The features users are looking for in UCaaS platforms are ever-evolving. Vendors are focusing on adding and improving features based on market demand and trying to keep up with alternative UC offerings. This year’s Gartner UCaaS Magic Quadrant identified four key UCaaS market trends that are driving vendor offerings.
- Improved dashboards, portals and tools
UCaaS providers put a heavy emphasis on dashboards, portals and tools this year. The investment in these features is an attempt to catch up to application specialists that have mature offerings containing these features. The tools getting the most attention are focused on onboarding new customers, IT self-administration, and measuring service quality and performance.
- Team Collaboration
The majority of UCaaS providers include team collaboration offerings as part of their UCaaS portfolios. Shared conversational workspaces and content and file sharing are becoming ubiquitous across team collaboration offerings. More users are placing value on team collaboration as they look for applications that allow them to share, converse and track progress. Many of the offerings from UCaaS vendors are still evolving, and have not caught up to more mature platforms like Slack. But the UCaaS market trend toward team collaboration is pushing vendors to close the gap.
Over the past year, UCaaS providers have focused on building out their global capacity to address growing markets in non-English speaking countries. This UCaaS market trend focuses on expanding multilingual services and support staff in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America. While English-speaking countries remain the strongest for services, the gap is beginning to shrink. While most providers feature documentation in multiple languages, 24/7 support for non-English languages has yet to become the norm.
- Video-focused user experience
Video isn’t exactly a new UCaaS market trend, but attitudes and approaches toward the user experience are changing. While vendors have focused on developing and enhancing video capabilities such as screen sharing and whiteboarding, now they’re focusing on improving the user experience through video-friendly design, such as embedded video. These UCaaS platform updates also include interfaces that allow users to hide menus not in use, making it easier to focus on participants and shared content.
On the Horizon
While Gartner identified four main UCaaS market trends, some trends are on the horizon. Virtual assistants, AI capabilities, IoT integration and conversational user interfaces have only recently garnered attention in the UCaaS market. A select few providers that have either already embraced these technologies, or have a road map that includes them in future offerings. According to Gartner, chatbots are an indicator that some of these features may become trends in the near future, as several providers have incorporated chatbots into their team collaboration and contact offerings.
Editor’s note: In this opinion piece, industry analyst Zeus Kerravala shares his thoughts on the omnichannel contact center and Talkdesk’s latest approach.
After years of discussion but low adoption, the use of omnichannel contact centers got a boost this week when contact-center-as-a-service provider Talkdesk launched Talkdesk iQ, an AI-focused tool.
For anyone not familiar with the differences between contact centers, multichannel contact centers allow customers to use a wide range of communications methods, such as voice, chat or email. Omnichannel is similar except the channels are tied together, making it seamless to move from one channel to another.
With multichannel, a customer might start a conversation in a chat and then decide to call. When the call is made, the agent doesn’t know what was said in the chat. With omnichannel, communications modes are bonded together so information can flow between them. This helps agents provide better service and saves the customer from the burden of entering information multiple times.
Talkdesk iQ, announced at Talkdesk’s Opentalk18 customer event in San Francisco, unifies several features, including omnichannel capabilities. With its new release, Talkdesk has expanded the definition of omnichannel beyond traditional email, chat, voice and text to include the following:
- Social listening enables businesses to listen across all social channels to help contact centers be proactive in responding to urgent posts. The feature uses defined keywords or hashtags to act as triggers. Social posts are automatically routed as inbound contacts, then given priority for resolution.
- Chatbot builder gives businesses the ability to build a Talkdesk iQ bot to automate customer inquiries and issues. Chatbot builder can identify when a live agent should be brought into the conversation.
- Reporting provides a deep understanding of the contact center team’s performance with reporting across all interaction channels.
Why the holdup with omnichannel adoption?
Currently, omnichannel is in a strange place. It’s been discussed for about a decade, but adoption is low. I estimate fewer than 10% of contact centers have actual omnichannel capabilities. This begs the question: If it has so much value and customer service is a top priority, why hasn’t adoption been stronger?
