversified cloud solutions portfolio, which will require effective execution to position Avaya as a strong UCaaS provider. Leveraging its experience with more complex customer environments and robust professional services expertise, Avaya acknowledges demand for more extensive customer support to ensure deployment success and addresses the need with the new cloud transformation program. This program has the potential to accelerate Avaya customer migration to pure cloud or hybrid solutions.
A long-standing BroadSoft and Cisco partner, CenturyLink announced a new Cisco BroadCloud Flex service delivered by CenturyLink tailored for the enterprise. This solution delivers a single collaboration experience that spans all modes of communication, enabling users to move between phone conversations, messaging and meetings. CenturyLink is also focused on developing a new BroadSoft robust call control platform with messaging, meeting and contact center services plus the UC One client, tailored for the mid-market. In addition, CenturyLink will be enabling a consumption-based model via a Voice API suite and supporting Microsoft Teams Direct Routing to round out the portfolio. The new offerings are aligned with CenturyLink’s enhanced focus on solving business problems with advanced applications.
Takeaway: The new Cisco BroadCloud Flex offering currently complements CenturyLink’s existing Cisco HCS delivered by CenturyLink, amplifying the Cisco Webex portfolio of collaboration solutions. The new offering gives CenturyLink access to the latest advancements in Cisco BroadSoft technologies, but it increases CenturyLink’s dependence on third-party innovation cycles and may require some adjustments as Cisco further rationalizes its portfolio.
Cisco launched the long-anticipated Webex Calling service powered by BroadCloud. The new offering is aimed at mid-market and enterprise businesses. It leverages the robust BroadWorks call control capabilities and PBX feature set, as well as the contemporary unified communications and messaging functionality of Webex Teams. Webex Meetings is an additional option for customers to purchase. Webex Calling will be offered primarily by Cisco VAR channel partners under the Cisco Collaboration Flex Plan. Cisco announced 19 partners in various stages of deploying the service. Initially launched in the US, Cisco Webex Calling will be made available in 35 countries and 7 languages by the end of 2019.
Takeaway: With Cisco Webex Calling, the Cisco VAR channel will be able to launch compelling cloud offerings faster and without the need to invest in complex and costly infrastructure and/or systems integration. Cisco VARs can tap into the underpenetrated mid-market and large-enterprise customer segments, which represent almost two-thirds of the global addressable market and are expected to experience double-digit UCaaS adoption rates. The Flex Plan, which is a key aspect of Webex Calling, will enable larger businesses to migrate to the cloud at a more gradual pace and more flexibly and economically support hybrid environments.
As a cloud service (and unlike HCS and BroadWorks), Webex Calling limits Cisco partners’ control over the technology roadmap, as well as allows only limited customization. Partners are also likely to have less flexibility in terms of pricing and margins. Also important, it is likely that the new offering could create some tension between Cisco and Cisco VARs and the service provider community using BroadWorks to offer private-labelled hosted IP telephony and UCaaS solutions, although the service providers tend to target the SMB and the VAR channel larger enterprises. However, Cisco VAR partners will be able to market a rich set of professional services for implementation and support as well as new cloud integration services.
Fuze made several announcements at Enterprise Connect including: a partnership with Samsung to enable better communications for front-line workers; Fuze 5.5 providing a truly integrated calling and meetings experience for internal users (by eliminating the friction in switching modalities); and Fuze Discover, the provider’s premium analytics solution. Fuze showcased a joint deployment with Samsung comprised of 15,000 IoT and communications-enabled Waste Management trucks. The customer reported considerable benefits including improved safety, reduced costs and the potential for new use cases.
Fuze’s new customer experience promotes richer collaboration and enhances productivity by allowing users to enable screen share or video with a single click in Fuze-to-Fuze calls. In this mode, video and screen share are routed from peer to peer, making the interaction seamless, while also minimizing unnecessary network traffic. Fuze Discover aims to increase visibility of communications and collaboration tools usage within customer organizations and thus help drive adoption and increase ROI.
