Cavell at Enterprise Connect: Launches, CPaaS & AI

Following the success of our Cloud Comms Summit the week before, Cavell spent w/c 12th March at Enterprise Connect in Orlando. There was a great line up of speakers from vendors and Service Providers in attendance and it is always interesting to see how the services we spend our time looking at are positioned to an enterprise audience. The event was also a great opportunity for us to speak to a number of US Service Providers and vendors.

Microsoft announced the launch of their Direct Routing capability as part of their Teams product. This may have one of the largest impacts on the Cloud Comms industry yet, as it will enable enterprises to run Office 365, including Teams (previously Skype for Business) and Phone System (previously Cloud PBX) on Microsoft’s own calling plans, as well as using another providers SIP Trunks.

Direct Routing is a capability of Phone System in Office 365 to help customers connect their SIP trunks to Microsoft Teams. In the simplest deployment model, customers start with SIP Trunks from their telecommunications provider. Next, customers use and configure a supported Session Border Controller (SBC) from one of Microsoft’s certified partners (only Ribbon and AudioCodes). Finally, they will connect their SBC to Microsoft Teams and Phone System.

This will enable enterprises who do not have access to Microsoft’s calling plans (currently only available in 9 countries) to use both Cloud PBX and Teams, giving them the opportunity to only use Microsoft systems. For Service Providers, this could mean they end up just providing SIP Trunks, as Microsoft would provide all of the value added service. Service Providers partnering with Microsoft may have to evaluate their relationship, as they will not own the end relationship with the customer; there is no reason why an enterprise could not go directly to Microsoft for their Cloud Comms solution and just use the Service Provider for SIP.

However, Microsoft still doesn’t have the feature set to fully address the SME market and yet to see much impact in this space. They did say that they would be releasing all phone features by June of this year when Direct Routing becomes available, so we may start to see it competing with those service providers targeting the SME marketplace.

Elsewhere, interesting discussions were had around the API and CPaaS environment, as well as the continued merging of CPaaS and UCaaS. CPaaS providers are trying to make it easier for enterprises to take advantage of the benefits of CPaaS, something that is driven by providers who are trying to engage beyond developers to enable all areas of the enterprise to see what they can envision. For UCaaS providers, this should open up opportunities for them to see how they can use CPaaS to enable new services and features for customers, as well as bring them to market quicker. As CPaaS vendors move beyond a transactional model of offering minutes and messages, they need to be able to sell the building blocks to make it easier for people to adopt and embed into their solution.

One example of this is Twilio, who launched Twilio Flex. This enables enterprises to deploy and customise their own contact centre solution built using Twilio’s CPaaS platform. During their live demonstration on the first evening, the Twilio team customised every part of the contact centre, building a fully omni-channel service with dynamic routing, integrations and features that went live immediately. By being fully customisable and scalable up to 50,000 end users, Twilio believes that this will be a huge disrupter in the contact centre market. As their sales model pivots away from being fully inbound, they will be looking for partners to work with to help deliver their services; this could enable Service Providers to leverage Twilio’s capabilities not only for contact centre functionality, but a full CPaaS layer.

8×8 also launched a new platform, X Series, which will have both their Contact Centre and UC platform on the same platform. This will enable enterprises with UC and CC requirements to have them on the same platform and to communicate seamlessly between the each other, as all CC users will have access to 8×8’s set of complete UC features. CC and UC users will be able to collaborate using the same interface and with 8×8’s launch of their own Team Collaboration suite, which works alongside their Sameroom acquisition, brings a fully-fledged collaboration suite to their customers.

A lot of the discussions and developments over the last year in the contact centre space have been around AI and bots, and how they interact with end customers. One of the key takeaways for Cavell was that they are still in the early stages of development, with a lot of vendors only just announcing AI capabilities and some initial use cases. Although some in the industry claim that voice is dying, it still has highest conversion rate in contact centres, although the ability for bots to reduce costs and understand the customer’s initial problem will be integral to future contact centres. For those who worry that ‘robots are taking our jobs’, it was clear that AI still has a way to go and that the main role of bots will be to simplify a problem, while the real engagement with the customer will still have to be human.