One reason is a lack of awareness of the value it can bring. I recently interviewed the contact center manager of an entertainment venue that still has voice-only capabilities. When I asked about other channels, the manager said its audience only wants to communicate via voice, but there was no real research to back that up.
To that point, I caution company leaders never to assume they know what their customers want. Last year I interviewed the IT director at a mobile payment app company. He said the company had bypassed voice as a channel because it was targeting millennials and others who think mobile first and felt voice wouldn’t be a priority. He found out later he was wrong, and voice wound up being a significant channel.
According to my research, more than 80% of customer interactions start via a non-voice channel, and customers use an average of three channels per contact with a company, with voice part of the mix. So, voice is important, but voice only is limiting. Evolving from voice-only to multichannel doesn’t make any sense because it puts the heavy lifting on the customer, and that’s bad for business.
Make the shift to omnichannel
Another reason multichannel has its shortcomings is the transition can be technically challenging and requires a disruption in customer service. The contact center is important to most organizations. But there’s an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality with the platform. This is where a cloud platform can help because there are no upfront costs, and implementation is as easy as going to a web browser. Training, reporting and other issues still need to be addressed, but those issues exist on premises, too.
One of the benefits of the cloud is innovation and product updates are handled by the CCaaS provider, which allows customers to stay current more easily.
Talkdesk, for instance, announced several new features, and customers have access to those immediately. With an on-premises product, every update requires some disruption while the system is upgraded. This wasn’t overly disruptive when updates came once a year, but in this era of microservices and containers, updates can happen multiple times a day. And the range of channels continues to grow so the definition of omnichannel tomorrow won’t be the same as it is today.
I strongly urge businesses of all sizes to make the shift to omnichannel, as there is great risk in standing still. We are in the digital era and customer service is the top brand differentiator. Making customers input the same information over and over creates frustration and can make a 1-minute conversation take 30 minutes.
Omnichannel meets AI and analytics
Research I conducted last year revealed two-thirds of millennials had changed loyalty to a brand because of a bad customer service experience. This isn’t tied entirely to the contact center, but every time customers need to enter a credit card number twice or explain a problem again, they might just hang up and use someone else.
Another point to consider is omnichannel and AI-based analytics go hand in hand. Every business leader I talk to wants to mine company data to find interesting insights. Omnichannel contact centers provide more data from communications tools that can be analyzed to discover game-changing insights.
While machine learning states “good data leads to good insights,” a voice-only or multichannel system creates silos of data that give a partial view. In that case, you can extend the statement to “partial data leads to partial insights.” Long term, this can create a serious competitive issue where the business will risk falling further behind.
The time for excuses is over. The value proposition of omnichannel is clear — better customer service, more data, improved insights. Cloud services can simplify the transition from legacy contact centers to omnichannel. With that understanding, I ask, what are you waiting for? The time for omnichannel contact centers is now.
Google plans to shut down its consumer-oriented Google+ social networking service and focus on a corporate social network for enterprise customers. The tech giant made the announcement last week after it was revealed the company failed to disclose a security breach that exposed the data of nearly 500,000 Google+ users.
Google will phase out Google+ consumer accounts over a 10-month period, while it focuses on adding new features to the enterprise version, according to Ben Smith, vice president of engineering at Google.
“Our review showed that Google+ is better suited as an enterprise product where co-workers can engage in internal discussions on a secure corporate social network,” Smith wrote in a blog.
But Google+ in the enterprise may be a tough sell. Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said most corporate social network tools, such as Jive and Yammer, have “faded away.” Others, such as Igloo and Sitrion, have shifted their focus toward digital workplace platforms.
“Workplace by Facebook has been the only social platform we’ve seen growing,” he said. Google+ is included as part of G Suite, a cloud-based collaboration and productivity platform. In Google+, users can join communities, follow other users and share content, such as photos and videos.
Google could provide a Workplace-like experience with Google+ as a digital hub for all G Suite apps, Lazar said. To succeed as a digital hub, Google would need to focus on the core user experience rather than delivering Google+ as another app within G Suite.
