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Unified communications has evolved well beyond telephony. Other modes of communication like messaging have emerged as the concept of collaboration expands. As a result, new big-name vendors have infiltrated the UC market and will headline Enterprise Connect 2018.
Slack and Facebook will make their first appearances at the conference and present keynote speeches. Amazon, too, will feature prominently and perhaps peddle Alexa for Business and its contact center product, Amazon Connect. Speaking of contact centers, watch for that market to heat up at Enterprise Connect 2018, which runs from March 12 to 15 in Orlando, Fla.
But how will these new messaging-centric vendors be received by a UC audience that's traditionally voice-centric? And can these newcomers actually challenge incumbent UC giants Cisco and Microsoft?
To get a grasp on Enterprise Connect 2018, UC analyst Irwin Lazar shared his insights with SearchUnifiedCommunications. Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research in Mokena, Ill., will be attending his 16th Enterprise Connect.
What stands out to you at Enterprise Connect 2018?
Irwin Lazar: This is not really a telephony conference anymore. If you look at the vendors keynoting -- Amazon, Facebook, Slack -- they're very different from the traditional Cisco, Avaya, Mitel telephony-UC companies. We're looking at collaboration more broadly and thinking about team messaging, team engagement and different ways people interact.
For the last couple years, we've focused on the dynamic between Microsoft and Cisco and which direction do you go? How do you make them play together? We're seeing that especially in the mid- to large-size enterprise.
At the same time, you have disruptors like Slack getting a lot of market share. And I'll be interested to see how Facebook is received [at the conference]. We're seeing very few people using Workplace by Facebook, but I'm getting a lot of questions about it.
With Workplace, you have team messaging and shared documents and tasks, but you still need real-time communication. I'm hoping to see more of an integration story from Facebook. At some point, they'll need some hooks into other vendors. Right now, it's not a replacement for a UC offering. It's not going to replace your phone system.
The people that attend this conference have largely been voice-UC people. Are they the ones that care about Facebook, Slack and others?
What other trends are you watching?
Lazar: Enterprise Connect is becoming very much a contact center show. When companies talk about digital transformation, they're thinking customer-facing. People are looking at how they engage with customers through omnichannel contact center, through mobile applications and leveraging AI and machine learning to improve handling of customer calls.
Companies that converge contact center and UC platforms have higher rates of success. We've seen a lot of interest in leveraging team chat applications in the contact center, both on the back end so agents can find information and on the front end to engage with customers.
If you look at Avaya's Engage event earlier this year, 80% of it was contact center -- that's where they're focused. ... [Among vendors], it's becoming more of a battle around contact center and integrated UC.
Slack debuts at Enterprise Connect
For the past few years at Enterprise Connect, attendees talked incessantly about one vendor that wasn't there: Slack. Now, at Enterprise Connect 2018, the highly disruptive messaging platform makes its debut. But why now?
Slack launched its enterprise product, Enterprise Grid, in January 2017. At that time, the product release was perhaps too close to last year's conference, said UC analyst Irwin Lazar. Now, Slack is more mature, he said. It named its first CFO last month and has resources to invest in enterprise marketing.
Compared to other Slack plans, Enterprise Grid offers better controls for compliance, governance and team management, Lazar said. But it's apparently pricey. Some companies have researched the product thoroughly and were concerned about cost, he added.
"It's a fairly expensive product from what I've seen," Lazar said. "I haven't talked to any companies yet that have deployed it. We've talked with a lot of companies that use the free version."
In addition, Slack could struggle to sell its products to companies that are already buying Office 365 or Google and getting Microsoft Teams or Hangouts, respectively, as part of their licensing.
How does Amazon factor in?
Lazar: With Amazon, they introduced a product called Chime about a year ago. Since then, I have yet to hear them talk much about it. They were under a legal challenge from CafeX because CafeX has a similar product called Chime that they registered before Amazon launched their own.
I don't really see Amazon competing in the team collaboration space. Amazon is competing and focusing on the contact center market [with Amazon Connect]. They're challenging pure-cloud vendors like Five9, InContact and Serenova.
What do you think of Microsoft's migration from cloud-based Skype for Business to Teams?
Lazar: I think it makes sense; it's a better way of working.
Irwin Lazarvice president and service director, Nemertes Research
The challenge for Microsoft is for their on-premises customers. Almost everyone we talk to that's using Skype for Business is using it on premises. If you're not willing to move to the cloud for telephony -- and many large companies are not yet because they're not going to save any money -- that means you have Teams running side by side with Skype for Business. You've got overlapping applications that essentially do the same thing -- and that's a problem.
I expect you'll see more clarity from Microsoft once they get Teams features up to par and continue to execute on their roadmap. It would make sense that they bring the Teams experience to their on-prem customers.
For companies using Skype for Business in the cloud, it makes sense to transition to Teams. The Teams user experience should be better [than Skype for Business]. For folks with Skype for Business on prem, Microsoft has to lay out a compelling vision of what's going to happen to those guys -- and that's the bulk of their business, so that's an issue.