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February Conferences Roundup – 8x8, RingCentral and Cognigy

20 Mar 2024

February Conferences Roundup – 8x8, RingCentral and Cognigy

February was a hectic month for our analyst tribe – I had travel to five different events over a four-week period. Travel does come with the territory, and it definitely has some upside, but also throws off our regular schedule of research and writing.

Am way behind sharing reviews from events, and with Enterprise Connect on the horizon, I figure it’s just expedient to cover the most recent ones here in one post now. I’ll start with the most recent ones – 8x8 and RingCentral, followed by Cognigy’s Customer Experience Summit. BCStrategies colleague Blair Pleasant was at the first two of these as well, and I encourage you to check out her review for additional insights.

8x8 Analyst Summit, San Diego, CA

Analyst events are a prime opportunity for leadership teams to engage directly with analysts, and being on a smaller scale from customer-oriented events, there’s a lot of latitude to make this a more intimate experience. Kudos to 8x8 for pulling that off by hosting the event at the San Diego Zoo, in a space that felt like a tree house perched out in the wild. Yes, the WiFi was good, but they very much had our attention the entire time.

I can’t think of a setting further removed from the man-made world of technology, which is starting to feel like we’re the ones being domesticated. I’ll steer clear of that dystopian rabbit hole – for now – but will just add it wasn’t lost on me that 8x8 is very much one of the smaller, nimbler species trying to survive in the brutal jungle of UCaaS and CCaaS, where larger predators freely roam. Touché to their event planning team, presuming that’s the vibe they were going for.

That certainly seemed to be what Sam Wilson had in mind right off the top, and he did a great job reviewing how 8x8 has adapted to survive in this highly competitive market, and how their moves are bearing fruit. Since 8x8’s last analyst event, Sam’s role has solidified, shedding the interim CEO title to now being full-time CEO, and it’s a sign of confidence in his vision and leadership.

What I enjoyed hearing most from Sam is that the company has a clearer sense now of their identity and place in the landscape. His claim of being Silicon Valley’s “99th largest company” may sound like a desperate call for recognition, but I think it has a great ring (no pun intended). This is a crowded space, and this is one example of how they’re marking their territory to stand out.

Another example is being candid about where they can succeed, and following last year’s pivot away from UCaaS to CCaaS (they’re not the only ones doing this), they’re showing strong results. They haven’t hit the billion-dollar mark yet – which keeps them under the radar a bit – but I’d say that’s two, maybe three years away. More importantly, they’re profitable (and not all vendors are in this space), cashflow positive, and enterprise-based revenues are now north of 50%.

These are more than talking points, as it allows 8x8 to compete and grow on their own terms, rather than reacting to what everybody else is doing. As Sam noted, “we can fund our own growth, and have “validated our vision with customers – we’re seeing it work”. Maybe just as important, they can maintain significant spend on R&D (a lot of numbers were under NDA, so that’s all I can say), which allows them to chart their own course on innovation, especially to support CCaaS, and their new platform Engage – which you can read more about in Blair’s post.

Bigger picture, I really liked Sam’s energy, confidence and use of metrics to support his vision – this looks like a leader you want to get behind, especially for a company with such a rich pedigree going back to VoIP’s earliest days, driven largely by CTO Bryan Martin. Building off that, there’s a vibe in their culture that I also really like – their team seems to love their brand, and has a competitive spirit that wants to win and succeed, doing so their way. This is a very likeable group – notably Justin Robbins, Bruno Bertini, Dhwani Soni and Lisa Martin to name a few. As the Cat Stevens classic goes, “oh baby, it’s a wild world”, but with this group, I think 8x8 will be just fine.

RingCentral Analyst Summit, San Martin, CA

The last week of February had back-to-back events in California, starting with this one, and then on to 8x8. RingCentral’s origin story goes way back as well, albeit not as far as 8x8, but this event marks their 25th anniversary, so kudos to that! It’s fair to say that most of their growth has come in the last 10 years, but their overall success reflects a much longer journey – this is definitely not a get-rich-quick line of business.

This time around, the setting was very different, but very engaging in its own way. We were at the upscale CordeValle Resort in San Martin, part of Santa Clara wine country, so you get the idea. Not in my usual circle of travel, but very easy to get to used to.

Putting down my glass of pinot now, the event had lots of strong updates on their offerings and overall roadmap, and like 8x8, it was great to hear from and chat with their full leadership team. The main story that we can publicly share is RingSense AI, which extends “fit to purpose” AI capabilities for the many personas their value proposition is built around. More news to come on this at Enterprise Connect, but as you might expect, key personas would include agents, customers, employees and sales teams – and there’s more detail in Blair’s post.