Google could also take a page from Microsoft, which acquired LinkedIn in 2016. Microsoft has tried to meld LinkedIn’s professional networking features with Office 365 through directory and calendar integrations and new collaboration capabilities, such as co-authoring documents with LinkedIn connections. However, Lazar said Google tends to deliver its applications independently rather than taking a unified approach like Microsoft has with Office 365 and Teams.
Regaining customer trust after the breach
Security is a major issue that Google will need to address with Google+ as a corporate social network. Google did not immediately disclose the API security breach that leaked user data, including names, email addresses and birth dates. The breach was discovered and patched in March 2018.
“That’s a black eye for Google and raises issues with trust with businesses,” Lazar said. “They will have to spend some time regaining that trust.”
Smith said the enterprise version of Google+ will offer security features such as setting common access rules and central controls.
Google has also made its alert center for G Suite publicly available following a beta in September. The alert center brings security alerts and actions under one interface. The service will also notify users when Google itself is investigating G Suite security issues that could affect a business.
Note: Vonage is a client of ZK Research.
The digital transformation era has arrived, and market leadership will be largely based on excellence in customer service. In 2017, ZK Research data showed two-thirds of millennials changed brand loyalties because of a bad experience. Provide a great customer experience and you win, provide a bad one and you lose. It’s that simple.
What’s not simple is understanding what makes a great experience. Sure, it includes the typical suggestions — have a great website, have polite people in the store, be proactive and have well-trained contact center reps. But it also entails enabling customers to communicate with your business the way they want to, using the apps they like.
The ability to place a voice call is obviously ubiquitous, but it’s often not the customers’ first choice any more. ZK Research found that with younger consumers, the majority of interactions are started with a non-voice channel. Businesses need to accommodate these consumers’ preferences. Text messaging is a good option, but there’s a growing desire to communicate in the apps people are already using. For example, consumers may be in Facebook, see an ad for something and want to contact the company. Instead of having to leave Facebook and call or text the company, they should be able to use Facebook Messenger and stay within the app.
Programming social messaging capabilities can be difficult though because there are myriad social platforms, each with its own APIs — creating a programming headache for companies. For global companies, the use of messaging tends to vary by region. A February 2018 study from web measurement company SimilarWeb found that Facebook Messenger dominates in North America and parts of Europe, while WhatsApp is rampant throughout Asia and other parts of Europe.
Vonage Nexmo APIs focus on connecting apps
First, the Nexmo Messages API, which is in beta, enables businesses to integrate apps with social messaging platforms using a single API. The Messages API acts as an abstraction layer to many of the more commonly used messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber as well as MMS and SMS. The use of a single API removes the complexities of managing multiple messaging APIs. In addition, all changes to the external messaging apps are handled by Vonage, so if WhatsApp updates an API, it’s transparent to the developer.
The Nexmo Messages API functionality includes:
- Feature rich media set including messaging, images, audio, video, files and location;
- Single event callbacks that provide information such as timestamps, message status, price and error messages;
- Direct connection to carriers and interface to Vonage’s adaptive routing technology to ensure optimized SMS delivery.
Second, the Nexmo Dispatch API, also in beta, enables developers to add a fallback mechanism to other channels if and when the first message fails to reach the specified recipient. The API can create customized messaging flows to ensure successful message delivery. For example, a college might choose to send out a broadcast message over Facebook Messenger to all of its students regarding an important event on campus. Not all students have Facebook, so in the event of a failure, the message could then be routed to SMS. Vonage’s API would prevent the college from having to send all messages over all chat apps.
Key capabilities of the Dispatch API include:
- Reliability of message delivery via preferred channels. An unread or undelivered message, based on time or message status, will automatically fallback to another channel ensuring better communications with customers;
- A single API call for implementing a custom social strategy making it easier for businesses to leverage a wide range of social channels;
- Callback for developers to detail the total price and outcome of workflow for ongoing analysis and optimization.
As the number of social messaging platforms continues to grow, businesses face increased complexity when looking to use the unique technical requirements of each app. The Nexmo Messages API and Dispatch API simplifies much of that complexity and enable companies to keep up with current social trends as they address the complexities that come with trying to integrate multiple channels. This approach lets business focus on the task of engaging customers instead of trying to navigate a complex sea of APIs associated with the wide range of messaging apps.
