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G Business VoIP Newsletter
April-June 2018
   New in Business Communications

New Releases

8x8 Releases X Series in US and UK
8×8 officially rolled out its new X Series that combines all 8×8 unified communications and contact center services as a single platform, bringing together 8×8’s separate Virtual Office, Virtual Contact Center and ContactNow cloud-based products as a continuum of services. Initial availability is in the US and UK. (more…)

Contact Center: Updates, Mergers, Entries
In a look back over the first half of 2018, Contact Center topped the list of new solutions announced by the business communications vendors on our radar. Three trends are bringing change to this market: Cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS). (more…)

NEC Grows Cloud-based Apps for UNIVERGE BLUE
NEC has been steadily adding cloud-based business applications to its UNIVERGE BLUE portfolio of business communications services, most recently adding the UNIVERGE BLUE ONDemand Collaboration video conferencing cloud service based on technology from Vidyo. New developments demonstrate "the art of the possible." (more…)

Reinvent Telecom, Leveraging Metaswitch and Saddleback
Reinvent Telecom discusses their target market, service offerings, subscription options and service delivery methods, as well as what’s on tap for the remainder of 2018. Read below an edited version of our Q&A with the Vice President of Sales and, Senior Channel Manager, at Reinvent. (more…)

Quick Takes

Avaya, Cisco, Dialpad, Five9, Genesys, Microsoft, Mitel, Ribbon, Star2Star, Vonage...

New Releases

8x8 Releases X Series in US and UK

This summer, 8×8 officially rolled out its new X Series that combines all 8×8 unified communications and contact center services as a single platform, bringing together 8×8’s separate Virtual Office, Virtual Contact Center and ContactNow cloud-based products as a continuum of services. Initial availability is in the US and UK, with expansion into other regions coming later.

The 8×8 X Series builds on three 8×8 Virtual Office “X” Editions (X2, X5 and X8) introduced last fall to now offer eight mix and match feature plans, X1-X8, that are designed to line up with various user roles within an organization.  There is also a basic plan for lobbies and common areas. Generally, the X1, X2, X3 and X4 plans build out a range of telephony, audio/video conferencing, CRM and analytics, while X5, X6, X7 and X8 add levels of contact center functionality such as IVR, inbound voice, outbound dialers, omni-channel (including voice, chat, email and social channels), speech analytics and quality monitoring.

The higher-end plans (X5-X8) are a particular differentiator for 8×8, not only from the earlier 8×8 Virtual Office Classic, but also from competing Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) offers for which Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) typically adds a separate per-user fee. 8×8 has shifted to a new tiered pricing model with volume-based discounting for a further price-value advantage.

The all-in-one bundles – with integrated communications, collaboration (see below for more on the integrated team capability) and contact center functions – also facilitate information sharing among contact center agents and knowledge experts across an enterprise, resulting in more efficient handling of customer issues, customer tracking and decision-making.

The X Series Line-up

As noted, the eight new X Series plans build on the three earlier Virtual Office X Editions, but the plan naming and content does not correlate exactly. For example, the earlier “Virtual Office Edition X2” and the new “X Series X2” are the same, but the earlier “Virtual Office Edition X8” is more in line with the new “X Series X5.”

8×8 is highlighting (marketing publicly) four of the X Series plans (X2, X4, X6 and X8) as meeting most user needs. The odd number plans (X1, X3, X5 and X7) can also be selected should one of these turn out to be most appropriate for a particular user role. X1, for example, targets the general office worker that requires basic dial-tone, telephony features, voicemail and auto attendant; it also comes with some popular capabilities like a mobile/desktop client, team messaging and call recording.

Each plan includes the features of all earlier plans, and each supports a Single Sign On for the voice, video conferencing, team messaging and collaboration functions available.

  • Lobby: For lobby areas and break rooms; supports auto attendant functionality and internal calling to any extension within the company directory.
  • X2: For the basic UC user who requires essential communication and collaboration services; builds on X1, adding unlimited Internet Fax, Business SMS, 8×8 Meetings for audio and video conferencing (five participants) and integrations with Salesforce, Zendesk and NetSuite CRM; unlimited calling within 14 countries.
  • X4: For supervisors, managers, executives and “super users” who require 8×8’s most advanced set of capabilities with communications, collaboration, analytics and monitoring capabilities; incorporates all earlier plan features, including an Operator Switchboard software-based application for live call handling, plus audio/video conferencing among 50 participants and 8×8’s Analytics and Call Quality Reporting; unlimited calling within 47 countries.
  • X6: For voice contact center agents that require full collaboration and 8×8’s complete UCaaS functionality; builds on the basic call center features introduced with X5 (IVR and skills-based routing) to add more contact center functionality, namely graphical call flows, post call surveys, native 8×8 CRM (a simple customer contact and case management tool), knowledgebase (a built-in FAQ database to help agents answer commonly asked questions) and queued and web callback; quality management and speech analytics are optional; unlimited calling within 47 countries.
  • X8: For multichannel contact center agents and supervisors who require full collaboration and complete UCaaS functionality; supports the full range of 8×8 capabilities, X1-X7, with instant messaging (chat), email and social channels and real-time website co-browsing, plus outbound predictive dialing with 5,000 minutes; quality management and speech analytics are included as standard; unlimited calling within 47 countries.

Team Messaging

Of special note is an internally developed 8×8 team messaging capability that is included across all X Series plans, enabling persistent private and public chat rooms, presence, avatars, file sharing and in-line file preview.

