Embedded and Contextual Communications

voice

The emergence of CPaaS (Communications Platforms as a Service) looks set to deliver on the promise that UCaaS failed to provide – the embedding of communications in business process applications and here we will look at real world examples of what the key players are achieving with their platforms and asking the question – will 2017 see the merger of UCaaS and CPaaS?

IPCortex CEO Rob Pickering: ‘Unified communications is an empty promise’.

IPCortex CEO Rob Pickering: ‘Unified communications is an empty promise’.

 

CPaaS is a relatively new term for many. CPaaS stands for Communications Platform as a Service and is a cloud-based platform that enables developers to add real-time communications features (voice, video, and messaging) in their own applications without needing to build backend infrastructure and interfaces.

Traditionally, real-time communications (RTC) have taken place in applications built specifically for these functions. For example, you might use your native mobile phone app to dial your bank, but have you ever wondered why you can’t video chat a representative right in your banking app?

CPaaS providers are able to use cloud technology to enable companies of any size to easily develop and embed communications features. Development teams using CPaaS can save on human resources, infrastructure, and time to market.

OnSIP, a provider of real-time communications (RTC), says that other advantages to using a CPaaS include affordable pricing models, where developers can pay for just the services they need, such as SMS, video, or screen-sharing.

“A CPaaS also allows multi-tenancy, or the ability for multiple customers to use the service at the same time, each within a separate, secure environment.”

I met with Dave Michels at the Broadsoft Connections conference in Texas last November. Dave is US based and an independent industry analyst and consultant focusing on IP PBX UC strategies and solutions; particularly around emerging trends such as cloud telephony, endpoints, mobility, and channel strategies.

Michels says that the distinction between UCaaS and CPaaS is getting fuzzy and that both industries have experienced significant growth.

“8×8, a public, pure-play UCaaS provider has a market capitalization over a billion. Twilio was founded in 2008 as a CPaaS pioneer. The company is still private, but was valued at $1 billion in April 2015. Today there are hundreds of UCaaS providers and possibly as many as 100 CPaaS providers.

The overlap is not new. Communications enabling business processes (CEBP) was one of the initial goals of UC. Back in 2011 Twilio launched OpenVBX which was designed to transform CPaaS services into UCaaS. Most UCaaS providers also offer integration tools such as APIs, SDKs, and packed integrations into services such as Salesforce, Zendesk, and Google for Work.

The overlaps are more apparent in contact centres because they inherently require custom integrations. Home Depot uses a custom created contact centre based on Twilio technology. Recently BroadSoft acquired Transera, a contact centre completely based on APIs. LiveOps teamed with Twilio and Google to create a contact centre solution that uses Chromebooks for agents.”

Michels added that UCaaS and CPaaS both involve many of the same skills, partners, and resources and concluded, “I was recently reminded that Google was the 21st vendor to enter the emerging search engine market in 1998. There is still plenty of time for both UCaaS and CPaaS to coalesce, and for leaders to emerge. There is no question that applications are going to become more communications savvy over time. Nor is there any debate about ongoing UCaaS growth. How these markets will overlap, converge, or compete with each other is yet to be seen.”

Contextual

The growth of the CPaaS market aligns with emerging trends in customer-facing communications.

The need for contextual communications is one of the biggest drivers of the CPaaS market as companies seek to improve the overall customer experience. Some common applications include: video-enabled help desks, SMS appointment reminders, and authentication services.

Analyst Dean Bubley says that contextual communications involve both placing voice/video in context (e.g. embedded into an app, website or device) and applications which use contextual information to help the user achieve a particular objective
or purpose.

Here, he says, ‘contextual information’ can be of three types:

•  Virtual context: What you or your device are doing electronically, eg which website, app or content you’re using. It could relate to which web-page you’re on, the fields of a form you’re filling in, the music you’re listening to, or the point you’re at in an enterprise workflow or a game. In essence, this is software-originated context.

• Physical context: This is information from sensors – most notably the device microphone(s) and camera(s), but also location, movement, temperature, power/battery, heart-rate, biometric sensors and so on. With processing, this can yield information such as local acoustics (and hence whether you’re in a street, room etc.), the position of other people around you, your identity via fingerprint or voiceprint, work out if you’re walking/driving or showing signs
of stress.

• Analytic & Big Data context: When linked to cloud platforms (or perhaps a local database), additional insight can be factored into the application: perhaps past behaviours and preferences, web cookies, records from a CRM system, or stored data from your past virtual and physical contexts. Inferred context is also important here – for example your mood or happiness.

 

Apps in Action: 

We checked specifically with four vendors who are promoting embedded contextual communications today to ask them what apps they have working today.

Steve Tutt at VanillaIP told us that communications platforms cannot be stand-alone systems with no visibility of other business systems.

“We have developed integration between the BroadSoft call centre and Salesforce.com which will flag any calls in queue if they are Leads or Contacts in Salesforce. The Supervisor can see these calls and promote them to the top of the queue or route them to a separate destination. This is naturally of crucial importance for our customers in maximising their own sales capability. We have also extended the BroadSoft call centre by capturing the CallerID of all abandoned calls into the call centre, where the Supervisor can assign these to Agents for call back. This list is also profiled against Salesforce.com so the Supervisor can prioritise the call back of abandoned Salesforce Leads.”

VanillaIP says it has a similar capability with MS Dynamics and other CRM platforms.

