Why Enterprise Messaging will Gobble up Unified Communications

March 23, 2015

You won’t see it until it is too late.

I’ve spent most of last week at Enterprise Connect 2015. It was my second time at Enterprise Connect and I enjoyed it immensely. I had little time for the ongoing sessions, and even getting to the show floor was challenging due to the many meetings I had – it made great use of my time.

I was invited to speak at the WebRTC conference-within-a-conference day. Last year, I talked about contact centers and CRMs. This year, I decided to talk about Unified Communications and Enterprise Messaging – or why I believe UC vendors are going to be challenged.

Unified Communications vs Messaging

The vendors in the room and panelists throughout the day didn’t really like my opinion. The feedback I received later from some of the people who attended the session were very positive. Go figure.

My main concern is that Unified Communications is no longer a service. WebRTC made implementing the basis of UC so much easier, that we should all be treating UC capabilities today as a feature. Something you go and embed into some other service. This being the case, what’s the point in buying a feature when you can go buy a service?

Colin and Messaging

Before I begin, I’d like to share a few lines from a great post by Colin Berkshire I’ve read on TalkingPointz this week:

I’m hard-pressed to find anybody in Asia anymore who is not on WeChat. It’s used for sending text, voice, pictures, and now even for audio and video phone calls. Yes, I think this means it’s the new Unified Communications.

It’s too early for anybody to declare that this is definitively what’s happening. But I’ve never seen a service take off quite so widely and be used in business so much so quickly. We negotiate contracts through it, we send pictures of expense reports through it, we do all the stuff we used to do in an email through it.


So I’m going to stick my neck out a little bit here and predict that the new Unified Communications looks like WeChat and other chatting services.

Read it. Colin looks at this from a consumer messaging service – I am looking at it from an enterprise messaging service. Both ways, Unified Communications as we know it today loses.

Me and my venture

To make my point at the conference, I gave the example of a recent venture I’ve been involved in with a few partners. How the whole operation of starting a company has this checklist of things you need to do – decide on a company name, design a logo and brand, open a legal entity, open a bank account, open a website, and open a Slack account.

Slack was the next thing to select after Google Apps (which brought us email and drive). The reason? Wanting to manage and sync better as a team.

As for Unified Communications, we’re oscillating at the moment between Talky.io and Skype, not really seeing any real value in picking or paying for one tool. We could have just used Google Hangouts, appear.in or Room from within Slack – all WebRTC services that have been integrated into Slack (either because Slack did the work or the vendors did it – who cares?) We chose not to. If Slack adds it in on their own, we might use it.

And there lies the threat to Unified Communications – I no longer care if and what I am using as long as it is integrated into my workflow, which is more and more being ruled by the Enterprise Messaging services – the ones I use to communicate asynchronously throughout the day.

Where do I see the main difference? Especially when compared to Cisco Spark, Unify and Skype for Business?

I missed Cisco’s keynote, but did look at the Cisco Spark YouTube video. I saw Unify and how it was pitched at their booth. I sat in Microsoft’s keynote.

All of these tools were focused on video (and voice) communications. On showing off work rooms, and groups and online collaboration. They took Enterprise Video Conferencing from 2010, and introduced to it a few aspects:

  1. Cloud
  2. Mobility
  3. Desktop

Reduced reliance on the on-premise, room system and hardware.

The end result is great, if you come from a Unified Communications background, but seriously lacking if you deal with enterprise messaging as it is used in 2015 or with project management tools.

I like how Slack define themselves on their homepage: Slack is a platform for team communication: everything in one place, instantly searchable, available wherever you go.

The bold marking of “instantly searchable” is my own doing. Cisco and Skype never mention this capability. It wasn’t front and center for them. Their systems are based around people as far as I could tell, which is a nice progress from designing enterprise software around the IT administrator. The missing part here is that I am not always searching for a person to communication with, but rather with a piece of information that got shared.

Unify had a search capability, but it seemed a bit cumbersome, with too many filters. It might be great. It just might be my own bias.

Slack excels exactly in the searchable. It searches not only in the conversations held on the system, but also inside the links that got shared. You shared a Google Doc? Uploaded a Word file? The contents get indexed and become searchable. My guess is that none of the Unified Communications vendors have even thought of that angle – too engrossed with the here and now of voice and video communications, the storage and retrieval part flew over their heads.

Which brings me back to my point:

  • Adding voice and video? Easy now that we have WebRTC and a large number of vendors offering tools, services and platforms for developers.
  • Changing a mindset and DNA from real time/UC to workflow/project management? Harder…

If you are interested in the session’s slides, you can find them here:

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  1. Bingo, Tsahi!

    That’s exactly what I was highlighting in my recent post, except that there I pointed at mobility as a big driver for messaging vs. voice/video “calls” as a starting point. Telephony has always been limited when it comes to information exchange, so multimodal smartphones and tablets have allowed messaging to become the starting point for business interactions.

    1. Thanks Art.

      I am not sure it is about modality here – it is about the ability to store and retrieve interactions easily and at scale (i.e – not within a single session or a specific context).

      Communications is means to an end – a step in the way. And the place it takes in terms of its importance is decreasing each year.

      Compare the amount of money VCs invested in 2014 on communications versus Big Data Analytics to understand where the value lies these days…


  2. Completely agree, Tsahi.

    Your point that communications is often a means to an end is critical. In the past, the comms tech would get in the way. It was essentially out-of-band. With the combination of WebRTC (ORTC in the future; I think), ubiquitous mobile Internet and messaging, the tech can now stay out of the way. I would add groups/identity to your messaging theme as well, e.g.:

    Sorry we only got to shake hands at EC; would have liked to discuss this post of yours and your Influencers Quiz post in more detail.

      1. Should I add Tivia to your index as WebRTC service? Not sure you want services that are and aren’t WebRTC at same time? Tivia applies mainly for end users now. For developers later (integration APIs). Sorry to use your blog comment – Twitter won’t let me DM you.

  3. Not sure I understand what does it mean is and isn’t WebRTC.
    Either it uses WebRTC in some way or another – or it can be used to build something that has WebRTC – not theoretically.

  4. Well I have to agree from an SMB perspective! As you know, Irwin Lazar, yourself and others have also been discussing this topic on noJitter: http://www.nojitter.com/post/240169757/reflecting-on-enterprise-connect-2015

    Here at Altocloud we are also using Slack which is doing the majority of our internal “UC” work with various automated integrations into our app environment. I have not missed any classic tool. Around that we use (some you mention) a mixture of Hangouts, Skype, join.me and UberConference depending on need. We have mobile phones (with Slack :)) but no phone system. We might use other WebRTC apps in the future but right now Hangouts is adequate for meetings (and gets added whenever you create a Google calendar meeting so it’s hard to avoid :)).

    The challenge is how this gradually translates into larger enterprise needs where they have been buying these telecommunications-originated UC-suites for a while (or at least thinking about it) and want to maintain all their standardization and control. However, as Clayton Christensen has proven, disruptive innovation always starts at the narrower often-SMB end and then quickly takes over the world! So I have high hopes. In fact I think you can see the sudden and effective impact that Microsoft Lync had on traditional UC vendors as precisely showing what a “different perspective” from IM/Messaging/Presence can bring to a market. The next generation of Messaging is not Microsoft IM – it is Slack and the many other new emerging messaging apps. I believe, that as they add or integrate with the right amount of voice/video/WebRTC they will become, as you say, a major threat to classic UC.

  5. Thanks for the information. For an enterprise we know what is the importance of communication during work, So these enterprise messaging app can help to communicate with your employees for better productivity.

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