APIs, CEBP, digital transformation, UCaaS 2.0, WebRTC – all of the above point to a fundamental change that’s happening in business communications. Whatever you want to call it, and whatever technologies you employ to make it happen, the fact is that communications is expected to increasingly become part and parcel of existing business processes and applications, not supplements to them.
“In the new mobile-first world, users are expecting communications directly within the application itself, for simplicity, context, and integration to the actual app values,” Phil Edholm, president and founder of PKE Consulting, noted in his standing column Real-Time Web Solutions in the last issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.
Amazon Mayday, which includes screen sharing and video, is an example of an application that works directly in the app, he said. Edholm referred to communications that work within an app, and without the need for the PSTN, as CPaaS 2.0 solutions. They are superior to PSTN-based CPaaS solutions, he said, because their cost structure and margins are not determined by PSTN dialing pricing and the cost-per-minute models of the past.
Companies like GENBAND (with its Kandy effort) and Twilio (which built a $1 billion business around APIs that allow developers to more easily bring messaging, voice, and now video to their applications) have helped popularize the idea of embedding communications into applications.
And today many other suppliers in the business communications and networking arena have introduced APIs so developers can access their platforms as well. At the same time, there’s a lot of discussion by both new and established players about embedded communications.
For example, 8x8 in March announced its acquisition of team collaboration company Sameroom. Although Sameroom has a team collaboration tool of its own, 8x8 was primarily interested in the company’s ability to connect other team collaboration solutions in the marketplace such as Slack and Skype.
“Right now, there are all these solutions in the market,” said Andrei Soroker, Sameroom’s cofounder and CEO, “not one actually interoperates with another one.”
But Sameroom allows for interoperability through the integrations it built, he said, adding it was a difficult task and will not be easily duplicated by competitors. It was a challenge in part because some team collaboration solutions don't have APIs at all, he said. Others (like HipChat) have APIs, he added, but Sameroom had to work with them to change them to allow for interoperability.
At the same time it announced the Sameroom deal, 8x8 announced Communications Cloud. This new offering brings together contact center capabilities, dozens of new integrations, open APIs, real-time analytics, team collaboration, and unified communications into a single platform. Ramana Gottipati, vice president of product management at 8x8, said the company is investing a lot in APIs.
And RingCentral has preintegrations with a variety of other business application providers. And it outfits its customers with public APIs so companies (like a London brokerage house that needed specific call recording capabilities to be compliant) can build their own solutions on its platform.
Meanwhile, ShoreTel has been emphasizing how its Summit solution brings together the company’s “telephony expertise with developer-friendly tools, voice and SMS APIs, and built-in application hosting so it is easy, quick, and cost-effective for enterprises and startups alike to build highly scalable apps.”
And videoconferencing company Vidyo Inc. earlier this year announced the commercial launch of Vidyo.io, the communications platform-as-a-service offering it first announced in August. This CPaaS solution is designed to help developers more easily integrate video capabilities into their applications, business processes, and IoT devices.
Because Vidyo’s solution was initially built to go into other solutions, APIs have always been part of its business, said Ben Pinkerton, director of product marketing at Vidyo. But, he added, developers were looking for APIs that were easier to use, didn’t require them to be experts in the technology, and didn’t require new infrastructure. Vidyo.io is the company’s answer to those requests.
“IDC expects the video platform-as-a service market to experience dramatic growth over the next several years,” Rich Costello of IDC wrote in a 2016 profile on the videoconferencing vendor. “While Vidyo has seen the most success of any vendor and has the broadest use cases of embedded video, the primary challenge for Vidyo and its partners is to convince organizations that an API-driven approach to real-time video makes sense.”
However, Marty Parker (News - Alert) of UniComm Consulting in a recent podcast indicated that this kind of thing is clearly the way things are heading, especially for companies that started out in the voice realm.
It’s very difficult to find a PBX company that wants to stay in the PBX business – including Cisco (News - Alert), Parker said, adding that NEC may be the one exception. All the other players, Parker suggested, are trying to get into adjacent businesses like collaboration and embedded communications to drive growth.
“The PBX,” he said, “is not the focus for enterprise communications going forward.”
However, analyst Jon Arnold (News - Alert) said that embedding communications into business processes is harder than it looks and probably seems daunting to a lot of companies. Although Twilio has had great success building a business around APIs, Arnold said the company is still a young outsider that lacks integrations with CRM and OSS and all that complicated stuff. Companies like Oracle (News - Alert) and SAP that created and sell ERP systems, he added, are probably in a better position to deliver embedded communications.
But Frank Stinson of IntelliCom Analytics said enabling anybody to embed communications into applications is what solutions like Avaya Zang, GENBAND Kandy, and Twilio are all about.
Computer telephony integration and communications-enabled business processes predated what’s happening with these solutions now, he added. The problem with CTI (News - Alert) was you needed custom developers to create the solutions, so it was expensive and complex, he said. CEBP, meanwhile, was about SOA and broadened the developer community, he added, but was still quite technical and required deep understanding of business processes. However, Stinson explained, today’s cloud-based development platforms are designed for use even by non techies.
“The key difference now is it’s much more accessible,” said Stinson. “You don’t have to be a developer to take advantage of some of this stuff now.”
Edited by Alicia Young