Tutt adds, ‘For our channel partners this is a unique capability to close higher value deals where the customer uses Salesforce and has a call centre.”

In line with many observers today IPCortex CEO Rob Pickering says ‘Unified communications is an empty promise’.

“Instead of using fewer tools to communicate, we’re using more. And while these new tools offer richer experiences, they’re all siloed and lack universal interoperability.

Contextual communication changes the narrative by providing better tools for use as part of a workflow. It removes our reliance on inefficient and fragmented ‘free’ communication tools, instead embedding task-based, frictionless data-enriched communication within a website
or application.

There are some applications for which integrated comms are a natural progression, for example adding video and screen-share in a customer or IT support environment. Others enable entirely new services to be created. We have, for example, worked with forward-thinking organisations who are starting to explore how they can revolutionise mental health provision to young people with remote counselling.

We’re also building tools for more general consumption, for example, our ‘Call Me’ module embeds WebRTC-enabled voice, video and instant messaging into web pages, giving context about the customer journey to provide efficiency benefits and gains for user experience. This allows service agents and salespeople to be more effective by knowing which web pages a customer visited, whether they have visited before and how often, and what services they already use. This can then be analysed against previous data to make assumptions about how the enquiry is best handled.

The most successful companies are starting to weave analytics and contextual information into their processes. One of our customers is already working in this way, operating in the care sector, they analyse patterns of communication to identify when the cognitive state of an individual is changing. This allows them to give a predictive assessment about the needs of every resident calling before that call is even answered.

Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis – ‘There is still plenty of time for both UCaaS and CPaaS to coalesce, and for leaders to emerge.’

Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis – ‘There is still plenty of time for both UCaaS and CPaaS to coalesce, and for leaders to emerge.’

In the commercial world, the end result of contextual communication is that key business functions like sales and support can make customer engagement quicker, more intelligent, human and ultimately more memorable – adding real value beyond cost savings and efficiency. Furthermore, for many processes we won’t even think about communication as a distinct, friction-bearing operation. Rather, it’ll simply be something that happens as we move in and out of the collaboration or communication phase of a task.

2017 will be the year that we start to see services and apps mesh in all the information needed to effectively exchange real-time and non-real time communication flows which are appropriate to the phase of each task.”

Some examples of embedded application that Genband/Kandy has implemented are outlined by Dr. Natasha Tamaskar, VP and Head of Cloud and Mobile Strategy and Ecosystem.

“One is collaborative learning platform Braidio, which leverages contextual communications to enhance the capabilities and effectiveness of its cloud-based application. Braidio’s mission is to embed learning directly into the workflow, whether it’s by taking a course, sharing knowledge with peers or creating a knowledge base. The company leverages Kandy to embed contextual communications such as group chat or real-time video conversations into the application, enabling a more collaborative and profound learning system that transcends traditional siloed approaches.

Contextual communications also help virtualise expensive solutions for quicker, more effective resolution. For example, truck rolls are a common pain point – customers are sometimes unable to diagnose issues correctly, which makes it necessary to dispatch a technician to the site. Using a contextual communication option like Kandy’s truckroll, the technician can often diagnose the issue and help fix it remotely over a device, saving both time and money.

A final example is TeleMedCo, which helps improve ER efficiencies via its partnership with IBM Watson and Kandy. By automating certain functions and communicating these in context to the right caretakers, care is intelligently streamlined and improved, greatly enhancing healthcare interactions and outcomes.”

Alex Rogers of computer telephony and CRM integration firm Mondago says that users are far more knowledgeable about Unified Communications and about what they want it to do for them.

“Ten years ago customers understood that click-to-dial would save them 10-15 seconds per call and incoming caller identification would save them maybe 30 seconds, but now they want more. Since customers know we can provide software to tell them who is calling, they now want to stay ahead of the caller and know what things they are likely to want to talk about. Has the caller recently placed an order, or a support ticket? Have they recently emailed in? Did they speak to anyone else within the company recently? In a world, where consumers constantly rate and tweet about the service they receive, contact centres are looking for ways to provide a better service.

We also find that more and more, contact centres want a ‘single application experience’. They do not want to ask their agents to switch between multiple applications (say Contact Centre, Email and CRM). They want all of the information about the caller in a single place. Sometimes, this is in the CRM or Service Desk application. At Mondago, we have been developing interfaces to help customers do this in some of the more popular applications such as Salesforce, Zoho and Fresh Desk. Other times, it is in a full screen communications application such as Broadsoft’s UC-One, where we contribute data from a variety of Help desk, Social Networking, CRM and email sources to help provide a blended picture for the agent.”

One user Mondago and their reseller has helped a premium brand travel agent who pride themselves in offering a personal service.

Customers are intentionally not able to book holidays online. Rather bookings are made with a real person, and even though they have many shops, 90% of their bookings are made over the phone. When a caller comes into their central contact centre, the agent is now presented with information about the callers previous bookings and previous interactions. Agents are then easily able to ask the caller about previous experiences they’ve had or advice they’ve been given. And if the agent needs to bring in a colleague who specialises in the particular location, then they can quickly share the information they’ve been discussing with the specialist

Ed Says…

For service providers, the CPaaS market is an opportunity to boost revenue and build relationships with enterprises who want to expand beyond traditional telephony applications. For companies, CPaaS is an opportunity to build custom applications and business processes at a low cost. The flexibility and scalability can be very appealing for technology companies looking to differentiate their offerings from other competitors.