While many of us, myself included, were being distracted by talk of the ‘metaverse’ and glitzy headlines about 3D avatars in virtual meetings the most pertinent news coming out of Microsoft Ignite might have slipped the net.
Highlighted in Tom Arbuthnot’s excellent Microsoft focused blog, the news relating to the customer experience, CX, industry might have the most immediate impact on the unified communications space.
Many industry insiders have predicted for a while that Microsoft was likely to increase its focus on a burgeoning market, with the CCaaS industry forecasting double-digit growth, and now it appears Microsoft has made its first big step.
In this blog post, Microsoft has provided more detail on the launch of a new all-in-one digital contact centre solution. Dynamics 365 Customer Service will utilise Azure Communication Service, ACS, to add voice/PSTN connectivity into the platform allowing customers to manage customer interactions within a single pane.
Microsoft will also utilise its data expertise to ‘infuse’ every aspect of the platform with artificial intelligence, AI, to provide automation capabilities, analytics, and insight for agents and contact centre administrators.
The announcement raises a couple of key questions:
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What does this mean for the existing selection of supported Microsoft contact centre vendors and those offering CC integrations?
Nothing immediately apart from some new, pretty well situated, first-party competition. Microsoft says it will continue to support integrations with “key partners such as Five9, Genesys, NICE, Solgari, Tenfold, Vonage and others who are building connectors to enable their voice solutions within Dynamics 365 Customer Service.”
It does appear that the model, already established within Teams PSTN enablement where Microsoft offers the first-party option for voice enablement in Calling Plans and third-party options with Direct Routing and now operator Connect, will be deployed. Those customers looking for a one-stop Microsoft solution for all of their internal and now external customer communication requirements have this new option.
Will the new solution support Operator Connect and/or Direct Routing?
This hasn’t been confirmed yet but would appear a logical step. Azure Communication Service does support a bring your own carrier option. Azure Direct Routing works in a similar way to Direct Routing for Teams, where effectively an organisation can connect a PSTN partner of choice – through a Microsoft certified Session Border Controller – to provide them with external services in ACS.
Again Microsoft also provides Azure Cloud Calling for ACS where organisations can buy and provision phone numbers and PSTN connectivity directly from Microsoft itself.
Although this latest announcement has potentially big ramifications for the wider communications industry – as many vendors and providers were using Microsoft’s apparent lack of CX focus as a key reason for customers to deploy their integrated third-party solutions – it does appear Microsoft is sticking with its established model: provide a first-party option but also to support third-party solutions.
The key question will be repeated here, as it has been already with Teams Direct Routing solutions: why take a third-party service if Microsoft can provide it all for you? A number of factors impact the answer and each organisation will have to make its own decision after evaluating them. Cost, feature/function capability, and support/service provision are three that most commonly encourage an organisation to look outside of the Microsoft first-party eco-system.
This latest announcement ensures that Microsoft’s direct solution portfolio – across unified communications and customer experience provision – now covers all the bases.
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