Like so many events this year, also Enterprise Connect went virtual. Instead of catering to 7500 visitors in Orlando, during 3 days the leading enterprise communications providers showcased their solutions online, and discussed trends and strategy going forward as we are coming to the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. The bottom line is quite simple: on-prem is dead and innovation rules, as we’re settling into our new flexible and remote workplaces.
Here are my five key takeaways:
1/ Zoom made it to the major league
This is the first year that Zoom featured alongside Microsoft (Teams) and Cisco (Webex) as one of the leading collaboration platform providers. All three are leaders in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Meeting Solutions that was just released [link], and all provide a combination of online meetings, phone system (PSTN) and contact center capabilities (either directly or through partnerships).
While very similar there are also a few differences in their approaches, stemming from their respective backgrounds. Microsoft emphasizes their strong position in the office, deep integration with tools commonly used on the desktop, and openness at the same time. Zoom stresses the ease of use of their solution, and the fact that it’s used also by the very young and old for education and leisure. And Cisco goes for their strong history with voice and wide range of devices, plus the ability to handle more complex hybrid deployments. Which solution works best in any particular situation thus depends on the particulars, history and mindset of the organisation.
2/ Platform innovation rules
All meeting/collaboration/work platforms invest heavily in innovation to improve the quality of online and hybrid meetings. Noise cancellation, automatic focus on speaker (in collaboration with smarter cameras) and smarter galleries all help to make the online meeting more frictionless. In hybrid meetings, with 2 or more participants joining from the same meeting room, smart cameras work with the meeting platform to visualize all participants in exactly the same way, in their own frame.
Next is to actually make online meetings better than traditional meetings. Automatic transcription and more integrated presentation and whiteboarding options are being rolled out and improved as we speak, real-time translation is coming soon, AI agents are starting to make meeting notes, and first experiments with AR (augmented reality) are starting.
With the large providers investing heavily to capture this huge market the barrier to entry (or keep up) for new or smaller solution providers is growing rapidly, but fortunately there are plenty of possibilities to work alongside the major platforms and provide added value for specific use cases.
3/ The Next Normal is Hybrid
There is no doubt that the office building as the place where knowledge workers get together every day for work is a thing of the past. Workers that were able to work remotely during the pandemic have discovered the many advantages, as have employers and organisations. In the next normal leaders are challenged to create efficient and effective distributed teams, and offices are redesigned to support this way of working.
All providers of meeting solutions are focussing on these hybrid organisations now, with smart cameras creating separate frames whenever multiple participants share the same meeting room, and the platform placing the frames in the optimal size and order. The overall goal here is to create a meeting experience where office and remote participants are equally effective, so (for the meeting experience) it really does not matter where people work.
4/ Meeting solutions become phone systems and event platforms
After increasingly replacing phone calls by one on one meetings, and integrating more and more UCaaS and CCaaS (PSTN) capabilities, we now also see them grow into full fledged platforms for large scale events. Breakout rooms, polls and chat have been around for a while, and all major platforms are releasing support for event registration, session scheduling, and multi-host events.
Business models are still a bit different for Microsoft, Zoom and Cisco, but expect these to converge as well as this model matures. All providers are eager to become the standard solution for small, medium and large gatherings of people online and hybrid.
5/ CPaaS adds flexibility for frontline workers and special workflows
To cater to the special needs of the large number of frontline workers that are not desktop bound, APIs and CPaaS come to the rescue to integrate different IT solutions and develop specific extensions where appropriate.
This is where we see the most differentiation, with also platform providers like Twilio, Vonage, Bandwidth and RingCentral stepping up. With contact centers moving to the cloud and becoming more distributed than centralized, it will be interesting to see how CPaaS providers will evolve as the worlds of meetings, telecom and developers come together!
About the author
Rob combines a strong technical and commercial IT background with 18 years of cloud communications experience as an entrepreneur, consultant, trainer/coach, analyst and business developer. His heart is in innovation and growth, working with scaleups and corporates to bring new technologies to market.
In 2016 he co-founded The Next Cloud because he believes the exciting world of business communications, with programmable telecoms, APIs, CPaaS and AI, is too important to leave to the Big Tech companies and deserves a local and people first approach. Optimal customer experience, new business models, but also solving our society’s real challenges by combining the strengths of corporates and innovators in new ecosystems.
Over the past 30 years Rob (co-)founded various technology companies, including one of the leading Dutch hosted voice providers (before hosted voice became the new normal). Today, he works with some of the world’s leading technology providers on innovation and growth, especially in the rapidly changing world of cloud communications.