When deploying video conferencing successfully, you simply can’t install a video client and give users a webcam. Organizations with a robust video conferencing strategy see more deployment success than organizations with no strategy at all, according to a survey from Nemertes Research, a tech advisory firm based in Mokena, Ill.
A successful video conferencing strategy and deployment includes several factors, such as adoption programs and video analytics, according to a Nemertes survey of more than 400 IT leaders in various industries. Incorporate these five key elements identified by Nemertes to create a successful video conferencing strategy.
1. Funding. How an organization pays for video conferencing deployments is a major factor for success. The IT leaders with the most successful deployments had a dedicated collaboration team that funds video conferencing spending, while IT makes the buying decisions.
“IT has to own the decision,” Nemertes analyst Irwin Lazar said. “The core reason for that is because supporting video is the worst of both worlds from a network perspective.”
Video conferencing can be a nightmare for IT because it requires significant bandwidth and is latency-sensitive. Taking control of the buying decision ensures IT has better control over the system.
2. Adoption programs. A successful video conferencing strategy should include a user adoption and awareness program. Nearly one-quarter of IT leaders surveyed have adoption programs in their organizations. The programs include training, distance learning and train-the-trainer plans. More than half of organizations with a user adoption and awareness program have dedicated marketing staff within IT.
“It’s a hard sell,” Lazar said in a recent webinar. “You need to convince users of the benefits.”
Organizations with a dedicated marketing staff and adoption program had a 67% higher success rate than organizations that simply rolled out video and moved on to the next project, Lazar said.
3. Analytics. A successful video conferencing strategy should include analytics to measure video usage. The majority of organizations use analytics to measure metrics such as video performance, quality and length of calls, Lazar said.
Most organizations use the metrics available from their video conferencing vendors, while a small percentage uses third-party analytics vendors. Lazar said there was no difference in success for organizations using analytics from their video conferencing vendor than organizations using third-party services.
4. Single video vendor. Organizations with a successful video conferencing strategy also used the same provider for their room and desktop video conferencing.
“A single vendor is better than trying to cobble systems together,” Lazar said. Organizations that used a single provider were 22% more successful than organizations that mixed and matched their video conferencing services.
5. Room and desktop video. Successful organizations also used dedicated room systems in small meeting rooms instead of equipping rooms with a PC or laptop and webcam. Lazar said control issues can arise when a laptop or PC is used as the video conferencing endpoint instead of a dedicated system. For example, a software update could keep a PC offline for several hours, or a laptop could be replaced with a newer version that isn’t powerful enough to run video.
Organizations also prefer to use dedicated room systems for noise cancellation, active-speaker tracking and connecting to multiple types of meeting services.
In addition to dedicated room systems, organizations with a successful video conferencing strategy use desktop video conferencing. Two-thirds of IT leaders said they’re using or planning to use desktop video conferencing. Many desktop unified communications clients offer video, which helps boost adoption of desktop video conferencing, Lazar said.
Organizations that want to compete in an increasingly digital world and improve customer experience will find contextual communication benefits with communications platform as a service.
Customers these days are using more communication channels, and organizations need to meet these customers where they’re communicating the most, said IHS Markit analyst Diane Myers. Customers no longer communicate through just voice or SMS as channels such as social media, video conferencing and virtual assistants grow in popularity.
A significant roadblock to customer engagement today is the silos between communication channels. Many customers navigate multiple channels before completing a transaction, which creates a loss of context for customers as they switch channels, according to Francisco Kattan, head of platform marketing at Nexmo, a communications API platform and Vonage subsidiary.
“The problem is while customers think they’re having a single conversation with a brand, the reality is the brand is siloed into multiple channels,” he said in a recent webinar.
Each time a customer moves to a new channel, context needs to be re-established, which includes information such as the customer’s identity and location. Communications platform as a service (CPaaS) can create contextual communication for both customers and agents as communication tools are embedded into an organization’s website, mobile app or contact center platform.
While organizations that use CPaaS today are early adopters, companies that include CPaaS as part of their digital transformation strategies will reap the benefits of contextual communication, Kattan said.
