Zoom has announced their intention to acquire cloud contact centre service provider Five9 in an all-stock deal for about USD 14.7 Billion. This is Zoom’s largest-ever acquisition as the communications platform continues to expand their services and launch new products. The deal is expected to be completed in the first half of 2022 and Five9 will be an operating unit of Zoom.
The last year has seen Zoom scaling up their product offerings, including cloud calling solution – Zoom Phone, conference hosting solution – Zoom Rooms, and applications and productivity tools – Zoom Apps and Zoom Marketplace. Zoom also acquired real-time translation startup Kites GmbH to offer multi-language translation capabilities, and Keybase – a secure messaging and file-sharing service to build end-to-end encryption for its video conferencing platform.
Ecosystm Analysts share their thoughts on Zoom’s strategy and roadmap, how Five9 will augment Zoom’s capabilities, and the impact the acquisition will have on Zoom’s competitors and the market.
Why Contact Centre?
Ecosystm Principal Advisor Tim Sheedy says, “Zoom is moving beyond its period of ‘organic hypergrowth’ brought on by the pandemic. While the paying customer base for their core video collaboration service will continue to grow, growth rates are likely to begin to track the market. To grow beyond market rates, Zoom needs to move into new markets – through product development or acquisition.”
Talking about the importance of voice services, Sheedy adds, “Voice services are an obvious adjacent market to help drive growth, and Zoom already has seen some success with their Zoom phone service and associated devices – in fact, they already have 1.5 million users. The Five9 acquisition gives the company a stronger and deeper capability in the voice sector; buying them a significant chunk of the voice services in business – the contact centre. In many businesses, the contact centre already accounts for over 50% of their voice minute usage, so winning this space will go a long way towards winning the overall voice and collaboration supplier in enterprises.”
Ecosystm Principal Advisor Audrey William predicts exciting times ahead for Zoom. “With Zoom already having a platform for video, then bringing voice into that equation and now a contact centre solution, makes them take on their competitors in an all-native cloud stack. There is a still a large installed base of on-prem UC customers and with Zoom seeing success with Zoom phones in the short time frame since its launch, this is where this will get exciting for Zoom. The telephony piece is still important in the race to simplify how we work, communicate, and collaborate today. It is that same voice/telephony discussion that can lead to a routing discussion, which then leads to a contact centre discussion.”
Ecosystm research shows that 54% of organisations are challenged in their customer experience delivery because of integration issues between multiple platforms. William sees this as an opportunity for Zoom. “The use cases to integrate workflows into the video environment is going to be important for Zoom. Video is now being used to solve customer service issues like letting the agents take over the screen to see how to help solve the customer problem immediately by using video and contact centre applications. The ability to bring this natively together will be very powerful. Zoom is investing heavily into apps and working to partner with ISVs who can develop workflows suitable for easy customer communication in specific industries such as Healthcare and Financial Services.”
Five9 is considered a pioneer in cloud contact centre solutions and owns a comprehensive suite of applications for contact centre delivery and customer management operations across different channels. Five9 has made several acquisitions and enhancements to their CCaaS solution in recent years to make their stack more complete with richer AI offerings. They include Inference Solutions to offer their customers a Conversational AI solution and Whendu’s iPaaS platform which provides a no-code, visual application workflow tool.
William says, “More contact centres want to do away with monolithic IVR systems that confuse customers with too many long menus. The Agent Assist solutions are also gaining importance especially in the hybrid work model where agents face challenges working in isolation and not being on a floor with their colleagues and managers.”
Five9 has acquired a cloud workforce optimisation provider Virtual Observer. “So, we are not looking at just a basic level contact centre solution but an offering with important capabilities demanded by customers,” says William. “During the investor call this week, Zoom’s Eric Yuan and Rowan Trollope made it clear that they have been listening to customer feedback on how effective it would be to have a single platform that can accommodate UC and contact centres in the cloud. Zoom also sees Five9 as a good fit culturally; and their goal now will be to disrupt all legacy systems with cloud-native communications.”
What lies ahead?
William thinks that Zoom’s competitors will be watching this integration closely, especially those that lack an all-in-one native cloud UCaaS and CCaaS stack. “However, some of Zoom’s competitors have an established base of large enterprise customers and have done well to grow revenues and defend their base over the years. Working with in-country partners and ISVs will be critical for Zoom’s growth across regions.”
Sheedy thinks that the most important takeaway from this acquisition is not that Zoom is moving into the contact centre space. “It is that Zoom realises they have a “once in a generation” opportunity to grow beyond their core and cement their position as a supplier of collaboration and communication services – and that they are willing to flex their balance sheet and share price to create their future. The competition – from Microsoft in particular – will be strong. Google, AWS, Salesforce, and Facebook are also making a play for this market. Zoom has found themselves in their current position of strength due to good luck and good timing – and they appear to be telling the market that they aren’t going to give up their leadership without a significant battle.”
