Entering the Era of Cognitive Collaboration at Enterprise Connect 2019

by Alan Percy, TelcoBridges

For a show that started many years ago focused on PBXs and enterprise telephony, things sure have changed at Enterprise Connect.

Collaboration Developments – Probably the biggest take away from the annual enterprise communications event is the increasing penetration of cloud-based web collaboration and the introduction to AI-powered cognitive capabilities.   We’ve had auto-focus on cameras and automatic pan and crop for a few years, but the makers of web conferencing used the event to show some huge leaps forward:

Microsoft Teams Gets Smart – Lori Wright’s keynote demonstrated new AI capabilities in Microsoft Teams that drew audible gasps from the audience with a feature that allow conference participants to see through presenters and see whiteboard content that would otherwise be hidden.  Other features included using proximity to automatically detect meeting organizers entering rooms, background image replacement and real-time translating / transcribing of live events. All are important new capabilities that will be built-in to enterprise Office365 subscriptions and accelerate adoption from Skype for Business and other competitive platforms.

Webex Knows You – Google’s Amy Chang showed how Webex will be adding cognitive features that not only automatically zoom and crop, but also identify the people in a web conference with facial recognition, displaying name tags under the participant’s faces.   Meanwhile at the Google booth, they were demonstrating open APIs for Webex, allowing IoT integrations of room lighting systems to match the availability conference rooms.

CPaaS Goes to Market – as an avid fan of Communications Platforms as a Service technologies, I was especially interested in hearing the latest from a few sessions dedicated to the topic.   One session hosted by HIS’s Diane Myers offered some different perspectives from Twilio, CafeX, Vonage and Ribbon, the vendors of CPaaS.  The topic at had begs the question “Is CPaaS now a good fit for retail industry, enhancing the customer experience?”  As predicted, the vendors all agreed, but the path to the retail industry is very different.  Twilio and Vonage expect the DevOPs people at the retailer to sign-up and start developing.  While Ribbon’s Kandy offering is sold through service providers, expecting carriers like AT&T to introduce CPaaS to the retail industry.   The more I listen, the more I start to believe that carriers may have a strong relationship with the customer, but many of the CPaaS applications are coming from the IT team or consultants are more likely to go straight to the CPaaS provider, ignoring the relationship with the carrier until it’s time to scale the deployment.   By then the commitment has been made.

Polycom and Plantronics get a new name – with the merger of Polycom and Plantronics this last year, the company needed a new single identity.  Not missing the chance, the new brand Poly was launched at Enterprise Connect 2019, bringing the widely known voice and video conferencing equipment maker under a single brand.

The Importance of Headsets – with the move to open offices (more on this later), the headset is becoming an increasingly important part of a worker’s productivity.   With a wide range of increasingly smarter and higher-quality headsets from Jabra, Sennheiser, Poly and others, it is clear that the free earbuds you received with your mobile phone are worth exactly what you paid for them.   The noise canceling, and audio quality of modern headsets allows workers to concentrate in shared workspaces and open office environments.   A shout out to Jabra for keeping me well stocked with samples of the latest Bluetooth headsets!

One Last Thought on Phones – While at the event, I caught Jeff Rodman, one of the founders of Polycom (now Poly) for a podcast to discuss the history of the company and the changing role of desktop devices.  You can listen in to the discussion on the Telecom Disruptors Podcast at:  http://telecomdisruptors.com There was a time when every business user would have a desk with their own business telephone set.  The adoption of unified communications, cloud services and open office spaces have dramatically changed the needs of business users.   The trend has been for individuals to give up their desk phone, using a UC application softphone and headset or mobile device for their communications needs.   All indications are that the IP phone is destine for a new role as a shared resource in huddle or meeting rooms.   Other applications in classrooms and common areas will continue, but the “everyone gets an office phone” model is clearly changing.   Many of the IP phone vendors were showing new lines of devices better suited to the shared and huddle room use case with better acoustics, Android-based user interfaces and integrated video capabilities.   You may have fewer phones going forward, but they will be a whole lot smarter and more expensive.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Enterprise Connect 2019 – do reach out on Twitter at @AlanDPercy!