Additionally, all plans support 8×8’s Sameroom interoperability platform that connects disparate team messaging solutions. In 2017, 8×8 acquired LeChat, Inc. and its Sameroom interoperability platform that transfers messages and files in real-time among disparate third-party team collaboration services, such as Microsoft Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts, Atlassian Stride, Cisco Webex Teams and 20+ others. Each X Series account includes one Sameroom “tube” that connects one 8×8 room to one third-party platform channel. Additional tube plans can be added optionally.

8×8 is on-target here, as team collaboration is a fast-emerging category that is becoming integral to the way people work today.  Recent studies confirm that usage of team-based tools in the enterprise is on the rise. In a 2018 No Jitter survey, 90% of the enterprise IT managers surveyed responded that employees in their organizations are already using one or more such tools. The latest Nemertes data concurs, finding that the number of organizations with no interest in adopting a team collaboration app has now dropped to under 10%.

Migration

The 8×8 X Series is currently being offered in the US and UK (as of July 17, 2018) to new mid-market and enterprise companies, followed by new small and mid-size business (SMB) customers starting in the fall timeframe (in the meantime, new SMB customers can continue to purchase the earlier 8×8 Virtual Office X Editions). Once the X Series is available for SMBs (Fall 2018) and as it’s rolled out to other regions (beyond the US and UK), 8×8 will no longer offer the earlier products to new customers.

For now, existing customers can opt to remain on their current plan, or can begin to move toward the new X Series by participating in 8×8’s migration program and timeline (when made available) designed to help make the migration a smooth one.

8×8 just closed the acquisition of MarianaIQ (MIQ) and will be infusing MIQ’s deep learning capabilities into the X Series for intelligent call routing, speech analytics and enhanced context around customer conversations. Stay tuned for more on X Series enhancements as these unfold.

 

 

 

Contact Center: Updates, Mergers, Entries

In a look back over the first half of 2018, Contact Center topped the list of new solutions announced by the business communications vendors on our radar. Team Collaboration is also an intensely popular category that is evolving from stand-alone tools for teamwork to integration within other business applications, including contact center (see our post on some recently introduced integrations).

So, what’s happening with contact center? Why the sharp focus on this particular market? Three trends are bringing change to this market: Cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS).

First, the contact center market, like the rest of the unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) market, is shifting to the cloud as businesses recognize the benefits in subscribing to a contact center solution “as-a-service” (CCaaS) rather than purchasing and installing hardware and software on-site. Scalability, consistency across a network, business continuity (disaster recovery) and the ease of adding future innovations increase the appeal, particularly for organizations with multiple, geographically-dispersed offices and remotely-located contact center agents and supervisors.

Cloud technology is being called the “new normal” for contact centers, and vendors are responding to this new opportunity with a rapid rollout of new cloud-based solutions, some internally developed, but many added through partnerships and mergers. Market research confirms the significant opportunity here. Forecasts vary, but generally indicate the global cloud-based contact center market will grow to as much as $30 billion in the next five years or so, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of about 25% during this period (more on this here and here).

Secondly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and related emerging technologies are highly relevant to the contact center and the customer experience. Business communications vendors are quickly releasing new solutions that will help organizations take advantage of the digital transformation and the massive amounts of data being collected and stored in the cloud – data that has the potential to dramatically improve customer interactions and so much more. Companies can apply AI, Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), Robotics and Cognitive Computing (CC) techniques to pinpoint the most qualified agent to handle a customer issue, to analyze customer sentiments and behavior patterns, and to engage with customers in whole new ways that ultimately increase customer satisfaction and help to solidify favorable business and sales outcomes. We are just beginning to learn what’s possible here.

Finally, the emergence of the Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) environment and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) is changing the way contact center software is built – and at a rapid pace. A number of current CCaaS offerings on the market, including Serenova and Talkdesk, have leveraged Twilio’s CPaaS and APIs to build their own contact center solution (Twilio’s own new CCaaS offering, Flex, is set to roll out later this year). Contact Center expert Shai Berger, Co-founder & CEO of Fonolo, shares some great insights and statistics on the Twilio (and Amazon) “stack” that he explains will define the next generation of call centers. Vonage is another example, just recently announcing new programmable contact center capabilities through Nexmo, its acquired API platform. Software developers can use these to build custom capabilities related to call recording, text-to-speech translation, caller sentiment analysis, call tracking and agent prompts, to name a few.

Updates

There were numerous updates and enhancements to existing platforms in the first half of 2018, including new spring and summer releases from Avaya, Calabrio, Five9, Genesys, NICE inContact, Serenova and Talkdesk. These vendors are highlighting new contact center solutions related to analytics, AI and predictive experiences, workforce optimization, security and compliance.

Amazon certified Pindrop’s fraud detection and authentication capabilities for its Amazon Connect call center solution. Avaya and one of its A.I.Connect development partners, Afiniti, are collaborating to improve contact center performance using artificial intelligence. Avaya will create an "AI edition" of Avaya Aura Contact Center Elite (availability in Q3 2018). BroadSoft’s CC-One omnichannel cloud contact center solution, along with elements of Cisco’s Spark Customer Care, will become Cisco’s mainstream solution for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs), renamed as Cisco Customer Journey Platform. Vonage’s new programmable contact center capabilities let software developers build custom capabilities. A new Zendesk Suite introduces a single bundle (two subscription plans) for all of the company’s customer service products - all products and channels (email, live chat, phone, self-service, social media) are managed in a single dashboard.

