Current Needs and Hot Prospects iN 2016

April 4, 2016

Every year I enjoy writing a piece that amounts to a strategic assessment of where hosted PBX/unified communications is headed. It is valuable to take a step back from daily challenges and think more about the medium- and long-term evolution of the market and the technology. Like you, my sources for understanding what is hot are trade shows, blogs, publications like INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine, and trend reports like our annual VoIP Service Provider Market Report.  However, my best sources are the 32 service providers partners who rely, in part, on us to innovate the platform they use so that they can stay competitive.

In talking to a score of the CEOs of these companies there is a surprising amount of anxiety about getting it right – meeting the future needs of business customers.  Now, normally, in a maturing market price is a leading consideration – and we definitely understand the need for returns to economies of scale as the market grows. But what is striking now is how concerned these CEOs are about choosing the right technology innovations to remain relevant.

As I share some thoughts on what tech is hot, I want to acknowledge that some innovations (and the concrete business communications features based on them) have become table stakes for winning accounts while others are still more hazily defined and are expected to have some indeterminate future value.

Table Stakes

This category can be thought of as white-hot. These features are necessary to compete for new business.

  • Ubiquity – hosted PBX extensions to a mobile app and to the computer desktop
  • Contact Center (Call Center) features – call monitoring, call recording, advanced IVR, reporting
  • Regulatory Compliance – HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, MIPPA, FINRA, etc.
  • CRM Integration – Salesforce, NetSuite, SugarCRM, and others – a deal winner today when selling to businesses that use CRM
  • Best Practices Engineering – security, DRP, uptime, and others – largely invisible to business users (other than uptime) but very important to service provider success

Hot Emerging Technologies

Cloud API Integrations: Enterprises have taken advantage of communications ubiquity to build business processes that involve communications ‘calls’ – send a text when your car service is 5 minutes out, call a credit card holder when fraud is suspected, multi-factor authentications for a new computer terminal to grant bank account access.  With the explosion of networked devices (the Internet of Things) this kind of automated communication will grow exponentially. Twilio knows it, and so do the investors who recently turned that company into a unicorn.

A little closer to home in the hosted PBX world, APIs allow developers to embed PBX features into any software. This disaggregation of the core technology features and their consumption opens many doors to vertical-specific business communication systems. I will be reporting more in the future on the use cases that gain traction sitting on cloud APIs.

WebRTC: Like communications APIs, WebRTC is facilitating a natural evolution of business communications from a bulky, carrier-oriented proprietary infrastructure approach to a more accessible lightweight set of standards. As Randy Weinberger, co-founder at WebRTC innovator FireRTC says “it [WebRTC] is largely consumed as SIP transport and web presentation.” Standardization on web presentation is a big deal. It democratizes the development process. Put simply, between cloud APIs and browser presentation anyone with applicable programming skills is able to build an advanced ubiquitous hosted PBX or almost any other business communications system. This technology is hot because, as a service provider, you need to be able to harness it – it gives you options beyond the menu choices offered by large system manufacturers for what you can do.

Contextual Communications: Once you have extrapolated your hosted PBX from a closed proprietary system to an open accessible one integrated with the Internet (using APIs and WebRTC), you are within reach of any number of compelling business use cases. These applications will focus on co-delivering – along with the communications – other information that is relevant to a business interaction or process.  One such application is sharing (documents, instant/text messages, screens). Other sources of information that improve business productivity are further afield but drawing near to contextual integration, as I mentioned in an article a few months ago in this space. The next time you are talking to one of your business PBX customers, ask what information he or she regularly touches while using the communication systems you provide, and you will get a list of your future contextual integrations.  Emails, calendars and documents are common to most businesses, and as you go into verticals and into job functions, you will find much more specificity: accounting packages, shipping systems, project management tools, and much more.

Conclusion

My challenge is providing a platform that allows all of these innovations to occur while maintaining security and stability along the way. Your challenge as a service provider is to translate what your business customers want into revenue-generating services. As we move forward together, the platform providers’ technology and the service providers’ market expertise and knowledge of the end user will come together to synthesize the business communications systems of the future.

 

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