Market disruptors fuel need for CPaaS
Digital-native startups — such as Airbnb and Uber — created communications disruption by using APIs to reach customers on their preferred channels, Myers said. Older, established organizations need to play catch-up to compete with these disruptive startups, and CPaaS and contextual communication can help.
Myers said organizations need to create a roadmap for what they want their products and customer experience to look like five to 10 years down the road. They should focus on building a customer experience that can happen anytime and anywhere regardless of the customer’s channel.
“This enables companies to dive deep and customize their experience that is very unique and direct with their applications,” she said.
CPaaS APIs allow established companies to add new capabilities quickly, such as call recording or real-time transcription, without having to invest in more communications infrastructure, Kattan said.
For example, Staples has used CPaaS as part of its Easy System, an IoT-driven virtual assistant that helps organizations manage office supplies. Staples developed the service to compete with Amazon. Employees can order office supplies, track orders or connect with a contact center agent on various channels, such as voice commands on an Easy System IoT device or mobile app, email, SMS messaging and a Slack integration.
“As more startups disrupt,” Kattan said, “established companies will innovate with communication APIs to deliver a better experience more effectively.”
On-premises contact centers are decreasing in popularity as more organizations look to cloud-based and hosted services for their contact center technology.
According to a recent Gartner Magic Quadrant report on contact center infrastructure, a number of vendors in the market are seeing sales drop for on-premises services as midmarket and large organizations show an increased preference for cloud-based contact center as a service (CCaaS).
Several drivers push organizations toward cloud contact center. For instance, organizations are looking to decouple unified communications (UC) and contact center infrastructure, move from capex to opex cost models and reduce total cost of ownership.
The adoption of CCaaS affects how vendors offer on-premises contact center technology. Many vendors are evolving their offerings from primarily on-premises services to include cloud-based capabilities. Several vendors in the Gartner report have made acquisitions to strengthen their cloud-based offerings, including Cisco’s BroadSoft acquisition, Mitel acquiring ShoreTel and Avaya’s Spoken acquisition.
Several other factors are influencing the market. Traditionally, contact center infrastructure purchases have been linked to an organization’s telephony vendor. However, as organizations tie telephony decisions to their broader UC strategies, they want flexibility from their contact center technology if they switch telephony vendors, according to the report.
For example, some organizations use Microsoft Skype for Business for telephony, but Microsoft doesn’t offer robust contact center infrastructure. As a result, organizations may select a contact center infrastructure vendor whose enterprise communications application business is not heavily tied to an enterprise telephony or UC product suite, according to the report.
Additionally, organizations are looking to add multichannel engagement by adding non-voice channels, such as web chat and email, to their customer service environments, the report found. For the past five to 10 years, organizations have looked to customer relationship management (CRM) offerings for these additional features, since contact center infrastructure has traditionally focused on telephony.
However, more contact center vendors are adding non-voice channels, which create a significant technology overlap with CRM. While few vendors in both markets overlap, Gartner anticipates the two markets will merge over the next several years.
Tied to the push for multichannel engagement is the shift to a holistic view of customer engagement, which includes breaking down communication channel silos and creating an integrated view of customer activities and workflows. However, multichannel engagement is still in the early phases of adoption and Gartner found more vendor hype than actual deployment in organizations.
Cisco, Genesys and Avaya were named market leaders in the report. Aspect Software and SAP were named visionaries. Huawei, Enghouse Interactive, Mitel and NEC were named challengers. Vocalcom and ZTE were named niche players. Unify was dropped from the report since it did not meet Gartner’s criteria for premises-based contact center product and service revenue.
Organizations that want to drive greater value from their unified communications deployment should look to integrate communications into other parts of their business.
Integrated communications extends the value of UC capabilities, such as messaging and video conferencing, by bringing them to other business apps. This fusion of resources drives greater productivity and supports digital transformation, according to IHS Markit analyst Diane Myers.
Organizations are turning to digital transformation to improve internal and external communications, according to Brian Gilman, vice president of product marketing at Vonage. Companies want to improve day-to-day interactions within the organization and external communication with customers. Integrated communications can enable greater collaboration with the apps brought into the network.