Mergers

Mergers and acquisitions continue as business communications vendors look to round out their portfolios and expand into new markets. In the first quarter of 2018, we learned of the consolidation of Avaya and Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) provider (and partner) Spoken Communications which added a multi-tenant, fully cloud-based contact center offering to Avaya’s portfolio. CoreDial expanded its portfolio when it merged with Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) provider Voice4Net, adding a suite of cloud-based contact center and customer engagement solutions to CoreDial’s telephony and unified communications as a service (UCaaS) offerings. Genesys announced the acquisition of cloud-based customer journey analytics provider, Altocloud, to strengthen its portfolio with AI and machine learning capabilities. More on these contact center related mergers and other Q1 2018 mergers here.

More recently, NICE inContact announced it will acquire cloud-based analytics provider Mattersight. New solutions combining NICE analytics powered by Nexidia with Mattersight's behavioral analytics technology will improve the customer experience (the acquisition is expected to finalize in the second half of 2018). 8x8 just closed the acquisition of MarianaIQ (MIQ) and plans to infuse MIQ's deep learning capabilities into the new 8x8 X Series.

New Entries

Dialpad and Twilio announced brand new entries in the contact center space, each targeting a different end of the market spectrum.

  • Dialpad Call Center is an inbound/outbound call center service for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), built on the Google Cloud platform. Customers can select from three Call Center bundles: Standard-25 agents, Pro-200 agents and Enterprise-500 agents.
  • Twilio Flex is Twilio’s new CCaaS application currently in preview and tested to support very large organizations with up to 50,000 agents (possibly more in the future). General availability is expected by the end of 2018.

While not completely new, several vendors have extended existing contact center products to improve capabilities and/or reach into new markets. These include:

  • Cisco’s Customer Journey Platform, a combination of the BroadSoft CC-One omnichannel cloud contact center solution along with elements of Cisco’s Spark Customer Care (to be added in the near future), is now Cisco’s mainstream contact center solution for SMBs.
  • Talkdesk’s Enterprise Contact Center Platform adds a cloud-based contact center service with enterprise-level capabilities over and above the company’s Professional version for teams. This includes access to APIs and SDKs for customizing business applications (Talkdesk leverages the Twilio communications platform as a service).
  • Vonage is extending its CX Cloud contact center suite to Vonage Business Cloud (VBC) SMB customers (the solution has been available for Vonage Enterprise UCaaS customers since 2013). Vonage CX Cloud is based on NICE inContact’s CXone inbound/outbound, omnichannel CCaaS solution. Vonage customers, both SMB and enterprise, can then use Vonage’s API platform Nexmo to build their own custom capabilities.

We’ll continue watching the steady stream of new contact center solutions, partnerships and mergers as this market remains in the forefront. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

NEC Grows Cloud-based Apps for UNIVERGE BLUE

NEC has been steadily adding cloud-based business applications to its UNIVERGE BLUE portfolio of business communications services, most recently adding the UNIVERGE BLUE ONDemand Collaboration video conferencing cloud service based on technology from Vidyo. Under this partnership, NEC channel partners in North America can resell the VidyoConnect online meeting solution as an add-on subscription service for the company’s UNIVERGE BLUE hosted telephony and unified communications as-a-service (UCaaS) offering. They can also offer the solution as-a-service for NEC’s premises-based telephony systems (the SV9000 telephony servers or UNIVERGE 3C software-based, unified communications and collaboration solution) and even sell it as a stand-alone product for non-NEC phone systems.

NEC’s UNIVERGE BLUE ONDemand Collaboration can support as many as 200 video conferencing participants per room and enables content sharing, group chat and recording, among other collaborative features. Users can join the virtual meeting room using a desktop or mobile device, a web browser (WebRTC), a telephone, a Vidyo Room System or a third-party legacy video conferencing system. As for pricing, all NEC cloud services are sold through channel partners using NEC’s NET Pricing model which allows dealers to purchase user licenses from NEC at a fixed cost and then set the pricing according to their own local market economics and competition.  (NEC does not sell cloud services directly to end customers).

The new video collaboration solution adds to a growing list of cloud-based business applications already available from NEC for customers with either cloud or premises-based telephony/UC deployments. This includes NEC UNIVERGE BLUE Cloud Contact Center (based on technology from partner Enghouse Interactive), Mass Notification, Emergency Conferencing, Disaster Recovery and SIP Trunking that replaces traditional telephone lines with less expensive broadband connections.

An application for team collaboration is coming soon, with beta testing of a third-party solution set to begin in July or August. Read more here on how this fast-emerging category is already evolving from stand-alone tools for teamwork into new integrated solutions that incorporate team capabilities into other business communications applications. Also, look for upcoming solutions from NEC related to Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN), hardware-as-a-service and artificial intelligence (AI).

Adding Value for All

NEC’s suite of cloud-based business applications adds value for all NEC partners and their customers. NEC’s cloud-based applications, like the new ONDemand Collaboration, are available as a monthly subscription to all customers whether they opt for a telephony/UC deployment on-site or in the cloud. These advanced applications as-a-service make it easy to try out innovations and technologies – including those that will emerge in the future.

Additionally, while some NEC UNIVERGE SV9000 and NEC UNIVERGE 3C customers are migrating to UNIVERGE BLUE UCaaS, others are opting to keep their premises-based system. For them, the option to easily add contact center, video collaboration and other business productivity applications as a subscription service brings value to an existing telephony system without the hassle of installing additional hardware or software on-site and without requiring any technical personnel for ongoing management. These hybrid arrangements, with a mix of on-site equipment and cloud-based services, are a growing preference and also make a good migratory step to an all-cloud solution in the future.
Vendors like NEC that can offer a full spectrum of deployments, including cloud, premises and hybrid arrangements, are covering all bases. They can help their customers protect existing telephony equipment investments, while allowing them to take advantage of pay-as-you-go hosted services, if desired, for new locations or for advanced applications - a good advantage as not every business is ready for the cloud.