Takeaway: The leverage of IoT and UCaaS holds a considerable potential to impact front-line worker productivity, efficiency and quality of work. While the focus of communications innovation has traditionally been on office and knowledge workers, the same mobility and other advanced connectivity options along with device innovation can also bring the benefits of next-generation communications to field sales, construction, agriculture, utilities, logistics, warehousing, manufacturing and other staff not tethered to office desks. Although not an entirely new concept, UCaaS for front-line workers is likely to give Fuze an advantage in a largely untapped addressable market. Fuze 5.5 and Fuze Discover additionally enhance Fuze’s already comprehensive and innovative solutions portfolio.
Google announced plans to launch Google Voice for G Suite in the spring of 2019. The new UCaaS offering will complement Google’s messaging and conferencing solutions Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet. The solution is touted for the SMB market and is expected to offer essential PBX features, but no advanced capabilities such as contact center. The service is expected to be available in nine countries.
Takeaway: A Google UCaaS offering has been long in the making. Google has been toying with voice offerings for many years and has had Google Voice for consumers in the market for some time now. It has also repeatedly stated its intentions to succeed in the business market and has made a big push with G Suite. Google Voice for G Suite is, therefore, a natural next step for the company. It is likely to raise competitive tension in the market and to provide a compelling add-on for certain G Suite customers. However, the current feature set is rudimentary. Also, Google’s competitive stance versus Microsoft in the business market has weakened lately as its G Suite penetration trails far behind that of Microsoft Office 365. Google’s long-term success will depend on its ability to deliver enterprise-grade functionality, reliability, security, and support. Google’s strength in AI and natural language processing could also earn it some consideration among businesses with these needs.
In the weeks leading to Enterprise Connect, Intermedia announced Intermedia Unite Envision—an innovative analytics platform. The analytics capabilities are included at no charge with Intermedia Unite service bundles comprised of a broad array of cloud applications including telephony, messaging, conferencing, file sharing and backup, mobility and more. Unite Envision includes QoS Dashboard, which provides call and video meeting quality metrics, and Partner Dashboard, which enables partners to create customized alerts and notifications.
Takeaway: Intermedia has significantly accelerated its product roadmap and innovation in the UCaaS realm over the past couple of years. Unite Envision is a valuable new addition to Intermedia’s already compelling Unite services suite. It also further enhances Intermedia’s ability to support its expanding partner channel. Analytics are fast becoming a critical component of next-generation communications and collaboration solutions and are likely to move from a differentiator to table stakes in the next few years. The enhanced Unite offering is also likely to help Intermedia move upmarket to expand and diversify its revenue streams.
Following its acquisition of Jive a year ago, LogMeIn has seen considerable success bundling cloud PBX with its conferencing solutions. At Enterprise Connect, the provider took the integration strategy a step further by announcing GoTo as the new umbrella brand for its entire communications and collaboration portfolio comprised of GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar and the newly launched GoToConnect, a complete UCaaS offering. GoToConnect delivers enterprise voice, messaging, presence, fax, audio/video conferencing, screen share, team collaboration, SMS, mobility and other services through a single integrated user interface. The solution’s compelling feature set is offered at highly competitive prices starting at $19.99/user/month.
LogMeIn also launched GoToRoom, a revamped version of GoToConference, as well as Bold360, a unified product providing conversational AI, knowledge management and analytics for self-service bots, seamless handoffs to live agents, and agent assistance.
Takeaway: LogMeIn has a significant potential to leverage its heritage conferencing portfolio along with Jive UCaaS functionality to succeed as a one-stop shop for businesses looking for comprehensive business communications and conferencing solutions. Jive’s entrepreneurial culture, strong customer focus and highly scalable cloud architecture provide LogMeIn with a competitive advantage. The UCaaS functionality can help the provider rejuvenate its conferencing business and re-coop share in the overall communications and collaboration space. However, LogMeIn may need to eventually add team collaboration and native multi-channel contact center capabilities to its GoTo portfolio to compete even more effectively against leading UCaaS providers.
At Enterprise Connect, Metaswitch demonstrated MaX UC based on its innovative mobile UCaaS platform launched a year ago. The MaX app server leverages elements of Metaswitch’s tried and tested MetaSphere platform and the Rhino mobile application server. In the months leading toward the event, Metaswitch enhanced its MaX portfolio, already comprised of MaX One, MaX Micro and MaX Family, with the launch of MaX UC. As the names suggest, each MaX solution targets a different type of user. Common capabilities include a native mobile dialer, network intelligence, mobile network voice and a multi-persona user experience.
