Every year, I attend Enterprise Connect (link) to assess the progress that vendors are making to accommodate demand for Unified Communications (UC) infrastructure, especially the flavors that support self-service and assisted services functions for customer care and support. Every year I come away more convinced than ever that there really is little or no demand for “pure” UC (meaning “UC for UC’s sake”), especially in the contact center. What enterprise customers really want is middleware, application program interfaces (APIs) and other interstitial resources that enable them to protect and extend the service life of the IT and network elements that are already working, while adding, integrating or appending platforms that support new features and functions that are expected in this era of mobile communications, multi-channel support and, increasingly HD-video commerce.
My observation held more true than ever at Enterprise Connect 2014 in Orlando. Through keynotes and briefings Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft, Genesys, Unify, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise and others conveyed a picture of the world that has been simplified and flattened by IP-based communications, well-defined APIs and well-understood standards. Simplicity has enabled individual consumers to carry out commerce and communications over their channel-of-choice, using their device-of-choice and at their time-of-choice. It is not a story of unification; instead it is about supporting, and indeed anticipating, diversity and choices. Accordingly, the success of any particular vendor should not be its “share” of a fictional Unified Communications market (a zero-sum game), but how well a given solution provider co-exists with existing, proven solutions. This remains a heterogeneous, multi-vendor world. “Live it, or Live With it!” (credit to Firesign Theatre)
In past years, listening to the giant vendors snipe at one another in order to gain competitive advantage was the major source of entertainment. This year the competitive landscape is totally different. Large, legacy vendors are challenged to compete on unfamiliar terrain where emerging technology providers may have already established a beachhead. Companies large and small are on equal footing when trying to gain a foothold in The Cloud. Competitive dynamics are equally distorted when companies try to get up-to-speed while helping their enterprise customers develop and pursue mobile strategies. Ditto when all eyes are focusing on the prize (and price) of creating the best CX (customer experience).
Creating the best customer experience (CX) trumps all other competitive considerations. It is the desire to take advantage of analytic engines and big databases that can only reside in the cloud that has precipitated the massive move to cloud-based or “hybrid” implementations of self-service and assisted services resources. That’s where rules engines and decisioning systems can be brought to bear to determine the best way to treat interactions from mobile devices. There’s a “Back to the Future” aspect to this approach. High-volume IVR systems linked to intelligent routing, like AT&T CallPromptr and MCI’s EVS (Enhanced Voice Services) were clunky, voice-only prototypes for today’s Conversational Clouds. They are the platforms for customer care applications that present individuals with a natural user interface that let’s them communicate in their own words (natural language), whether they choose to text, type, talk, point or all of the above.
It’s a tall order to keep both UC and Contact Center systems current and constantly up-and-running. To do so a growing number of companies are turning to cloud-based solutions providers, They keep the latest technology in-use and they have proven that they can do it at scale with high levels of reliability, making them the best candidates to manage transition, though not “unification.” It’s a high-wire act which is also supported by relatively rapid-fire releases of software updates. Genesys, for instance, recently revealed that it is stepping up the cycle times for releasing new software into its Customer Experience Cloud to 4-6 weeks. Microsoft’s keynoter at Enterprise Connect Gurdeep Singh Pall noted that its flagship UC platform Lync, is slated for quarterly releases, as opposed to Microsoft’s long-standing policy of tying major releases to the updates of the Windows operating system. The innovation cycle is speeding up at a faster rate than ever before. This is a given that is destined to be the source of significant risk for enterprise IT managers and business opportunities for IT solutions providers (cloud-based, premises-based and hybrid).
For calculus aficionados this is one of those 2nd derivative moments. We’re witnessing an increased rate of change in the rate of change, fueled by the trends highlighted at Enterprise Connect and amplified by the speed at which new releases of applications, features and functions can be launched into multiple vendors’ cloud-based (or hybrid) platforms. Opportunities abound for the firms that are fast to act, can fill known gaps and can be disruptive without disrupting system performance.