Internally, organizations are looking to enhance employee productivity. With integrated communications, an organization can enable click-to-call capabilities within Salesforce, for example, so employees can make a call and create a record of that call within the app. Creating a streamlined communications workflow within Salesforce aids productivity and ensures records are accurate, Gilman said in a recent webinar.
For external customers, organizations need to address their expectations for communication. Most companies only provide a certain number of communication channels, but customers want to communicate in various ways.
“They’re using their phones for SMS, self-service and email,” Gilman said. “The last thing they use a phone for is making a call.”
The more innovative companies circumvent the challenges of external communication by enabling customers to talk wherever and however they want, he said.
UCaaS and APIs support integrated communications
The path to integrated communications is paved with APIs and unified-communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) providers who offer similar capabilities.
Organizations of all sizes are adopting UCaaS to improve employee productivity and support digital transformation, Myers said. With the help of the cloud, organizations can extend UC capabilities further into their business.
Choosing the right vendor is an important factor for integrated communications. Organizations should evaluate UCaaS vendor capabilities, their experience with integrated communications and the security of their offerings.
“When you’re moving to integrated communications, there is a new set of capabilities you want your provider to have, especially if you don’t have it in-house,” she said.
Access to APIs also gives organizations greater flexibility to integrate UC capabilities with business apps and offers resources they may not have in-house. Organizations can develop communication tools with APIs purchased in a UC bundle or as standalone services, Gilman said.
“APIs are going to allow for hooks back into existing business apps and help enable better contextual communication,” he said.
Molding horizontal capabilities for vertical use cases
Integrated communications offers horizontal capabilities, such as SMS notifications and geofencing. Organizations can tailor these tools for vertical market needs to improve workflows, Myers said.
To determine the vertical context for integrated communications, organizations should evaluate the type of interaction between an organization and its customers, such as exchanges between a doctor and patient or financial advisor and client, Gilman said.
Organizations can then apply horizontal capabilities in a vertical manner. SMS notifications, for instance, could remind patients to refill a prescription. Or, geofencing could provide ambulances with access to electronic health records so a patient’s information is ready when arriving at a hospital.
New trends are reshaping the unified communications industry as organizations embrace the cloud and employees push new methods of collaboration. These trends are influencing the direction of UC vendor portfolios and introducing new technology, such as AI, into the workplace:
1. Digital transformation and the cloud. For the past few years, many organizations have developed digital transformation initiatives to maximize productivity and efficiency in the workplace. Now, those initiatives should begin to pay off, said Matthew Jackson, senior solutions engineer at performance management vendor IR, in a recent webinar.
Digital transformation initiatives “really have to stand on their own two feet and deliver the benefits,” he said.
Cloud deployments seem to go hand-in-hand with digital transformation, but many organizations have realized the cloud doesn’t mean an all-or-nothing migration. Hybrid environments will become the more popular deployment option over the next few years, he said.
2. New ways of communicating. One-to-many voice and video calls are growing in popularity. Jackson said conference calls make up 40% of all voice traffic in the enterprise. Multipoint video is also becoming more popular. The combination of the two, however, could negatively affect enterprise networks and network architecture, he said.
The unified communications industry is also moving toward in-browser and in-app communications, such as embedded web chat, as a preferred communications channel. Jackson said early adopters are the drivers for embedded chat and in-app communications in the enterprise.
Embedded communications “will start to take over low-level transactions that you don’t need a phone call for,” he said.
3. Emerging technology. AI will become more prevalent in the unified communications industry, especially in the contact center where the technology can be used for simple transactions that rely on speech recognition and interactive voice response. As users become more comfortable with consumer AI at home, such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, they will become more comfortable with AI in the workplace.
“With the fear factor removed, these kinds of bots will be increasingly accepted into a business environment,” he said.
4. The vendor effect. As a result of these unified communications industry trends, the “big three” vendors — Microsoft, Cisco and Avaya — are positioned for a strong year, Jackson said.
