There are opposite forces at play when it comes to the next wave of communication technologies.
There are a lot of changes going on at the moment, being introduced into the world of communications. If I had to make a shopping list of these technologies, I’d probably end up with something like this:
- Cloud, as a Service
- APIs and programmability
- Business messaging, social messaging
- “Teams”, enterprise messaging
- Contextual everything
- Artificial Intelligence, NLP, NLU, ML
- X Reality – virtual, augmented, mixed, …
Each item is worthy of technobabble marketing in its own rite, but the thing is, they do affect communications. The only question is in what ways.
I have been looking at it lately a lot, trying to figure out where things are headed, building different models to explain things. And looking at a few suggested models by other industry experts.
Communication domains – simplified
Ignoring outliers, there are 3 main distinct communication domains within enterprises:
- UC – Unified Communications
- CC – Contact Center
- CP – Communications Platform
Usually, we will be using the obligatory “aaS” to them: UCaaS, CCaaS and CPaaS
I’ll give my own simplified view on each of these acronyms before we proceed.
Unified Communications looks inwardly inside the company.
A company has employees. They need ways and means to communicate with each other. They also need to communicate with external entities such as suppliers, partners and customers. But predominantly, this is about internal communications. The external communications usually takes a second-class citizen position, with limited capabilities and accessibility; oftentimes, external communications will be limited to email, phone calls and SMS.
What will interest us here will be collaboration and communication.
Contact Centers are about customers. Or leads, which are potential customers.
We’ve got agents in the contact center, be it sales or customer care (=support), and they need to talk to customers.
Things we care about in contact centers? Handling time, customer satisfaction, …
Communication Platform as a Service is different.
It is a recent entry to the communications space, even if some would argue it has always been there.
CPaaS is a set of building blocks that enable us to use communications wherever we may need them. Both CCaaS and UCaaS can be built on top of CPaaS. But CPaaS is much more flexible than that. It can fit itself to almost any use case and scenario where communications is needed.
Communications in Consolidation
There’s a consolidation occuring in communications. One where vendors in different part of communications are growing their offering into the adjacent domains.
We are in a migration from analog to digital when it comes to communications. And from pure telecom/telephony towards browser based, internet communications. Part of it is the introduction of WebRTC technology (couldn’t hold myself back from mentioning WebRTC).
This migration opens up a lot of opportunities and even contemplation on how should we define these communication domains and are they even separate at all.
There have been some interesting moves lately in this space. Here are a few examples of where these lines get blurred and redefined:
- Dialpad just introduced a contact center, tightly integrated and made a seamless part of its unified communications platform
- Vonage acquires Nexmo, which is one of the leading CPaaS vendors. Other UC vendors have added APIs and developer portals to their UC offerings
- Twilio just announced Flex, its first foray out of CPaaS and into the contact center realm
These are just examples. There are other vendors in the communication space who are going after adjacent domains.
The idea here is communication vendors looking into the communications venn diagram and reaching out to an adjacency, with the end result being a consolidation throughout the whole communications space.
External disruption to communications
This is where things get really interesting. The forces at play are pushing communications outwards:
UCaaS, CCaaS, CPaaS. It was almost always about real time. Communications happening between people in real time. When the moment is over, the content of that communications is lost – or more accurately – it becomes another person’s problem. Like a contact center recording calls for governance or quality reasons only, or having the calls transcribed to be pushed towards a CRM database.
Anything that isn’t real time and transient isn’t important with communications. Up until now.
We are now connecting the real time with the asynchronous communications. Adding messaging and textual conversations. We are thinking about context, which isn’t just the here and now, but also the history of it all.
Here’s what’s changing though:
UC and Teams
Unified Communications is ever changing. We’ve added collaboration to it, calling it UC&C. Then we’ve pushed it to the cloud and got UCaaS. Now we’re adding messaging to it. Well… we’re mostly adding UC to messaging (it goes the other way around). So we’re calling it Teams. Or Team Collaboration. Or Workstream Collaboration (WSC). Or Workstream Communication and Collaboration (WCC). I usually call it Enterprise Messaging.
The end result is simple. We focus on collaboration between teams in an organization, and we do that via group chat (=messaging) as our prime modal for communications.
Let’s give it a generic name that everyone understands: Slack
The question now is this: will UC gobble up Team communication vendors such as Slack (and now Workplace by Facebook; as well as many other “project management” and messaging type tools) OR will Slack and the likes of it gobble up UC?
I don’t really know the answer.
CC and CRMs
What about contact centers? These live in the world of CRM. The most important customer data resides in CRMs. And now, with the introduction of WebRTC, and to an extent CPaaS vendors, a CRM vendor can decide to add contact center capabilities as part of his offering. Not through partnerships, but through direct implementation.
Can contact centers do the same? Can they expand towards the CRM domain, starting to handle the customer data itself?
If salesforce starts offering a solid contact center solution in the cloud as part of its offering, that is highly integrated with the Salesforce experience, adding to it a layer of sophistication that contact center vendors will find hard to implement – what will customers do? NOT use it in favor of another contact center vendor or source it all from Salesforce? Just a thought.
There’s an additional trend taking place. That’s one of context and analytics. We’re adding context and analytics into “customer journeys”, sales funnels and marketing campaigns. These buzzwords happen to be part of what contact centers are, what modern CRMs can offer, and what dedicated tools do.
For example, most chat widget applications for websites today offer a backend CRM-like dashboard that also acts like a messaging contact center, and at the same time, these same tools act similarly to Google Analytics by following users as they visit your website trying to derive insights from their journey so the contact center agent can use it throughout the conversation. Altocloud did something similar and got acquired recently by Genesys, a large contact center vendor.
CP and PaaS
CPaaS is different a bit. We’re dealing with communication APIs here.
CPaaS market is evolving and changing. There are many reasons for it:
- SMS and voice is commoditized, with a lot of vendors offering these services
- IP based services are considered “easier” to implement, eroding their price point and popularity
- UCaaS vendors adding APIs, at times wanting to capture some of the market due to Twilio’s success
- As the market grows, there’s a looming sense of what would tech giants do – would Amazon add more CPaaS capabilities into AWS?
That last one is key. We’ve seen the large cloud vendors enhancing their platforms. Moving from pure CPU and storage services up the food chain. Amazon AWS has so many services today that it is hard to keep up. The question here is when will we reach an inflection point where AWS, GCE and Azure start adding serious CPaaS capabilities to their cloud platforms and compete directly with the CPaaS vendors?
Where is CPaaS headed anyway?
- Does the future of CPaaS lies in attacking adjacent communication markets like Twilio is doing with Flex?
- Will CPaaS end up being wrapped and baked into UC and “be done with it”?
- Is CPaaS bound to be gobbled up by cloud providers as just another set of features?
- Will CPaaS stay a distinct market on its own?
The Future of Communications
The future can unfold in three different ways when it comes to communications:
- Specialization in different communication domains continues and deepens
- UC ,CC and CP remain distinct domains
- May be a 4th domain comes in (highly unlikely to happen)
- Communication domains merge and we refer to it all as communications
- UC does CC
- CP used to build UC and CC
- Customers going for best of suite (=single vendor) who can offer UC, CC and CP in a single platform
- Communication domains get gobbled up by their adjacencies
- CC gets wrapped into CRM tools
- UC being eaten by messaging and teams experiences (probably to be called UC again at the end of the process)
- CP becoming part of larger, more generic cloud platforms
How do you think the future will unfold?