MaxUC uses native mobile network capabilities to deliver business voice, video, messaging, presence and screen share services to business users demanding the ability to use multiple communications modalities over a variety of communications endpoints. Furthermore, MaX UC leverages MaXIQ—a network intelligence capability that presents the desired business or personal caller ID without having to pre-select it via a separate app or star codes. Metaswitch reports that several providers are at various stages of trialing and deploying the MaX platform.
Takeaway: Metaswitch’s MaX platform provides a compelling option to mobile operators to differentiate, create new revenue streams and compete more effectively in several different market segments. Businesses with highly mobile users can now boost worker productivity with a richer, more intuitive, and more secure mobile communications experience. Native voice and a multi-persona user experience address several problems that earlier mobile UC solutions have been unable to resolve, including poor voice quality and undesirable exposure of the user’s personal identity. The user interface provides convenient access to multiple functionalities (e.g., voice, messaging). MaXIQ also enhances the user experience by eliminating the need to switch apps and interfaces. However, the true value of the solution will be revealed once providers launch actual service offerings and report customer traction.
In the past couple of years, Microsoft has demonstrated strong commitment to continually enhance its Teams services, as well as the broader Office 365 portfolio. A robust technology roadmap, compelling services bundling and aggressive marketing have resulted in more than 500,000 organizations adopting Teams, including 150 customers with more than 10,000 users each. At Enterprise Connect, Microsoft announced a number of solutions enhancementsaffecting different services within the portfolio. However, one of the most critical recently launched capabilities related to enterprise voice is Direct Routing, which enables Teams customers to implement third-party SIP trunking services by deploying certified SBCs. Media Bypass is a new feature that improves audio and video quality by enabling direct connections between callers in many scenarios. Microsoft also announced new certified SBC vendors—i.e., Oracle and TE-Systems. Microsoft further announced the pending availability of highly desired calling features such as dynamic e911, location-based routing, music on hold, and busy on busy. The vendor is also adding support for cloud voicemail for its premises-based Skype for Business Server customers.
Takeaway: Microsoft has maintained a steady trajectory of Teams enhancements over the past couple of years rather than focusing on big launches during major events. Partners and customers have appreciated the accelerated feature release cycles and have gradually become more comfortable with Microsoft’s current technology roadmap and strategic direction. While Teams continues to lack important voice and UC functionalities and not all Teams customers use Microsoft’s cloud phone system, Microsoft’s bundling approach has enabled it to seed the market with UCaaS capabilities that can be activated at any point in time. Overall, Microsoft is becoming an increasingly formidable competitor in the UCaaS space.
Nextiva’s efforts over the past couple of years have been focused on developing a platform that addresses a wide spectrum of customer needs—from enterprise voice to contact center, CRM and broad-reaching analytics. Nextiva NextOS, launched last spring, is at the foundation of Nextiva’s compelling service bundles.
Prior to Enterprise Connect, Nextiva announced new multi-channel contact center offerings to complement its existing voice-based call center solutions, as well as the integration of its cloud phone system with Ruby Receptionists, a personalized receptionist service. Nextiva’s customer care portfolio comprised of the previously available Call Center Pro and Call Center Enterprise, as well as the new Contact Center Pro and Contact Center Enterprise, provides compelling options to businesses of varying size and needs and can be deployed in conjunction with NextOS UCaaS. The new offerings presently support voice, chat and email integration. Text messaging and social media integration are pending. All contact center bundles can be further enhanced with Nextiva’s Advanced IVR, speech recognition, text-to-speech, and voice biometrics capabilities.
Takeaway: Nextiva is addressing growing demand for integrated communications, contact center, CRM, and analytics solutions as businesses seek to enable their entire organizations to more effectively serve customers. NextOS, along with the recently launched contact center offerings, will resonate strongly with SMBs looking to gain a competitive edge by upgrading and integrating their communications and customer care solutions, and leveraging advanced analytics to better assess the business impact of their technology investments. Even more important, Nextiva’s integrated platform approach will enable the provider to flexibly and cost-effectively develop and integrate new tools (e.g., machine learning, natural language processing) which will deliver greater value throughout customers’ entire organizations.