“Enterprises will be the true winners in this battle – with better, more integrated, lower cost and easier to implement communications and collaboration solutions for their employees and customers,” adds Sheedy.
HPE’s recent announcements show customers that GreenLake is an end-to-end solution for managing their IT infrastructure moving forward. It ticks all the boxes: providing flexibility and scalability; the advantage of using both data centre and cloud; and high manageability and security with a full suite of applications.
Examples are the partnership with Azure Stack HCI, to add to earlier ones with leading vendors like SAP, Citrix, and VMware. HPE is building a platform that provides customers with the comfort that they can adopt GreenLake and pretty much have access to any application they may choose to implement – offering full coverage from the Edge to the Cloud. It is extremely interesting that GreenLake allows the option of switching on and switching off processor cores as needed, and the customer pays based on usage. This is surely a first for the industry!
Another example is Lighthouse, which allows the customer to rapidly configure, and provision workloads based on dynamic needs. While all the hyperscalers provide similar services when the workload is on the cloud, Lighthouse allows the same flexibility and speed for cloud services which can be run in the data centre, on-prem, co-located, or even at the Edge.
A third example was the announcement of Project Aurora which will add an additional security layer from validating the input data all the way to verifying the workload at the start and then as it is running. It appears to use an AI/ML system that checks for unexpected behaviours to detect any kind of malware.
It makes good sense for HPE to push GreenLake and move to offering ‘everything-as-a-service’. As one of the incumbent enterprise hardware business leaders, this is a good response rather than to watch one’s business continue to shrink YoY. GreenLake is HPE’s way of futureproofing themselves and making sure they stay relevant in the new cloud world.
Cisco Secures the Hybrid Workplace
Cisco has been active launching Cisco Plus earlier this year, as their bridge to the as-a-service model with a network-as-a-service (NaaS) offering. Somewhat like GreenLake, Cisco Plus offers flexible consumption for compute, storage, and networking. They are committed to offering most of their portfolio as-a-service over time.
Cisco has shown some resilience in terms of revenue but has still been struggling to grow. After a steady growth since 2017, the revenues dropped by 7% in 2020 almost as a direct impact of COVID-19. The post-pandemic world has the potential of being a bigger threat for Cisco. Many estimates show the number of people working from home is likely to go up dramatically and Cisco’s key networking offering could rapidly become redundant. However, at Ecosystm we believe that the hybrid work model will be predominant.
Cisco is also betting on a hybrid world. No matter where one works from, there are networking needs. Cisco’s focus, therefore, is on security – this will be on the mind of virtually any enterprise as it chalks out its future strategy. With a hybrid environment, making everything secure becomes more complex while continuing to be vital. Cisco has a heavy emphasis on Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) – the idea that the security envelope now has to be a flexible form that has a presence everywhere that the enterprise needs to be. This will make a lot of sense to most enterprises as they tread the hybrid path.
Cisco will offer a portfolio of tools to make it increasingly easier for customers to use multi-cloud, multi-vendor environments, offering the best of both worlds.
Oracle Incentivises Cloud Migration
Oracle has a different approach because they are trying to solve a different problem. They are competing with the hyperscalers, while fully acknowledging a hybrid world. However, as a company with less legacy in hardware, it makes sense for them to focus on migrating to cloud rather than on hybridisation. Oracle has just announced that they will subsidise existing customers who add cloud workloads with them, by providing discounts on the existing licensing fees that the customer is paying Oracle. This discount appears to be around 25% to 33%. In essence, this means that if a customer spends about USD 100k with Oracle on licensing and decides to start moving workloads to the Oracle Cloud worth somewhere between USD 300-400k, they can potentially write off the entire license fees they are currently paying!
There is a strong effort from every vendor right now to retain and consolidate their customer share and build a vision that convinces the customer that they are the way to go. For the traditional hardware players that vision is of a hybrid world – attractive to today’s large enterprise. For the likes of AWS, Microsoft, Google, and Oracle it is all about moving the customer to their cloud. The assumption of course is that moving someone to your cloud will lead to more of your apps being used by the customer. For the hardware vendors like Cisco and HPE, it is all about moving the customer to their own platforms which empower hybridisation. In all cases, a necessary component is to offer ‘everything-as-a-service’ upending the traditional models of selling.
In my opinion, with time the IaaS portion of the cloud is likely to gradually devolve into something like a utility. There will be a lot of upheavals and market disruption before we get there, but eventually, software and other services are likely to stand separate from the infrastructure provider. All the vendors are therefore depending on capturing the customer at the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) level, but even this is likely to get commoditised over time. Eventually, the winners will be disparate providers of the best applications for different functions. Meanwhile, we are in for an extremely interesting ride as we see all the vendors jockeying for space!