One area that opened my eyes further was the update on events from Kristen Koenig. Building on their 2023 acquisition of Hopin, and now branded RingCentral Events, this is turning into a nice line of business for them. Others have gone down this path as well – most notably Cisco’s 2021 acquisition of Socio – but when mixed with video and now AI, the possibilities for “events” really opens up.

Kristen outlined how their “native, all-in-one” solution supports all types of event formats, namely virtual, hybrid and onsite. This isn’t just a supplier-driven story, as she explained how customers are “looking to do more with event and meetings”, and provided the growth metrics to support their successes. Not only is this a nice vector for growth, but it allows RingCentral to tap into buyers they normally don’t engage with – event marketing and digital marketing -providing another beachhead for their core offerings.

Overall, I should add that as with 8x8, this is a strong group too, anchored by leaders like Kira Makagon, Esther Yoon, Srini Raghavan, Carson Hostetter, Ashish Seth, and back-in-the-fold John Finch. From our side of the fence, the onsite analyst relations team of Jennifer Caukin, Tim Dreyer and Rebecca Bonham is tops as well. Finally, it’s interesting to note that like 8x8, the CEO role has now settled down with Vlad Shmunis leaving the role and then taking it back last year.

Cognigy Experience Summit, Dusseldorf, Germany

The week prior to California Dreamin’, I was nine hours away by time zone at my first Cognigy event in Dusseldorf, where the company is headquartered. Whereas those were analyst-only events, Cognigy’s was a customer-focused event. Aside from this event being on a larger scale, I was only one of two analysts invited, making this review more exclusive.

While I can’t be too public about the content, I feel like my timing to be there was good, as this company seems to having its moment now, and looks poised for good things in 2024. Conversational AI (CAI) is one of the leading trends in AI, and Cognigy sure looks the part of a leader in this space, especially for contact center and CX use cases.

CEO and co-founder Philipp Heltewig opened the event, talking about how Cognigy processed over one billion interactions last year, and how their platform can handle tens of thousands of concurrent sessions on a single AI agent. These examples of critical mass indicate their ability to deliver AI benefits at scale, which is what organizations need to get a good ROI. Even with incremental benefits – such as shortening handle time by a few seconds – large-scale deployments can have a major impact.

He provided other metrics indicating how well they are performing relative to competitors, and outside of what those in attendance seem to already know, there is a good breakout story here waiting to be told.

That said, by the time that happens – aside from what I’m telling you right now – they will have moved on to bigger things. The vision Philipp shared is about how “AI will be more human-like than ever before”, and he explained how this is so important for building trust in two ways.

First, it’s about building trust with customers to engage with chatbots and virtual agents to solve their issues. Secondly, it’s about contact center leaders – and C-suite leaders – trusting AI enough to do the job without driving customers away, damaging their brand, and of course being a threat to agents for their jobs.

That’s a tall order – and still highly aspirational – but this world is closer to reality than you might think. Not only do chatbots need to have human-like speech ability – that’s where CAI comes in – but he added that they must also have human-like understanding, and look human-like.

The former is also a function of CAI, along with AI building blocks Natural Language Understanding (NLG) and even Natural Language Generation (NLG) – and that’s an entire topic unto itself. The latter – looking human-like – takes us outside the world of CAI into Virtual Reality where virtual agents are “hyper-realistic” looking – and sounding. If this world is new to you, please check out Sora from Open AI, which he teased us with – and then all of this will start making sense.

Now it’s my turn to tease, and say I’m going to leave it at that for now. This is a slice of what I took away from their event, and you’ll just have to keep tabs on me for more. We heard success stories from Tier 1 customers, so there should be little doubt about their ability to perform at scale – and that makes what they’re doing very real.

There’s a lot to like about Cognigy’s vision, but you do have to wonder about how far this world of intelligent, human-like avatars can go. Germany of course, is renowned for its engineering prowess, but the silent film buff in me can’t help but see some eerie parallels here to Fritz Lang’s 1927 opus, Metropolis.

The silent film genre is largely foreign to today’s digital natives, but trust me, this film is even scarier to watch today then when I was a kid. In the end, the robot doesn’t win, and if Cognigy gets this right, their virtual agents won’t win, at least in terms of replacing agents and providing impersonal service at very low cost. Rather, they will win by helping customers win with better CX, and helping agents win by enhancing their capabilities. Now that’s a film I think we’d all like to see.



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