ThinkingPhones: A View of the Future of Enterprise Cloud Communications

14 Dec 2014

In this Executive Insights podcast, UCStrategies welcomes ThinkingPhones to the call to discuss the company's mobile initiative. Moderator Michael Finneran, Jim Burton, and Evan Kirstel of UCStrategies are joined by Steve Kokinos, ThinkingPhones Founder & CEO, David Laubner, Vice President of Marketing, and Alex DiNunzio of Product Management. Refer to the transcript below for the full text of the conversation.

Michael Finneran: Good day, everyone. This is Michael Finneran from UCStrategies, and for our podcast today we're being joined by part of the leadership team at UC-as-a-service company, ThinkingPhones. With me are Steve Kokinos, who is the CEO, Dave Laubner, Vice President of Marketing, and Alex DiNunzio, who is head of product. We also have Jim Burton and Evan Kirstel of the UCStrategies team.

Steve, it's been hot times at ThinkingPhones, and I see you're now officially past the start-up phase. But before we get down to talking about our main topic today, which is your mobile initiative, can you give us a little picture where ThinkingPhones fits in the UC-as-a-Service space?

Steve Kokinos: Sure. Well, in terms of company size, we're about 250 people today and our plan is to double in size over the next year. And, one of things that we've done that's different than other vendors out there is really focus on enterprise customers. Our view is that companies 500 users and up are relatively underserved in the cloud market, and still 95% of them have yet to convert their communications to the cloud. So, that's really the market that we're targeting, and I think our unique blend of mobility, analytics and app integration helps us target both complex and deliver unique solutions that are otherwise difficult for some of the more simplistic offerings out there to handle.

Michael Finneran: Well, it's certainly obvious to us and our readers at UCStrategies that the workforce is changing. And, certainly, mobility is a big part of that. Can you give us a quick view of what ThinkingPhones is doing on the mobile front and your mobile platform?

Steve Kokinos: Well, I think the first, to kind of put in context, there's almost a billion devices that people bring to work every day. And, what we see out there is that too many IT organizations treat those devices as a liability. And, really, those should be an asset, because they deliver the best user experience of virtually anything out there. So from our standpoint, the mobile experience is the central use case that we focus on, and really, mobile first is how we focus on it and focus on our customer experience, on our user experience. And, what we see is that, as people move forward, you need to take some inspiration from what's going on in personal communications and help bring that to the enterprise. And, so it's certainly about delivering high quality voice, but increasingly, it's also about bringing messaging, both internal and external via SMS. And, in thinking about how you deliver business process and how you kind of re-imagine business process in terms of customer interactions in a mobile world.

Michael Finneran: Yes, I noticed that your platform now was SMS. Amazingly, that's something we don't see very much in the UC space.

Steve Kokinos: It's amazing to us, also. We think that's a core part of the mobile workforce and how you need to do that. But, there's core reasons why - it still needs to be secure, it needs to be reliable and also needs to be tied back to analytics and other applications in the cloud ecosystem. So, we see SMS as very important. And, more to that point, what we find is that traditionally, unified communications has been to inwardly focused, i.e., focused on providing rich communications for people inside the same organization, but really fell down when it came to delivering rich communications and interactions for people inside one company and with their customers and partners that are outside the company. And, that's where we see a lot of the technology that we're focused on. SMS being one, but things like WebRTC and others really enhancing collaboration and providing a rich experience, regardless of where someone works and whether they're inside the same company.

Michael Finneran: I know analytics are a big focus at ThinkingPhones, and can you give us a picture of what type data you're looking to capture, and how do you intend to squeeze information? Where is the value coming in this analytics?

Steve Kokinos: Well, I'll just give you a simple example. So, if you think about sales organizations, typically they're quite distributed and there's some mix of inside sales and field sales. They're using a variety of tools, SalesForce is a common one that we see almost every organization using these days. And, what we found out there is that analytics from a communication standpoint has tended to be quite limited, i.e., only looking at call data or only looking at very specific criteria that exists within a PBX. In our world, though, we just don't think that makes sense. So, our focus, as far as analytics goes, is taking the communications data that our system generates, whether that be call data, texting information, really any type of conversation that goes on, and correlating that back to SalesForce data. So, it's not just about taking data we generate, it's also about pulling data from other cloud systems and then correlating that data so that you can draw interesting conclusions.

So, as an example, in a sales team, it's not just about seeing how much business someone closed, and it's also not just about seeing how many calls that person made. It's about tying those two things together to start to discern activity patterns that lead to successful reps. And what we find is that throughout people's businesses, there's opportunities to correlate data and use that as a means to drive better visibility into workforce productivity and activity in general. And that's a core part of our mission is to help enable people to get that sort of value, which isn't about making a phone call. It's about understanding what the work force is doing every day.

Jim Burton: This is Jim Burton, and, I've written a number of articles over the last five years talking about the evolution of unified communications. It starts with click to communicate, followed by integrating communications into business processes and the third phase is analytics. And, Steve, I remember talking to you, and I believe it was 2007, that you were already integrating your platform into business processes and you kind of mentioned SalesForce. And, you're already at that third phase of analytics. So, you have been ahead of everybody, because when you were still integrating into business processes, everyone else was still clicking to communicate. So, I think you've shown a lot of vision in your business and where you're going.