“The Art of the Possible”

Along with reselling NEC-branded Vidyo services, NEC is also integrating the Vidyo technology within its own solutions to create new vertical applications for healthcare, hospitality, education, financial, retail and other industries. As an example, NEC is leveraging Vidyo technology with its biometrics solutions to provide a second level of authentication in point-of-sale scenarios and at ATM machines, as well as for verifying time and attendance in distance learning applications.

At the recent NEC ADVANTAGE 2018 partner and consultant conference in Grapevine, TX, NEC revealed a number of impressive developments that demonstrate, in NEC’s words, “the art of the possible.” New solutions involve facial recognition for sentiment analysis, kiosk applications for hotel guest check-in and verification applications for unstaffed areas within casinos.

We’ve noted before that while many vendors are participating in the UCaaS and contact center as-a-service (CCaaS) space, NEC goes beyond with its expertise across a broad spectrum of technologies -- a differentiator for the company that makes for some really unique integrations and innovations. This varied expertise, along with strategic partnerships, puts NEC in a good position to address the challenges and requirements of an increasingly digital and connected world. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Reinvent Telecom, Leveraging Metaswitch and Saddleback

Reinvent Telecom, an Arizona-based cloud software and services solutions provider, reports accelerated growth with its 100%-channel centric unified communications as-a-service (UCaaS) business. The national wholesaler offers Metaswitch-based cloud services, including hosted solutions for telephony, unified communications (UC), contact center, mobility, collaboration and SIP trunking, to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) in the United States, U.S. territories and Canada through a private label program. Reseller partners do not have to purchase or install any hardware or software. They simply resell the service under their own brand, building their own service plans and bundles, with the added flexibility to incorporate additional third-party solutions as desired. Partners can also take advantage of Reinvent’s billing platform that handles all invoicing, taxes, surcharges and FCC regulation requirements.

Reinvent Telecom is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saddleback Communications originally founded in 1997 by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community to provide telephone, data and Internet services for the residents and businesses located there. Saddleback subsequently extended services to all businesses and residents in the surrounding Scottsdale 101 Highway corridor, and in 2008, the company launched a new distribution model that would reach beyond this Scottsdale footprint.  A new (or “re-invented”) division “Reinvent Telecom” emerged in 2009 as a provider of wholesale business UC services nationwide and has since expanded services into Puerto Rico and Canada as well.
Participation in Reinvent’s partner program is showing strong momentum, with the number of reseller partners up 125% over the last two years and expected to nearly double again this year. The number of endpoints in production is also on the rise and on track to increase by more than 60% in 2018, according to the company.

Leveraging Metaswitch and Saddleback

Reinvent Telecom’s UCaaS platform is built on technology from Metaswitch Networks and managed by Reinvent’s softswitch engineers which eliminates the need for partners to invest in any telecom infrastructure or technicians. Reinvent operates a geo-redundant, carrier-grade network with two separate Metaswitch central offices. Metaswitch session border controllers (SBCs) are located in additional data centers in central and western regions of the United States. Contact Center services are further supported by data centers in the mid-western U.S. and Toronto, Canada.

Metaswitch is recognized by Wainhouse Research as a top vendor of business communications solutions, recently earning the number two spot for new UCaaS seat subscribers in the Wainhouse Research UC Shipments and Cloud Sizing SpotCheck Report for Q4 2017 (Wainhouse defines UCaaS as a “public multi-tenant cloud service that delivers a hosted, telephony-enabled UC experience”). Metaswitch was also only vendor in the report to improve its ranking over the prior quarter, climbing from a fourth position ranking in Q3 to second in Q4.

Reinvent also has the backing of its parent company and operating Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC), Saddleback Communications. The network (redundant ILEC facilities), switching and personnel assets are shared, allowing Reinvent to save on operating costs, then pass these savings onto its partners. Saddleback’s experience in 911 services, Local Number Porting (LNP), Line Information Databases and Line Validation Administration Systems also provides an advantage over competing UCaaS vendors that may have to rely on third parties to handle these functions.

Low start-up costs, low operating costs, financial stability, reliability and in-house telco expertise –leveraged through the resources of Metaswitch and Saddleback – are among the key benefits that Reinvent brings to the table. This, coupled with the proprietary Reinvent Partner Portal (RPP) and Reinvent billing services, allow the company to deliver on its main goal - making it easy for reseller partners to start-up and operate their own profitable cloud UC business.

Reinvent’s UCaaS

We reached out to Reinvent Telecom to learn more about the target market, service offerings, subscription options and service delivery methods, as well as what’s on tap for the remainder of 2018. Here is an edited version of our Q&A with Ray Napoletano, Vice President of Sales, and David Ansehl, Senior Channel Manager, at Reinvent.

What is the target market for your cloud-based UC services? Currently, Reinvent sells UCaaS through private-label resellers to small and medium businesses (SMBs) and enterprises in the United States, U.S. territories and Canada. Reinvent’s UCaaS offering is a great fit for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs), but Metaswitch-based cloud services are not restricted by size and can actually scale to handle larger organizations.

Do you offer all Metaswitch UC services or a subset? Reinvent offers all services enabled by the Metaswitch technology, including Metaswitch’s hosted unified communications (UC) for business telephony and call control and Metaswitch Accession UC applications for mobility and collaboration. There are also a number of add-on services to enhance business communications, including some Metaswitch services, and others from third party vendors that Reinvent works with. These include Contact Center, CRM integration, Business SMS and RoboCall Blocking.