Microsoft will continue to focus on Microsoft Teams and messaging, while Cisco will extend its market reach by consolidating its BroadSoft acquisition into its Spark collaboration software, he said. Jackson also expects Avaya to be resurgent after its bankruptcy with a new focus on the cloud.
Amazon could be a wild card in the unified communications industry as it gains momentum with its Amazon Web Services cloud offering and UC product, Chime.
“If we look at the totality of the business and growth, it’s not unreasonable to expect they will have a much larger UC voice-based business this time next year,” he said.
A little more than a year ago, Facebook crashed the unified communications party. The largest social network in the world launched Workplace by Facebook, a collaborative platform for business communications.
Facebook said last month more than 30,000 organizations use Workplace by Facebook worldwide, which is more than double the amount from April 2017. Some big-name customers are using Workplace by Facebook, including Walmart, Heineken, Spotify and Lyft.
Walmart, as one of the largest companies in the world with 2.3 million employees, is especially noteworthy. Facebook, at last tally, has more than 2 billion monthly active users of its consumer product.
Because of their respective sizes, both Facebook and Walmart have nearly unmatched scale, said Jon Arnold, a unified communications analyst, in a recent webinar. By landing one of the largest retailers in the world, Workplace by Facebook has shown it’s a serious offering that businesses could consider.
The popularity of messaging
Business Facebook is not the same as consumer Facebook. Workers are not exactly posting pictures of their pets, kids or favorite meals. But Workplace by Facebook exploits the familiarity users already have with its consumer interface, thus giving it a huge advantage over other collaboration services.
Enterprise IT groups would certainly favor a service that’s easy to deploy and use, which helps with end-user adoption. At the same time, IT does not have to provision and support these software-based, messaging-centric services since lines of business can easily download them and start collaborating.
Workplace by Facebook, which has a free version, includes messaging, voice and video calls, live video streaming, file storage and the ability to create work groups. Enterprise features include administrative controls, single sign-on, and APIs for custom integrations and bots. Other enterprise features include integrations with e-discovery, compliance providers, G Suite, Windows Azure Active Directory and more.
Workplace by Facebook and many other similar services — including Slack, Cisco Spark and Microsoft Teams — are looking to capitalize on the popularity of messaging communications. Additionally, a young generation of workers, now flooding the job market, prefers messaging over voice communications.
A second wave of disruption
Messaging in the business world has evolved in three waves, Arnold said. The first wave of disruptors included services like Slack, HipChat and Redbooth, among others. These apps focused intently on persistent, short-form messaging that addressed collaboration gaps.
Next, traditional and established UC providers adapted and launched messaging tools or acquired them. UC vendors were late to adopt messaging since they were relying heavily on legacy applications.
Now, a second wave of disruptors has surfaced with the likes of Facebook and Amazon — two names that are too big to ignore, Arnold said. Earlier this year, Amazon launched Amazon Chime, a UC service that includes online meetings, video conferencing, calls, chat and the ability to share content.
As discount retailer Walmart competes with online retailer Amazon, the former needs to make the in-store buying experience more compelling to keep people from buying online. One way to do that, Arnold said, is to empower workers in the stores to be more responsive to customers. Mobile messaging devices and apps can connect employees to get information for customers.
Traditionally, Arnold said, retailers like Walmart are late to adopt technology. As a result, retailers need to deploy technology that’s easy to use, which streamlines end-user adoption. Workplace by Facebook offers that ease of use with an interface that’s familiar to users.
“If you can land a Walmart,” Arnold said, “you can land a lot more other retailers, too.”
Standardizing their platforms
Ease of use, in particular, is a strong point for second-wave disruptors Facebook and Amazon; and that strength should help them in the business market. Historically, established UC vendors have not been so focused on ease of use, Arnold said.
Facebook and Amazon also know how to engage with consumers. And since they’ve saturated the consumer market, Facebook and Amazon need to tap the business market to feed their own growth strategies.
Going forward, what if Facebook and Amazon become preferred enterprise communications channels and standardized certain protocols and codecs around their platforms? Because of their scale, other UC services would need to fit into the Facebook and Amazon models. Could you imagine? You might not have to for much longer.