But, could you just dive a little bit deeper into the business process portion and maybe a little bit deeper into the analytics, understanding there's people that have platforms out there that deliver some of those things. But, how are you integrating with them and what are your plans for adding components of analytics on top of your platform?

Steve Kokinos: Sure. Well, Jim, I remember talking to you about that about seven years ago, and I think we've made an awful lot of progress since then. But, in a funny way, the vision hasn't changed very much. It's really been executing on that. And we agree with you in terms of business process and analytics being tightly linked together. What we see out there is sort of two things. One is if you look at people migrating to the cloud, we see that as one big step in terms of enabling much more robust analytics and control of business process than has been done in the past. At the same time, PBXs and more traditional communication systems represent years and sometimes decades of sort of nuanced business process that people have built up that dictate how they communicate with their customers and partners. And so being able to kind of straddle both those areas is really important.

So, what we've done is look at it in a couple of different ways. One, being able to use analytics to make sure people get information in a format that they're accustomed to. But, then the second is really using analytics and using things like messaging and SMS to help rethink what those business processes look like, and in turn, what types of visibility you can gain into your workforce. One example would be once mobile is the central use case, a lot of things that people try to do on a physical phone that don't really make sense, become much, much simpler. So, getting rich information around presence, rich information around employee location, so location-based services, gleaning data, so if a call comes in, getting context from other services, being able to pull SalesForce data or service now data or LinkedIn information to get context around what that customer might be looking for. And, be able to have that immediately delivered sort of in conjunction with an incoming call. Those are the types of things that we see as really powerful out there.

So, in our view, analytics is part of it, and you're right, that it goes hand-in-hand with ways that people modify behavior and ways that they can modify their business process to communicate with customers more effectively. If a customer wants to talk to you via text, they should be able to do that. But, you need process in place to be able to handle that. And once you have those facilities, analytics becomes really interesting. We see ourselves as more of a hub, less than a spoke, because, we're aggregating a variety of communications data and then, ultimately, can feed that automatically into SalesForce, into Google Apps and into other places. And, likewise, pull data out of those systems to help draw conclusions. So, really, it becomes a central sort of repository that gives insights into business productivity and to workforce behavior.

So, it isn't any one thing, but it's, again, being part of that modern cloud ecosystem. And, as people evolve their business processes and continue to move them to the cloud, being able to seamlessly interface with what they're doing there is very important. And, increasingly, we're hearing from CIOs that agility is a big topic for them, and that's something that we're really enabling.

Michael Finneran: Evan Kirstel has joined us on the call, a new member of our team here at UCStrategies. Evan, do you have anything to pitch in?

Evan Kirstel: I do. I've been watching ThinkingPhones' progress very closely. It's quite impressive. Steve, I wonder if you can talk about the move of larger enterprise to the cloud, which seems to be accelerating and seems to be driving much of your opportunity, versus what we've seen in the past, which has been more this SME-types leveraging cloud opportunity, cloud applications?

Steve Kokinos: Sure. Hey, Evan, and it's nice to talk to you. What we're seeing is that there's definitely a shift in terms of adoption. And, if you break the market down, for companies that are 250 to 1,000 users, about 6 to 8% of those have migrated communications to the cloud. But, for companies 1,000 users and larger, it's only 1 to 2%. So, it's largely unpenetrated, and what we see is there's really a couple of big drivers that have led that to be adopted or moved to the cloud later than perhaps some other business applications. And, the way we frame it is really that it's this discussion around parity. IT organizations want to broadly move infrastructure to the cloud, but-I mentioned this earlier-and communication systems really represent a very nuanced way that people interact with their customers. And, even if the end user functionality and experience isn't great in traditional communication systems, that business process is tied up in there. And, one of the things that we do, and virtually the only ones that do in the cloud, is provide the ability to deliver parity to legacy systems and, basically, take all that existing process and bring it in as is without requiring a lot of change from customer standpoints.

And, what that leads to is a couple of things. One, it gives them a mechanism to move to the cloud without causing an end user revolt. But, then the second thing it does is it enables them to find a path into kind of the modern enterprise communications, which is really what we're providing around mobile experience and others. And, we're definitely see a shift where companies that are even into the tens of thousands of users or larger are now looking to aggressively move into the cloud. Whereas, in the past, our view is they felt that the options out there were simply too focused toward SMBs to really be really be relevant to their needs.

Michael Finneran: Well, I'll say, Steve, you guys seem to be singing the same song at ThinkingPhones that we're seeing at UCStrategies, the move to business process integration, the growing importance of analytics. It sounds like you got a good story to tell, certainly on the mobile front.

Steve Kokinos: That's what we think, and we're seeing really rapid growth, especially as we get larger as an organization. We've grown more than 100% a year for the past two years and expect that trend to continue for the foreseeable future. And, a lot of that's driven, I think, by analytics, business process and mobile focus, and increasingly, we're seeing the market shift that way, especially in the enterprise. So, we think it's going to be an exciting couple of years.

Michael Finneran: Well this has been quite informative. That's it for today, and I would like to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, and look forward to doing it again. Take care, all.


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