Takeaways from EC18 Part 1, the World After Flex

By Nicolas De Kouchkovsky
3 Apr 2018

Enterprise Connect has become the flagship event for the communication industry. I didn’t attend the show but was able to follow it through all the announcements made and the recorded keynotes. Here are my takeaways.

And the winner is…

Last year, Amazon stole the show with the introduction of its Connect cloud-based contact center‎ solution. This year, the major piece of news was Twilio’s announcement of its Flex programmable contact center. The launch was done perfectly with well-orchestrated leaks in a TechCrunch blog article building up the momentum ahead of the event.

The company announced two new components to its toolbox for building agent desktops and monitoring dashboards. Twilio was already providing two such building blocks, Task Router for routing interactions, and Studio for designing IVR call flows. More than the individual elements, the importance of Flex is the shift from APIs to programmable components to assemble contact centers. Twilio’s trajectory is very similar to the one Genesys embarked on in early 2000, evolving from CTI middleware to applications. It’s the recognition that creating a contact center from scratch using low-level APIs is a big undertaking.

The company, in its typical iterative approach, is progressing by steps. We should expect more building blocks to follow. I recall from my days building an ACD two other components hard to develop from scratch. Interaction and context management is a central piece of omnichannel customer communications. Likewise, interaction and agent activity models are critical for putting together a consistent reporting engine. Today Twilio relies on Ytica for reporting.

The market landscape after Flex

Twilio APIs have become the default option for software vendors looking at communication-enabling their applications. It became particularly visible in Ovum’s latest Decision Matrix report on selecting a multichannel cloud contact center. The analyst firm identified four challengers, three of them using Twilio, NewVoiceMedia, Talkdesk, and Serenova, and only one, Bright Pattern, using its own telephony stack. Broad use of its APIs allowed Twilio to claim a top spot in the DMG Consulting market share report for cloud-based contact centers.

With Twilio moving up in the value stack, many are wondering if it will end up competing with its partners. I noticed that Talkdesk, one of its historical partners, announced an enterprise edition of its cloud contact center software at the event. As I was trying to understand what was new, I ended up digging into their plans comparison page. The major difference I found is the option to use your own carrier, thus no longer relying on Twilio. In a recent LinkedIn stream, NewVoiceMedia CEO Dennis Fois also clarified the company was not using Twilio for telecom.

I wouldn’t draw any conclusions at this stage though. Ryan Nichols from Zendesk, another player that built its call center application on Twilio, doesn’t see a conflict. In an article about Flex, he points to the benefits for customers of having the option to build using components or buy a packaged solution. I am not a big fan of the build vs. buy vision of the market; I don’t see many companies looking to build their own contact center infrastructure. Instead, I see a continued frustration of large enterprises with the amount of effort required to customize and integrate their solution to meet their specific needs. With programmable components and higher level APIs, Twilio is getting closer to providing an alternative.

Amazon

Amazon Connect was the star of Enterprise Connect 2017. The company, unfortunately, didn’t provide much of an update during this year’s keynote. Instead, it discussed its new Alexa for Business solution introduced last November, indeed another industry shaker. Amazon Connect current product feature set and packaging are geared towards entry-level and informal call centers. I am getting the feedback it is actually large enterprises that are the most interested. So far, this traction has mostly materialized in lab evaluations. We should expect Amazon to build up its capabilities and strengthen its go-to-market towards enterprises.

Three elements of the Amazon Connect offer make it appealing to this segment:

  1. Amazon Web Services is one of the safest choices for a large cloud deployment in terms of scale and security
  2. Amazon Connect being used by Amazon itself brought the promise of a simpler solution that could meet the needs of a very large company offering a best-in-class customer experience
  3. Amazon Connect provides easy access to many other capabilities of the Amazon Cloud

The latter is what seems the more exciting for large enterprises looking at better integrating customer communications with new technologies and other applications. This integrability, together with the ability to customize their stack without having to deal with the complexity of legacy solutions, are the same drivers that Twilio is looking to address with its “component” approach.

Towards a battle royale for enterprise contact centers?

The enterprise contact center market is changing rapidly. A few years ago, the main options were Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, and Interactive Intelligence. All four have been distracted lately:

  • Avaya had to focus on its financial restructuring
  • Cisco focused on Spark and collaboration, putting contact center in the back seat
  • Genesys and Interactive Intelligence had their attention taken by their consolidation

The space is heating up with not just Amazon and Twilio’s entrance, but renewed efforts from historical players:

  • Avaya’s first move post-chapter 11 was to acquire Spoken Communications to go after the cloud opportunity
  • Cisco has completed the acquisition of Broadsoft and will soon announce its new strategy
  • Genesys’ merger with Interactive Intelligence is behind

In the second part of this article, I will discuss other new entrants and the moves of Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) providers in this dynamic market.

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