Do you specify the telephony/UC user bundles, or do resellers create their own packages? Reinvent allows its private-label reseller partners to create their own bundles and packages to fit their particular go-to-market strategy. The standard wholesale license includes the key features and functions needed by a majority of businesses in one standard package by seat and business group. Unlike some UCaaS providers, Reinvent does not charge extra for automated attendant, music-on-hold, find me-follow me and other popular features.

Do you offer more advanced add-on solutions? Reinvent offers ancillary services for specialized needs such as for contact center environments, team meetings/collaboration and fraud protection, to name a few. The recently-introduced Accession Meeting Webinar is an add-on to the Accession Meeting service released last spring for audio and video conferencing. Meeting Webinar supports up to 100 speakers and up to 10,000 view-only attendees, as well as options for registration, chat, Q&A, polls and reporting. 

What are the cloud service delivery options? Reinvent’s private-label resellers primarily deliver services to customers over the top (OTT) via public Internet, but private connections using Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) are also an option. Reinvent is currently in the beta process of rolling out software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), a technology that can offer a better approach to handling the high-bandwidth requirements of the modern work environment. Read more on SD-WAN as it relates to cloud UC here.

What’s ahead in 2018?

Already this year, Reinvent Telecom has released several new offerings related to security (the Equinox automated fraud management system for real-time monitoring of the Metaswitch network), compliance (HIPPA and PCI compliance certifications) and service quality (Edgewater Networks’ EdgeView services to collect service quality data for reporting and analytics, troubleshoot and remediate service quality issues). Also in 2018, Reinvent began offering the aforementioned Accession Meeting Webinar service and a new Business SMS service as per-user add-on for the Accession UC Communicator desktop or mobile client application or bundled as part of the company’s Advanced UC Package.

Additional goals for 2018 include expansion into international markets and further enhancements related to team collaboration, video and contact center. A new offering for the hospitality market is also on tap for 2018. Stay tuned.

 

 

Quick Takes

In recent news:

8x8 just closed the acquisition of MarianaIQ (MIQ) and plans to add MIQ's deep learning capabilities into 8x8's X Series for more intelligent call routing, speech analytics and enhanced context around customer conversations (detailed information from previous interactions and customer history). The 8x8 X Series, available in the US and UK as of July 17, 2018, builds on three 8x8 Virtual Office “X” Editions (X2, X5 and X8) introduced last fall to now offer eight mix and match feature packages, X1-X8, that are designed to line up with various user roles within an organization. See the related write-up for more detail.

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has acquired a majority stake in Sipwise GmbH, a privately held company based in Austria that provides cloud communication solutions and infrastructure for telecom operators (Sipwise currently has more than 60 customers in 20 countries, serving 4 million users). The acquisition adds the Sipwise technology stack (SIP/WebRTC) to ALE’s Rainbow Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) environment (IP, TDM, PSTN), making all of these technologies accessible for development of custom business applications. Sipwise will retain its brand name.

Avaya and Afiniti (one of Avaya’s A.I.Connect development partners) are designing solutions that aim to improve contact center performance using artificial intelligence (AI), including an "AI edition" of Avaya’s Aura Contact Center Elite to become available in Q3 of 2018. In other news, Avaya will begin offering Contact Center-as-a-Service (CCaaS) through the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) community in the Asia-Pacific region, starting with India and the Philippines in July 2018, and the rest of APAC by December 2018. These cloud offerings are based on the recently acquired Spoken cloud-native, multitenant architecture that integrates with Avaya Aura and Elite technologies. See the related write-up for more on contact center trends, updates, mergers and new entries in the first half of 2018. In other news, Avaya announces a new version of the Avaya Workforce Optimization suite (improves service quality, operational and employee productivity and data privacy for GDPR) and the Avaya Innovation Incubator focused on creating new, disruptive solutions related to mobility, security and AI.

Avaya IP Office Release 11 is now available globally, adding support for Avaya’s Equinox UC application with integrated team collaboration (based on technology from Avaya’s subsidiary Zang), as well as the Avaya Vantage multi-touch desktop device and new J Series desktop phones. A new real-time reporting solution for IP Office called Avaya Chronicall (an OEM from Avaya DevConnect partner Xima) is available for both on-premises and Powered by Avaya IP Office cloud deployments. Chronicall provides over 50 standard reports, custom reports, agent performance information, an agent dashboard and call recording. A new Cloud Operations Manager simplifies administration of large multi-customer cloud deployments.

Cisco has consolidated its Spark and WebEx collaboration portfolios under a single brand called “Webex” (with lower-case e). The new branding renames Cisco Spark as “Webex Teams” and the former WebEx as “Webex Meetings.” In addition to the new branding, Cisco is integrating these technologies to bring Webex Meetings functionality into Webex Teams, enabling conference features like joining a meeting, whiteboarding and content sharing from within the Teams space (previously, both Webex and Cisco Spark had disparate meetings capabilities; now the Webex backbone, which Cisco calls “purpose built” for video, will be used for all meetings). Cisco is also enhancing its Webex Assistant voice assistant for meetings (was Spark Assistant), and at the end of 2018, Cisco is planning to introduce a new palm-sized hardware device for huddle rooms called Webex Share.  

Cisco has begun to reveal portfolio plans for the acquired BroadSoft services. BroadSoft UC-One will be enhanced with Cisco Webex Meetings and Teams capabilities and devices over time. Cisco Webex Calling (was Spark Calling) will be enhanced with BroadCloud calling capabilities. The BroadSoft CC-One omnichannel cloud contact center solution, along with elements of Cisco’s Spark Customer Care, will become Cisco’s mainstream solution for SMBs, renamed as the Cisco Customer Journey Platform. Cisco is also looking to integrate the mobile capabilities found in BroadSoft’s solutions into Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration System (HCS) and eventually replace BroadSoft Team-One with Webex Teams. In other news, Cisco acquired Accompany and its AI-driven relationship intelligence technology to be integrated with Cisco’s Webex (will give Webex users access to contextual information about other meeting participants). Cisco is also acquiring July Systems and its technology that uses WiFi to gather data about visitor behavior in physical spaces like airports and malls (closing expected in the first quarter of 2019).

