Communications Enabled IoT: Shifting the Focus from Tools to Solutions

13 Dec 2019

CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) is one of the most powerful tools I have seen in my 25 years in the industry. The problem is, CPaaS is just that – a tool. As an industry, we have seen it evolve from start-up status to a significant application in many provider’s portfolios, all along trying to figure out where it fits.

Is it somehow part of UCaaS? Is it something else? Is it really nothing more than just a collection of tools, gateways, and APIs in the cloud? And for many in IT, they have no idea what CPaaS even stands for, much less how to leverage it to solve communications challenges.

As pointed out by Sheila McGee-Smith on last month, we now have iPaaS (integration Platform as a Service) in the mix, as highlighted by the Five9 acquisition of whendu.  I really like this acquisition, as I have always felt the contact center should be playing a larger role in helping to solve communications challenges. This allows Five9 to be even more strategic in the enterprise and go beyond their traditional area relegated to sales or customer service.

Tools are often not very exciting, especially ones with generic names like Communications Platform as a Service. While I have been very interested in what CPaaS can do since my first exposure to Twilio many years ago, I’ve wrestled with the question of where it fits and how we should be talking about it as an industry.

One of the eye-opening moments for me recently came at the 2019 Mitel Consultant and Analyst Summit in Dallas back in September. Mitel showed a demo of their new cloud-based Workflow application that is designed to tie together things like IoT devices to messaging, team applications, and other applications in and out of their portfolio. Is it CPaaS or iPaaS? Or both?  Rather than attempt to answer that question here, for now, I’ll combine the two into C/iPaaS.

IoT and C/iPaaS are a match made in IT heaven. While there are a lot of great IoT solutions, the story the IoT folks tell usually ends with the alert going to a portal somewhere.  End of story.  But in the real world, these alerts need to be addressed quickly, they need to be assigned, and they need to be tracked and reported on. Some events might need a person or team assigned, some might require other assets, some might be urgent, and some might require no immediate action at all.

This is what C/iPaaS can do – it can take the input from an IoT device or portal and then automatically execute the tasks needed to engage the resources needed to address the alert. It can manage the communications processes needed to leverage the intelligence collected from the IoT device. If that intelligence is just sitting in a portal requiring human engagement, there is the potential for lost time and productivity.

The marriage of IoT with C/iPaaS and applications really brings out the value of IoT that is alluded to in the hype around it. Without automated communications processes, IoT is extremely limited in the value it can provide. But by “Communications Enabling” IoT, its full power can be unleashed.

So while I am not excited about IoT itself, or C/iPaaS tools alone, I am extremely excited about the union of the two of them working together. This is where the real magic happens, where real world business problems are solved and communications technology can actually make a huge difference in bottom line performance and productivity.

As an industry, we have been talking for years about Communications Enabled Business Processes. Similarly, I think that our conversations around the various new Workflow applications and C/iPaaS should be centered around what they do rather than what they are. I am much more interested in talking about “Communications Enabled IoT” than I am “Internet of Things” or “Communications Platform as a Service.” It goes beyond semantics, as I think there is much more value in talking about how emerging technology can solve real-world problems than in focusing on the tools themselves.

There is a huge opportunity for integrators, channel partners, and consultants in CEIoT, as there is so much interest in IoT, yet not many folks out there have a vision of the possibilities around adding automated communications processes. They might understand IoT, but they may not understand how to build and manage the communications processes required to fully leverage IoT. They also may not understand how applications like contact center, mass notification systems, or team collaboration applications come into play. These are the areas organizations are going to need the most help and will provide huge opportunities for consultants and experts willing to step in.

My hope is that as organizations move to the cloud, they can move from their operational infrastructure maintenance focus to the more strategic “citizen developer” focus, a term used by whendu in Sheila’s post to describe less technical resources that better understand the needs of the business and can use “no code” tools to build custom communications processes.

That is where we will see the full culmination of the power of the Cloud, UC, team collaboration, contact center, AI, IoT and more finally drive the revolutionary changes each has promised but failed to deliver on their own.