PGi announced a beta release of a new UCaaS offering based on proprietary technologies and tailored for the increasingly mobile business user base. Few details have been released about the upcoming solution. However, it appears targeted at knowledge workers looking to add a cloud PBX to their existing PGi conferencing services or replace their existing communications and collaboration solutions with a complete UCC offering from PGi.
Leveraging data and AI, PGi also announced important enhancements to its collaboration portfolio, including: Active Directory integrations with Office 365; recording reminders; live transcripts and meeting summaries; as well as GlobalMeet widget, which allows access to key features even when the GlobalMeet screen is minimized.
Takeaway: PGi has a large conferencing services customer base, which may find it appealing to consolidate their communications and conferencing solutions around a single, proven provider. With its global reach, robust network and strong customer onboarding, training and support skill set, PGi is likely to better serve mid-market and large enterprises than competitors with less experience in that customer segment. However, it will need to further enhance the offering with additional capabilities, such as contact center, to more holistically address customer requirements in the mid-market and enterprise segment.
RingCentral ruled Enterprise Connect 2019 with its pervasive presence at conference sessions and panels, billboards, and even attendees’ hotel rooms (by sponsoring the hotel keys). It also threw the most lavish party demonstrating strength and confidence, also backed by a major win with Columbia University, announced at the event, for a potential deployment of 44K seats on RingCentral. The provider also announced RingCentral Embeddable and an extended API library. RingCentral Embeddable allows developers to quickly and easily embed communications features into business applications. Key capabilities include account record screen pop with inbound calls, click-to-dial, click-to-SMS, access to softphone settings, messages and call history. New APIs include E-Discovery, which generates reports for all messages, and Message Retention, which enables administrators to extract messages for various purposes. RingCentral also reported that its open platform is seeing strong momentum and has more than 20,000 developers and over 2,000 integrations.
RingCentral Persist was another interesting RingCentral announcement. This new solution allows businesses to retain communications services in the case of an Internet failure. More specifically, businesses can still call the local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) via a PSTN connection, as well as receive call-backs during an emergency. Using RingCentral Persist, extension-to-extension dialing, outbound calling to the PSTN, and inbound calls to a set of designated users can be maintained at times of Internet outage. The solution leverages a cloud-managed, premises-based AudioCodes device to establish local PSTN connections.
Takeaway: RingCentral continues to show unwavering commitment to technology innovation, while simultaneously maintaining robust growth rates. RingCentral Embeddable and the new APIs show RingCentral’s acknowledgement of the need to leverage communications to more directly impact important business processes and deliver more tangible business outcomes. RingCentral Persist addresses service uptime challenges often experienced by businesses using Internet connections for mission-critical voice services. The new capabilities are likely to help RingCentral tap into new use cases, as well as provide greater assurances to customers with more stringent service reliability requirements.
Over the years, Verizon has assembled a diverse UCaaS and VoIP services portfolio, which it continues to enhance. It is reporting strong growth in the UCaaS market, driven primarily by successes with its Cisco HCS-based UCCaaS and BroadSoft-based mobile-first One Talk offerings. The former has enabled Verizon to penetrate larger organizations with more complex communications environments, whereas the latter has found strong appeal among prosumers, sole entrepreneurs and SOHOs, but is now also climbing upmarket. Overall, Verizon’s portfolio, which also includes HIPC and VCE, addresses a broad spectrum of customer needs. At Enterprise Connect, Verizon announced Enhanced Dialer for One Talk on a range of Samsung mobile devices as well as the launch of Direct Routing services for Microsoft Teams.
Takeaway: Verizon One Talk holds promise for the growing mobile user base in the US and, eventually, internationally. As a mobile-first offering, Verizon One Talk remains highly differentiated. However, expanded device choices and a richer, yet more intuitive mobile user experience will be critical for the solution’s continued success.
As the UCaaS market matures and a larger variety of providers launch UCaaS solutions, coopetition is likely to create new opportunities for more diversified providers. Verizon’s strong SIP trunking capabilities will enable it to capitalize on Microsoft Teams’ success in addition to growing its own UCaaS business.