Dialpad has introduced Dialpad Everywhere, a floating interface for accessing the Dialpad call controls from any browser, application or window the user happens to be working in. This mini interface enables one-click access to these frequently-used calling features: mute, hold, dialing, warm transfer, direct transfer, add a caller, recording, call park and hang up. There is also an expandable and customizable integrations toolbar for easy access to the following natively embedded third-party applications: G Suite, Office 365, Salesforce, Zendesk, ServiceNow and LinkedIn. Currently Dialpad Everywhere works with Windows and Mac desktops, with mobile support expected in the coming months. Dialpad Everywhere is available across all Dialpad plan types (Standard, Pro and Enterprise) at no additional cost.

Dialpad has launched a beta version of VoiceAI, a new offering that enables Real-time Call Transcription, Smart Notes (captures meeting notes), Sentiment Analysis for Dialpad Call Center and Real-time Coaching. VoiceAI, available to all existing Dialpad customers, is based on TalkIQ’s platform and natural language processing and speech recognition services. TalkIQ, acquired by Dialpad in May, specializes in conversational AI services for meetings, including transcriptions and the automation of identifying action items in meeting transcripts. TalkIQ services will be incorporated into all Dialpad products, including Dialpad’s Uberconference and call center.

Evolve IP continues to expand internationally, recently acquiring thevoicefactory Ltd, a UK-based cloud communications provider and BroadSoft wholesaler in Europe (the Evolve IP platform is also based on BroadSoft technology). The merger brings Evolve IP additional distribution channels (35 resellers) in the UK and Europe, as well as thevoicefactory client base (65,000 users in 21 countries) and a greater presence in the hospitality, automotive, finance and legal vertical markets in the region. Evolve IP also gains new offices in Fordingbridge, UK and Orlando, FL and new data centers in the UK and United States.

Five9 announces its Spring Release 2018 release with enhancements that include extending the open platform, a new supervisor console and a multi-role performance dashboard that gives agents, supervisors and executives data and insights from disparate systems such as CRM, WFO and contact center. Notable is the new Five9 Genius AI intelligent routing that uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning to find the most qualified agent to handle the customer’s issue. Five9’s Engagement Workflow engine enables intelligent omnichannel routing of internal and external channels and incorporates machine learning technologies, from both Five9 NLP and third-party AI (i.e. Salesforce Einstein and IBM Watson) for insights into customer needs. See the related write-up for more on contact center trends, updates, mergers and new entries in the first half of 2018. In other news, Five9 announced that its Board of Directors has appointed Rowan Trollope as CEO effective May 3rd. Trollope was formerly SVP & General Manager of Cisco’s Applications Group.

Fusion recently acquired two cloud business services providers, Birch Communication and MegaPath. Specifically, Fusion purchased the Cloud and Business Services business of Birch Communications (excludes Birch’s legacy consumer and single-line business customers) and is combining both companies’ network infrastructure assets to become one of the largest North American, 100% IP-based networks (approximately 31,000 route miles of fiber). Fusion’s acquisition of cloud communications provider MegaPath adds about 8,000 small and medium business and large enterprise customers, bringing Fusion’s customer base to approximately 160,000 businesses. In May, Fusion completed divestiture of its Carrier Services business to focus solely on the Cloud and Business Services market.

Fuze announced its latest feature release, Fuze 5.0 with expanded workstream collaboration functionality that enables external users to join projects or teams. Also new are enhanced meeting reminders and ‘one-click join’, support for video in a browser, a new Roster View for participant management and new identity management capabilities. The new Fuze Real-Time Network Monitoring solution (partnership with AppNeta) enables IT to identify and fix problems before they impact service, both inside and outside of the enterprise network. Fuze 5.0 will be generally available in Q3 2018.

Genesys rolled out its Summer Release 2018 (now has bi-annual market releases for Summer and Winter), with hundreds of new features across all three of its platforms: PureCloud (Expanded voice services options, enhanced analytics, workforce optimization), PureConnect (new web interfaces for agents/supervisors, new social and co-browsing channels) and PureEngage (AI innovations, predictive routing, employee engagement, bots and messaging app integration with Genesys’ Kate). Of note, is new Predictive Routing for PureEngage that leverages machine learning and historical and real-time data to identify the most qualified agent to assist a customer. Genesys also adds integration with third party asynchronous messaging platforms (initially, WeChat, Facebook Messenger and Apple Business Chat) to manage persistent context and conversations. Customer journey analytics based on Altocloud technology (acquired in February 2018) uses data analytics, machine learning and reporting to analyze and understand customer behavior patterns (available for PureEngage now, with PureCloud and PureConnect support to follow). In other news, Genesys announced a new GDPR compliance API for its PureCloud platform; automated GDPR tools for PureConnect and PureEngage are planned for this summer. See the related write-up for more on contact center trends, updates, mergers and new entries in the first half of 2018.

LogMeIn has enhanced its GoToMeeting conferencing service with a number of new capabilities, including Business Messaging (chat with internal and external contacts), the Smart Meeting Assistant (meeting transcriptions stored in the cloud), unlimited/enhanced cloud recording, improved audio and screen sharing, Amazon Alexa integration and improved onboarding. There is also support for larger meetings of 150 attendees (GoToMeeting Pro) and 250 attendees (GoToMeeting Plus). In related news, Google has entered into an agreement to buy Xively, a division of LogMeIn Inc., focused on the Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity space. Going forward, LogMeIn will be focusing Customer Engagement, Unified Communications & Collaboration (UCC), and Identity and Access Management (IAM), which it views as its largest opportunities. 