BHP – the multinational mining giant – has signed agreements with AWS and Microsoft Azure as their long-term cloud providers to support their digital transformation journey. This move is expected to accelerate BHP’s cloud journey, helping them deploy and scale their digital operations to the workforce quickly while reducing the need for on-premises infrastructure.
Ecosystm research has consistently shown that many large organisations are using the learnings from how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their business to re-evaluate their Digital Transformation strategy – leveraging next generation cloud, machine learning and data analytics capabilities.
BHP’s Dual Cloud Strategy
BHP is set to use AWS’s analytics, machine learning, storage and compute platform to deploy digital services and improve operational performance. They will also launch an AWS Cloud Academy Program to train and upskill their employees on AWS cloud skills – joining other Australian companies supporting their digital workforce by forming cloud guilds such as National Australia Bank, Telstra and Kmart Group.
Meanwhile, BHP will use Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to host their global applications portfolio including SAP S/4 HANA environment. This is expected to enable BHP to reduce their reliance on regional data centres and leverage Microsoft’s cloud environment, licenses and SAP applications. The deal extends their existing relationship with Microsoft where BHP is using Office 365, Dynamics 365 and HoloLens 2 platforms to support their productivity and remote operations.
Ecosystm principal Advisor, Alan Hesketh says, “This dual sourcing is likely to achieve cost benefits for BHP from a competitive negotiation stand-point, and positions BHP well to negotiate further improvements in the future. With their scale, BHP has negotiating power that most cloud service customers cannot achieve – although an effective competitive process is likely to offer tech buyers some improvements in pricing.”
Can this Strategy Work for You?
Hesketh thinks that the split between Microsoft for Operations and AWS for Analytics will provide some interesting challenges for BHP. “It is likely that high volumes of data will need to be moved between the two platforms, particularly from Operations to Analytics and AI. The trend is to run time-critical analytics directly from the operational systems using the power of in-memory databases and the scalable cloud platform.”
“As BHP states, using the cloud reduces the need to put hardware on-premises, and allows the faster deployment of digital innovations from these cloud platforms. While achieving technical and cost improvements in their Operations and Analytics domains, it may compromise the user experience (UX). The UX delivered by the two clouds is quite different – so delivering an integrated experience is likely to require an additional layer that is capable of delivering a consistent UX. BHP already has a strong network infrastructure in place, so they are likely to achieve this within their existing platforms. If there is a need to build this UX layer, it is likely to reduce the speed of deployment that BHP is targeting with the dual cloud procurement approach.”
Many businesses that have previously preferred a single cloud vendor will find that they will increasingly evaluate multiple cloud environments, in the future. The adoption of modern development environments and architectures such as containers, microservices, open-source, and DevOps will help them run their applications and processes on the most suitable cloud option.
While this strategy may well work for BHP, Hesketh adds, “Tech buyers considering a hybrid approach to cloud deployment need to have robust enterprise and technology architectures in place to make sure the users get the experience they need to support their roles.”
Last week Microsoft announced the acquisition of Nuance for an estimated USD 19.7 billion. This is Microsoft’s second largest acquisition ever, after they acquired LinkedIn in 2016. Nuance is an established name in the Healthcare industry and is said to have a presence in 10,000 healthcare organisations globally. Apart from Healthcare, Nuance has strong capabilities in Conversational AI and speech solutions to support other industries. This acquisition is in line with Microsoft’s go-to-market roadmap and strategies.
Microsoft’s Healthcare Focus
Microsoft announced their Healthcare Cloud last year and this acquisition will bolster their Healthcare offerings and market presence. Nuance’s product portfolio includes clinical speech recognition SaaS offerings – Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe One for radiology reporting – on Microsoft Azure. The acquisition builds on already existing integrations and partnerships that were in place over the years.
“Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare offers its solution capabilities to healthcare providers using a ‘modular’ approach. Given how diverse healthcare providers are in their technology maturity and appetite for change, the more diverse the ‘modules’, the greater the opportunities for Microsoft. This partnership with Nuance also brings to the table established relationships with EHR vendors, which will be useful for Microsoft globally.
The Healthcare industry continues to struggle as the world negotiates the challenges of mass vaccination. But on the upside, the ongoing Healthcare crisis has given remote care a much-needed shot in the arm. Clinicians today will be more open to documentation and transcription services for process automation and compliance. The acquisition of Nuance’s Healthcare capabilities will definitely boost Microsoft’s market presence in provider organisations.
