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Embedding UC in websites and business apps with a Twilio API

Twilio helps developers embed UC into existing apps and websites as businesses seek to offer more communication channels for their customers.

Twilio Inc. has come a long way from pranking tech journalists to attract attention in the crowded UC market. Enterprises -- especially consumer-facing businesses -- have recognized the nearly completed standard WebRTC as a way to enhance their websites, mobile applications and contact centers with better experiences and communication channels. The Twilio API is one of the first technologies to enable this new generation of unified communications.

Matt Keowen, senior director of marketing for Twilio, shared the company's progress, how working with WebRTC helps the company's development platform stand out, and its future direction as more companies seek to build applications with embedded communications suitable for their business needs.

Easily add communication channels to any application or website with a Twilio API

San Francisco-based Twilio enables Voice over Internet Protocol and video, as well as SMS and picture messaging functionality, to be embedded into Web, desktop and mobile applications. Web developers can use the company's globally available cloud-based application programming interfaces (APIs) to embed UC into websites or internal business applications.

Enterprises are already moving to cloud-based or software-centric communications, but many businesses will require help getting there. "Companies … really want to take their compelling Web experiences and deliver them in a seamless way, via the channels that consumers want to use for those interactions; some want mobile applications, but they also need a voice channel, and that's where Twilio [comes] in," Keowen said.

Once signed up on Twilio's website, developers can build and test prototype communications applications based on Twilio's REST APIs. Enterprises only pay for what they use, and begin paying for applications once they are moved into production. "As an app's usage scales up or down, so does Twilio's services, and [businesses only pay for voice] minutes or messages sent and received," Keowen said. Twilio works with over 1,200 carriers globally to ensure reliability for its customer's communications applications, the company said.

The Twilio API development platform takes advantage of the benefits of the cloud, including the ability to develop quickly and flexibly, and instant scalability. Companies like rideshare startup Uber, home improvement retailer Home Depot, and Coca Cola Enterprises, are using Twilio to build out their communications applications and expand rapidly, he said.

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In the past, some enterprises would scale up communications during a busy season  like the holidays by installing more hardware. "If a company wanted to add a text messaging channel or a call recording feature within their contact center, it could take them weeks or months and cost thousands of dollars. With Twilio, if a company wanted to add a feature like call recording to a conference calling feature, it's a few lines of code," he said. Twilio's APIs can integrate with third-party, hardware-based communications tools.

The company's first API -- Twilio Voice -- allows users to make phone calls through an application. SMS integrations into applications are also possible using Twilio's platform. "Text messaging is becoming an increasingly powerful way to extend customer interactions beyond the online browser-based experience [and] through to the mobile device without requiring a mobile app to be resident on that device," he said. The company also recently introduced picture messaging APIs for its customers.

Businesses interested in embedding communications into their applications or websites will still require their own developer expertise to take advantage of Twilio. However, Twilio's partners can help companies who lack developers. "Many enterprises are starting to become interested in doing development themselves. They are finding that the ability to build exactly what they want is more efficient than acquiring an off-the-shelf solution," Keowen said.

Twilio moves into the future with partnerships, WebRTC features

Twilio recently partnered with IBM to create IBM BlueMix, a development environment where IBM customers can build applications -- such as in-application dialing, conference calling and group texting -- using Twilio APIs, the company said.

"The ability to make the phone ring and connect with customers using text and picture messaging are applications that IBM wants to enable with their new cloud platform ... and IBM customers [are] looking for communications capabilities [they] can easily use on an infrastructure they understand," Keowen said.

Twilio's competition includes companies like Plivo, Voxeo and Tropo -- vendors that also offer cloud-based API platforms for building UC- enabled applications. But Twilio's partnership with IBM, and its ability to help developers integrate traditional phone system functionality into Web apps, is helping the vendor stand out. "In the world of telecommunications, you used to have to have a deep knowledge of the infrastructure and the protocols required to complete calls and send messages. Our cloud-based platform essentially virtualizes [the] telecommunications infrastructure and makes it accessible to any Web developer," Keowen said.

WebRTC is changing the cloud communications game. Twilio has been involved with the emerging standard's delivery from the start, and was among the first companies to build WebRTC into their products. Twilio Client, a platform designed to enable in-browser calling, is becoming popular within the contact center space.

The company will continue to develop its Twilio Client as WebRTC evolves. "Real-time communications is important, and we see WebRTC playing a really strong role in our ability to deliver different forms of interaction to users," Keowen said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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