Microsoft Calling Plans for Canada are now generally available for both Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Skype for Business (Phone System, formerly Cloud PBX, is required; this is included with the Office 365 E5 plan or as an add-on to other Office 365 plans). Canada’s domestic Calling Plan will include 3,000 minutes per user per month. Calling plans assigned to Canadian users can pool minutes with calling plans assigned to U.S. users, and calls made between U.S. and Canada users (in both directions) will be considered domestic, not international.  Microsoft has also released a new Teams and Skype for Business Admin Center as the company begins to combine the features available in the current Skype for Business Online console and Teams settings into a single place to manage both. Other new features include contact list importing from Skype for Business Online to Teams, as well as Skype for Business Interop with persistent chat and unified presence between Teams and Skype for Business, plus the ability to create up to 200 channels per team. The new Microsoft Teams LOB app store feature allows an Office 365 tenant administrator to upload apps to a custom app catalog and distribute them within the organization. Microsoft Teams becomes generally available to Office 365 Government tenants starting July 17th with some features restricted.  In other news, Microsoft has announced several acquisitions of late, including AI start-up Semantic Machines (conversational computing), Bonsai (machine learning), Flipgrid (educational video platform) and GitHub (hosting and development service).

Mitel introduced a new mobile unified communications (UC) application called OfficeLink that is available as a subscription-based service for North American customers that have deployed the MiVoice Office 250 small business platform. OfficeLink enables business phone features, group calling, conferencing, chat, presence status information, automatic contact synchronization with MiVoice Office 250 and other collaborative features via an iOS or Android mobile device. The new application is delivered through Mitel’s CloudLink platform that connects premises-based telephony systems to Mitel-developed cloud applications hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS). In other news, Mitel has signed a definitive arrangement agreement to be acquired by an investor group led by affiliates of Searchlight Capital Partners, L.P., making Mitel a privately held company. The move is expected to help accelerate the company’s move-to-the-cloud strategy as it provides more options for accessing capital. The arrangement is expected to close during the second half of 2018.

NICE inContact is set to purchase cloud-based analytics provider Mattersight, with plans to integrate NICE analytics powered by Nexidia and Mattersight's behavioral analytics technology to improve the customer experience. The acquisition is expected to close in the second half of 2018. In other news, the NICE inContact Spring 2018 Release for CXone, its flagship “cloud customer experience platform” (combines omnichannel routing, workforce optimization (WFO), analytics and artificial intelligence), introduces the new CXone Feedback Management (analytics from customer experience surveys), as well as hybrid deployment options that allow companies with on-premises NICE WFO systems to integrate with CXone Omnichannel Routing and CXone Analytics cloud products. For large enterprise contact centers and mid-market organizations, the Spring Release adds compliance with federally mandated security, reliability, availability and performance requirements, multi-factor authentication and support for CXone Interaction Analytics Pro for analytics-based routing using natural language processing and sentiment analysis. See the related write-up for more on contact center trends, updates, mergers and new entries in the first half of 2018.

Plantronics has completed the acquisition of Polycom. A new Plantronics Partner program, with Reseller and Integrator Tracks and three partner levels (Registered, Gold and Platinum), is designed to reflect a shift toward recognizing headsets as a key component within a unified communications and collaboration environment. Polycom, now part of Plantronics, released a new cloud service for provisioning, managing and monitoring its desk and conference room phones. The new Polycom Device Management Services for Enterprises (PDMS-E), now available in North America, is a web-based application for controlling Polycom phones from a single user interface (video endpoints next). Polycom plans to expand its cloud offerings to include meeting room features, such as automatic attendance rosters, facial recognition and natural language controls. Polycom also expanded its partnership with Zoom to offer three new bundles created for huddle, mid-size and large conference rooms; the Polycom Trio conference phone will run the Zoom controller UI natively (available in July in the U.S., with CALA, EMEA, and APAC later this year). Polycom’s new VVX phone line VVX150/250/350/450 for home offices/common areas, knowledge workers, call center operators, executives is expected this August.

Reinvent Telecom introduced Accession Meeting Webinar, an add-on to the Accession Meeting service released last spring for audio and video conferencing. Meeting Webinar supports up to 100 speakers and up to 10,000 view-only attendees, as well as options for registration, chat, Q&A, polls and reporting. In other news, Reinvent Telecom is now an Edgewater Networks’ Cloud2Edge Complete Universal Partner, providing Reinvent’s reseller partners with hosted EdgeView services to manage service quality from the network core to IP endpoints, collect service quality data for reporting and analytics, and troubleshoot and remediate service quality issues. In June, Ribbon Communications announces intent to acquire Edgewater Networks; the transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2018.

Ribbon Communications announced its intent to acquire Edgewater Networks and its Network Edge Orchestration platform that includes the EdgeView Service Control Center, EdgeMarc Intelligent Edges and the QuickConnect Interoperability Lab. The merger will expand the Ribbon portfolio and is expected to make Ribbon a market share leader for enterprise Session Border Controllers (SBCs) and Network Edge Orchestration. Ribbon also adds new features and functionality to its Smart Office Unified Communications (UC) solution for Service Providers and enterprises (part of its Kandy Business Solutions), introducing a Call Boost app that can move an active call from 3/4G or Wi-Fi data services to a cellular voice provider when data network bandwidth and voice quality decreases (leverages Ribbon’s Call Grabber patented technology). Ribbon also selected Vidyo technology to power its Smart Office Collaboration Rooms.