Through a series of strategic acquisitions, as well as homegrown innovation, Vonage has assembled a highly complementary portfolio of UCaaS, CCaaS and CPaaS solutions. Leveraging its proprietary cloud-based and microservices-architected One Vonage platform for all unified communications, contact center and programmable communications services, Vonage is accelerating technology innovation and strengthening its value proposition as a more holistic solutions provider. At Enterprise Connect, Vonage launched CX Cloud Express—a new integrated UCaaS and CCaaS offering based on Vonage Business Cloud and contact center functionality from the newly acquired NewVoiceMedia. The new offering is targeted at the mid-market (100 to 1,000 employees) and features advanced voice services such as IVR and skills-based routing; performance management tools; and CRM and productivity tools integration, among other capabilities.
Vonage also announced the beta launch for enabling programmable communications through Number Programmability. Using APIs, it empowers developers and customers to enable new use cases—e.g., create call recording and scheduling apps or route calls to a chat bot—allowing enterprises to customize their communications system to meet their unique business needs.
Takeaway: Vonage has a robust UCaaS and CCaaS portfolio. The most impressive aspect of the new announcement is the speed with which Vonage integrated the new cloud contact center capabilities with the rest of its portfolio. It is also significant how Vonage leverages a common cloud platform to consistently deliver diverse capabilities—call, message, conference—to both customer care agents and enterprise workers. Going forward, Vonage’s programmable cloud architecture is likely to enable the provider to deliver rapid innovation and address a greater variety of use cases. To strengthen execution, Vonage is leveraging several different sales approaches, including: self-service and digital journey; inbound sales for SMB; product selling for the mid-market and through the channel; and a more holistic approach focused on broader digital transformation for the large enterprise.
A leader in cloud video communications services with a strong innovation track record, Zoom has stepped out of its comfort zone with a new UCaaS offering launched late last year as Zoom Voice and enhanced and rebranded as Zoom Phone just prior to Enterprise Connect. The solution is available with a softphone-only option or with desktop devices from Poly and Yealink. Zoom Phone can be deployed with Zoom telephony (PSTN access and calling minutes). Customers can port existing numbers or receive new DIDs from Zoom. Zoom positions the new service as an add-on to its video services (i.e., “video first” strategy). Zoom Phone PBX features are included for “free” in Zoom’s Basic, Pro, Business, Enterprise, and Zoom Room licenses. The add-on “Metered Calling” and “Unlimited Calling” licenses are required to unlock PSTN access and provide DIDs. Additional DIDs and Minute Bundles may be purchased as needed. Upsell incentives include larger meeting sizes and expanded admin controls, only available with upper-tier service bundles. Zoom also provides contact center functionality through partnerships with Twilio and Five9.
Takeaway: As Zoom files for an IPO, the new UCaaS offering makes it an even more appealing investment option. It is likely to help diversify Zoom’s revenue streams and position it as a one-stop shop for certain businesses. As the UCaaS solution matures, the provider may find it beneficial to lead with UCaaS wherever that approach is likely to be more effective. That may negatively affect its relationships with other UCaaS providers such as RingCentral, but coopetition is likely to rule the UCaaS market in the next few years as the competitive landscape remains in flux. Yet, Zoom may consider developing its own contact center functionality to avoid having to rely on third parties.
The UCaaS market remains a highly dynamic space as existing competitors evolve their offerings and new entrants launch innovative solutions. Market disruption is emerging both from within the telecom market and from adjacent spaces such as SaaS, CPaaS and other cloud services. The market entry of conferencing providers LogMeIn, PGi and Zoom, SaaS providers such as Google and cloud services providers such as Amazon demonstrates the high appeal that the business voice market holds. The high revenue potential in the business voice space is driven by the need for fundamental transformation to make communications the cornerstone of a business’s competitive posture. Competitors must take note of the potential portfolio synergies and pull-through strategies that new entrants can capitalize on to succeed in the UCaaS market. Ultimately, market participants’ success will be determined by their ability to accurately assess and effectively leverage their specific strengths and differentiators and execute in targeted customer segments. An increased investment in sales and marketing will also be required to withstand intensifying competition.