As one of the major sponsors of the ITExpo conference, RingCentral got plenty of opportunities to share its message of business communications moving to the cloud, with an emphasis on team collaboration and open APIs – and in that it was singing with the chorus.
When RingCentral SVP of Operations Curtis Peterson appeared on a panel with speakers from cloud phone systems rival 8×8 and Broadsoft, a unified communications software vendor that works with carriers, they agreed about the broad outlines, disagreeing only on who was best equipped to meet the challenge.
When moderator Rich Tehrani, CEO and Group Editor-in-Chief at TMC, opened the session by inviting the panelists to comment on Avaya’s recent bankruptcy filing, Peterson mentioned RingCentral made its reaction clear with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal under the headline The Cloud Has Won!
“We believe this totally validates the switch to the cloud,” Peterson said. In the era of on-premises business communications equipment, “the model was managing risk – making a box you can ship for 10 years that does the same thing on day one that it does on day one thousand.” Now, business moves too fast for that, at a speed that can only be satisfied at the pace of software, not hardware. “Now, it’s about managing change,” he said. “The risk is actually not making the change.”
Mark C. Straton, VP Product Marketing & Media Relations at Broadsoft, put Avaya’s challenge in the context of the Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen’s book about the challenge of technology innovators remaining innovators. “For any tech company that misses a tech curve, there are zero examples of companies being able to recover unless they catch the next wave,” he said, pointing to Apple and the smartphone as the notable exception. Still, he argued traditional telecommunications carriers remain in a strong position. “I don’t think we can say cloud has won yet. In business communications, it still has some things to prove,” Straton said.
Peterson got a keynote speech opportunity to articulate how RingCentral plans to keep winning with its cloud platform, which has broadened from business phone service to include video and team collaboration. Providing choices is important, he said, because “people communicate when they want to, where they want to, and how they want to today.”
In particular, team communications options like RingCentral Glip resonate with a workforce that is increasingly dominated by Millennials who grew up texting on their phones and graduating to multimedia messaging apps like WhatsApp.
“They think of communications as text first – not voice, not video, not an in-person meeting, and certainly not a round of golf,” Peterson said. Business messaging apps give them a secure, work-oriented equivalent of the messaging apps they use in their personal lives that works both on phones and on the desktop.
That is why RingCentral bought Glip, originally an independent startup, and invested in improving the software and integrating it with RingCentral Office. “For us, team collaboration is not just chat, it’s file sharing, it’s tasks, it’s notes, it’s calendaring, and you want to embed it in the larger unified communications stack,” Peterson said. When you have all those pieces, he explained, “you can move the collaboration from chat to a conference call or a video meeting or a one-on-one call” without missing a beat.
“Eighty percent of employees are saying they are more efficient if they have access to a good team collaboration platform, and 42% said they were saving 2 hours or more today using collaboration compared to just email,” Peterson said. While that might sound too good to be true, he said the reason it works is employees can get a lot of work done before they show up at a meeting — and meetings, if they are needed at all, serve to confirm and refine plans that often have already been made “pretty much final” through team collaboration. Team collaboration also creates “social pressure for completeness of work” by serving as a place to commit to work goals and be accountable for getting them done, Peterson said.
In every mode of communication, the requirement to serve businesses worldwide plays to the strengths of the cloud. “Global companies used to be companies like GE,” Peterson said. “I’m finding now that companies as small as 50 people have offices in parts of the globe. They need software that works all those locations, without having to put different solutions into all of those offices out there.”
As Doug Leone, a principal at Sequoia, has pointed out, the rate of turnover at the top of the economy has been accelerating decade by decade to the point where 70% of the companies in the Fortune 1000 in 2013 weren’t even on the list in 2003. To stay relevant, businesses “have to innovate at a very uncomfortable pace,” Peterson said.
In addition to adding collaboration, RingCentral has created an open platform accessible via APIs, which is something customers increasingly are demanding. In fact, 47% of customers are saying they will embed unified communications functionality in their core internal systems next year and 80% are training IT staff on how to do API integration with cloud services. “That’s huge,” Peterson said. “And yet 70% of the software as a service providers in this space don’t have an open platform.”
RingCentral’s integration efforts are proceeding on several fronts, with the company investing in integrations with key partners like Salesforce.com, working with independent software vendors who build their own integrations to the API platform, and supporting individual enterprises that choose to create custom integrations. With Salesforce and other CRM software, the goal is to allow workers to do more within the context of a “single pane of glass” – meaning no need to switch between applications or manually dial a phone because click-to-call dialing is built into the customer or prospect record. Similarly, calls are automatically logged to the CRM record, meaning they are recorded reliably but without sales people being distracted by a clerical chore.
Similarly, a private equity fund created its own custom integration so brokers could remain immersed in the firm’s purpose-built application. In that case, the calls not only needed to be logged but recorded, with the recordings downloaded and retained for seven years.
The next era of cloud communications will be heavily influenced by artificial intelligence technologies, Peterson said, but AI will also have to get smarter. The potential to analyze massive amounts of business data, including voice and video content, is great, but moving the required petabytes of information to a central repository for analysis would exceed the capacity of any existing network. Also, he classified even the most cutting-edge AI technology of today as “augmented” AI, meaning that humans still “seed” the analysis with clues of what to look for. He thinks the next generation will be what he calls “mashable AI” where intelligent agents will analyze subsets of the data, arrive at conclusions more independently, and combine their results.
While mashable AI is just a concept at this point, Peterson said his staff is making progress applying today’s technology to analysis of media sessions from every RingCentral endpoint and turning them into a predictive model of potential Internet failures – and producing practical results for routing traffic more effectively.