RingCentral introduces a new SD-WAN certified partner program aimed at making SD-WAN easier to deploy and optimize. A number of certified partners now have direct integration with RingCentral as preconfigured, out-of-the-box offerings. To date, these include CloudGenix, Cradlepoint, GTT Communications, Riverbed, VMware, and Windstream Enterprise. In other news, RingCentral has expanded in Asia Pacific (APAC) with a new office in Australia where the company says over 80 percent of IT purchasing in the region is through channel partners. For multi-national enterprises with branch offices in Australia, RingCentral also offers its RingCentral Global Office solution across 37 countries. 

Serenova announces CxEngage Scoreboard (powered by Clearview), a new performance management, gamification and agent engagement solution for the contact center. The new solution aggregates key performance indicators (KPIs) into an integrated, customizable dashboard, identifies actions necessary for agent improvement through analytics, auto-generates coaching sessions, creates rewards, commissions, and incentives for agents, gives supervisors insight into agent competency and job satisfaction to better align staff to contact center needs. Serenova also addresses agent performance and the customer experience with a new CxEngage Quality Management solution that provides supervisors with actionable data to train and prepare agents, identifies skill gaps, monitors for adherence and ensures compliance. See the related write-up for more on contact center trends, updates, mergers and new entries in the first half of 2018.

Star2Star is partnering with Bigleaf to offer a cloud-based Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) service. This gives Star2Star customers a new networking option as SD-WAN technology promises not only to simplify branch office networking and the delivery of WAN services, but also touts application performance improvements and lower costs compared to traditional and less flexible network techniques such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Internet Virtual Private Networking (VPN). Star2Star Communications also selects Zift Solutions as a new Partner Marketing Hub platform provider. Zift’s Channel as a Service (CHaaS) technology manages marketing activities including bulk customization and co-branding for documents, co-op funds management, enhanced analytics, and multi-touch campaigns.

Talkdesk announced a Spring 2018 Release for the Enterprise Contact Center Platform, adding new features and enhancements to route interactions to the right agents and to help customers comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as well as a new Talkdesk AppConnect Developer Portal. Talkdesk introduced the Enterprise Contact Center Platform earlier this year as a cloud-based contact center service with enterprise-level capabilities over and above the company’s Professional version for teams. This includes access to APIs and SDKs for customizing business applications (Talkdesk leverages the Twilio communications platform as a service). See the related write-up for more on contact center trends, updates, mergers and new entries in the first half of 2018.

Twilio entered the Australian market, opening new international offices in Melbourne and Sydney and marking Twilio’s eleventh international office outside of the United States. Twilio also launched the Twilio Build partner program (Registered and Gold tiers) that extends its existing partner program, originally launched in 2014, with go-to-market support, certification and training programs, partner success team. 

Vonage is extending its CX Cloud contact center suite to Vonage Business Cloud (VBC) SMB customers (the solution has been available for Vonage Enterprise UCaaS customers since 2013). Vonage CX Cloud is based on NICE inContact’s CXone inbound/outbound, omnichannel CCaaS solution. Vonage customers, both SMB and enterprise, can also use Vonage’s API platform Nexmo to build and add in their own custom capabilities. Newly-announced programmable contact center capabilities include split recording, real-time text-to-speech translation, onAnswer (pre-call prompts) and WebRTC. These capabilities can augment an existing contact center or be deployed as a standalone solution. In related news, Vonage Is combining its API Platform (Nexmo) with the offerings of a growing network of artificial intelligence (AI) providers and platforms, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, Microsoft, Workplace by Facebook, i2x, MuleSoft, OneReach, Over.ai, VoiceBase, Talkpush and Voicera, enabling customers to more easily embed intelligent technology into their applications. Vonage has partnered with Facebook to launch the “Vee” virtual assistance chatbot for the Workplace by Facebook online team collaboration tool. With Vee, Workplace users can create and manage AI-powered meetings, including initiating, recording and transcribing conference calls. Vee is available now for Vonage Business Cloud customers at no extra charge. 

Yealink announced the new Yealink MeetingSpace for BlueJeans solution that combines the BlueJeans meeting platform with Yealink VC endpoints. Users can join and control BlueJeans meetings with one touch through Yealink VC endpoints, and calendar and meeting schedule information can be synced and displayed on the conference phone and TV screen. Yealink also released a new plug-and-play VC200 video conferencing endpoint for small and huddle rooms (joins the VC500 and VC800 portfolio). The company's  T4S series IP Desk Phones, T58V Smart Media Phone, CP960 Conference Phone and W60P DECT Phone are now fully supported on Ribbon’s Kandy Business Solutions (KBS) platform for Cloud UC; support for additional Ribbon solutions is planned in the coming months.

Zendesk Suite introduces a single bundle for all of the company’s customer service products. All products and channels (email, live chat, phone, self-service, social media) are managed in a single web dashboard. Two subscription plans are offered: Suite Professional (starts at $1,068 per agent per year or $89 per month) and Suite Enterprise ($1,788 per agent per year or $149 per month). Developers can extend the Suite using Zendesk’s “Embeddables,” a combination of Web Widget and Mobile SDKs for Android and iOS, along with Zendesk’s ecosystem of applications and integrations to customize the customer service experience. In other news, Zendesk opened a new EMEA headquarters in Dublin, representing its largest property outside of the U.S. (has capacity to grow to over 500 people by 2020). See the related write-up for more on contact center trends, updates, mergers and new entries in the first half of 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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