However, Healthcare is not the only industry that Microsoft and Nuance are focused on. The Microsoft Cloud for Retail that was launched earlier this year aims to offer integrated and intelligent capabilities to retailers and brands to improve their end-to-end customer journey. Nuance has omnichannel customer engagement solutions that can be leveraged in Retail and other industries. As Microsoft continues to verticalise their offerings, they will consider more acquisitions that will complement their value proposition.“
Microsoft’s Focus on Conversational AI
Microsoft already has several speech recognition offerings, speech to text services, and chatbots; and they continue to invest in the Conversational AI space. They have created an open-source template for creating virtual assistants to help Bot Framework developers. In February, Microsoft announced their industry specific cloud offerings for Financial services, Manufacturing, and Non-Profit, and also introduced a series of AI and natural language features in Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Office Lens and Microsoft Office mobile to deliver interactive, voice forward assistive experiences.
“There is no slowing down in this space and the acquisition clearly demonstrates the vision that Microsoft is building with Nuance – a vendor that has made speech recognition, text to speech, conversational AI the foundation of the company. This is a brilliant move by Microsoft in the Conversational AI space and a win-win for both companies.
This move could also mark further inroads for Microsoft into the contact centre space. With Teams now being integrated into contact centre technologies, working with large customers using speech and conversational AI, Dynamics 365 could herald the start of more acquisitions for Microsoft to bolster a wider customer engagement vision.
The Conversational AI war is heating up and various other cloud vendors such as Google and AWS are starting to get aggressive and have made investments in recent years to enhance their Conversational AIcapabilities. Google Dialogflow has been seeing rapid uptake and they now have deep partnerships with Genesys, Avaya, Cisco and other contact centre players. Microsoft coming into the game and acquiring a company with years of history and IP in the speech space, demonstrates how the cloud battle and the war between Google, Microsoft and AWS is heating up in the Conversational AI. All of a sudden you have Microsoft as a powerhouse in this game.”
The Microsoft Cloud for Retail aims to offer integrated and intelligent capabilities to retailers and brands to improve their end-to-end customer journey. It brings industry-specific capabilities to the Microsoft suite including Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Power Platform, Microsoft 365, and Microsoft Dynamics 365 – and is aimed at the growing need for “intelligent retail’. Microsoft’s partner ecosystem will also be involved in the new platform to address challenges in the sector and future proof the retail evolution.
In The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021, Ecosystm notes that while retailers will focus on the shift in customer expectations, a mere focus on customer experience will not be enough this year. From the customer experience angle, they will strongly focus on omnichannel, catering to ‘glocal’ consumption, using location-based services, and improving both their onsite and online customer experience. They will also have to work on their supply chain and pricing capabilities, as distribution woes continue. These trends are seeing a deeper need for transformational technologies and leading cloud providers are introducing solutions targeted at the industry. Google has introduced its cloud retail solutions aiming to help retailers get more from data. Similarly, AWS has cloud offerings for the retail industry leveraging its retail domain experience and cloud deployment services.
“Global cloud vendors continue to “move up the stack” to provide more of the technology landscape for organisations. The focus of these tech giants is on adding unique value to customers by tailoring the combination of the different cloud services they can provide to specific industries. Providing the full-stack will mean higher customer retention rates – as the implementation time should be lower than traditional on-premises implementations. Microsoft has a diverse range of capabilities. Having a software company and implementation partner that can deliver the full stack of technology and business processes should improve the time to value for organisations.
But I see three key difficulties in implementing systems such as these:
People adapting effectively to use the new processes
Migrating enough high-quality data to leverage the new capabilities
Integrating the new capabilities into an organisation’s existing landscape.
This is why it is likely that initial use will come from Microsoft’s existing Retail customers as they expand the range of services they use. New adopters of these Microsoft solutions will find that much of the complexity and cost of implementing a new business solution will remain.
However, these value-added cloud services open access to smaller organisations. If Microsoft is able to work with their partners to simplify the implementation of these capabilities, it will allow smaller organisations to access these complex capabilities affordably.“
“The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study aims to determine how optimistic industries are about successfully negotiating these uncertain times (Figure 1). The industries that are rated the most optimistic fall into two clear categories. In the first category, there are industries, such as Healthcare that had to transform urgently – mostly in an unplanned manner. This has led to a greater appetite for change and optimism in these industries. Then there are industries, such as Retail, that had some time to re-focus their technology roadmap when the crisis hit. These industries have a strong customer focus and had started their digital journeys before the pandemic.
Microsoft’s industry focus appears to be spot-on. Their first two vertical clouds target enterprises that have had to – and will continue to – pivot. The ‘modular’ approach taken in the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare offering allows providers to choose the right capability for their organisation – whether it is workflow automation, patient engagement through virtual health, collaboration within care teams or better clinical and operational insights. As healthcare organisations across the world negotiate the challenges of mass vaccination, they may well find themselves leveraging these industry-specific capabilities as they revamp their workflows, processes, and data use.”
Get to know the right research, insights and technologies for you to be one step ahead in this new world of retail in our top 5 retail trends for 2021 that represent the most significant shifts in 2021