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The company announced Carbon Emission Insights, a widget to help enterprises optimize their sustainability practices

Cisco Live EMEA returns to an in-person format for the first time since early 2019. At the Amsterdam event, Cisco announced some Webex innovations to help companies achieve their sustainability goals. While sustainability is a big issue across the globe, Europe provides an excellent location for the announcements as the European Union (EU) has led the world in this area. The EU has put in place several policies aimed at promoting sustainability and reducing environmental impacts, including the Paris Agreement, the Renewable Energy Directive, and Circular Economy Action Plan. Also, there is strong public demand for action on sustainability issues in Europe, with citizens being highly active in creating urgency for government leaders. As a company, Cisco has made sustainability a bigger part of its overall corporate social responsibility goals. Last year it named Mary de Wysocki to be its first Chief Sustainability Officer. It also set a goal to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas (GHG) across its value chain by 2040. The company also rolled out a partner program to help its massive reseller base with its sustainability initiatives. At Cisco Live EMEA, the company announced Carbon Emission Insights as a widget inside its Webex Control Hub. This feature gives customers access to three key pieces of sustainability goal-oriented information.
  1. Customers will have the ability to monitor the scope two emissions, defined as the indirect emissions that result from purchased electricity or heat from another organization, across all the collaboration devices an organization company has deployed.
  2. Customers will be able to see historical data and trending information which shows administrators' progress toward meeting sustainability goals. Companies can use this data to measure any changes made to improve sustainability.
  3. There is a new feature called Office Hours which provides IT administrators and facilities professionals with recommendations on how to optimize equipment around office hours. For example, when Office Hours is turned on, devices will automatically be shut down during certain hours. Office Hours will also turn off digital signage when there are no people around. During a pre-brief, Cisco shared a case study where 40 Webex Board Pros were turned off for 12 hours a day, and this equaled an annual savings of 16 MWh. Based on regional power costs, this results in savings of 9,512 euros in Germany, 10,030 euros in Italy, and 10,116 euros in France.
In addition to Control Hub updates, Cisco has made sustainability part of the design of Cisco devices. This includes unit design, packaging, power consumption, and other factors. Cisco has also enabled environment systems to be integrated into Webex where window shades can be closed if rooms get too warm when a meeting is in progress. This has been implemented at Cisco’s New York Penn1 building. There was other Webex news outside of sustainability. At the show, Cisco announced that the device integration with Microsoft is now generally available (GA) for the Room Kit Pro, Board Pro 55 and 75, and Room Bar. It’s important to understand this isn’t just basic interoperability but native integration without having to reboot between Webex and Teams meetings. Cisco has enabled the management of the devices to be done through either Webex Control Hub or the Microsoft Admin Console, giving customers choice. Also, Cisco announced a new device, the Table Microphone Pro. This brand-new device will amplify the audio experience in any kind of conference room. It comes with Cisco’s noise cancellation, which is the same AI-based capability found in other Cisco devices. Like all devices, it can be managed through Control Hub and is designed to be plug-and-play. In addition, Webex Go, which was announced last year, will be available in the UK. As a reminder, this gives customers the ability to have a business phone number provisioned on their personal phone via an e-sim. Lastly, Cisco has added Webex data centers in Frankfurt and Amsterdam, which is important for businesses that have data sovereignty requirements. The product updates are something I’ve become accustomed to with Cisco at its user conferences. It was good to see Cisco tie what it’s doing with its collaboration offerings to sustainability endeavors, given the focus the latter has had at the corporate level.

The combination of Uniphore and Red Box provides full-stack conversational AI for contact centers and more.

This week, Uniphore, a startup backed by former executive chairman and CEO of Cisco John Chambers, announced it has acquired U.K.-based voice, screen, and metadata capturing company Red Box. The acquisition enabled Uniphore to add Red Box’s capturing capabilities to its conversational artificial intelligence (AI) platform. These capabilities are most often used in compliance-centric industries, such as financial services and healthcare. And since Red Box can be used both in real-time and post-call audio and metadata streams, companies are now enabled to capture and monitor conversations for things that might violate organizational or industry rules or policies. For example, in financial services, a broker talking to a customer can’t guarantee the performance of a stock but may choose to say that to land a new customer. Monitoring this requires a compliance officer spot-checking recordings of calls or periodically joining a conversation. The reality is, no matter how big the team, humans can’t listen to and analyze every call — but machines with AI can. Even still, many companies who have advanced conversational AI tools to sort and flag potential issues on calls such as these often face uphill battles with their contact center vendors to have full and open access to their data.

Hybrid Work Creates New Compliance Challenges

Hybrid work coupled with an explosion in the use of cloud-based collaboration tools has exacerbated the challenges of compliance. Office workers sit behind corporate-grade security infrastructure that captures all conversations coming in and out of offices. This allows compliance teams to inspect the data to ensure regulatory requirements are being met. Move workers, contact center agents, and executives to their homes and that increases the risk of violations occurring. As an example, a customer service representative could say something that wasn’t true to placate a customer, or a salesperson could become hostile with a prospect. Traditional on-site tools have no way of monitoring these conversations occurring over the cloud. Like all enterprise applications, spend is shifting to those solutions that support both on-premises and cloud applications, which Uniphore and Red Box claim to do. In reality, the problem that has become visible with hybrid work was already rapidly developing into one with in-office workers. When all conversations were done over the phone, compliance teams had one channel to monitor. Today, the number of channels has exploded and now includes screen sharing, file transfers, video, and more. However, Red Box can securely capture the information across every conversation and all channels. When combined with Uniphore’s artificial intelligence and automation capabilities, businesses can keep eyes and ears on every interaction. This visibility allows companies to not just monitor for quality assurance (QA) but to use the data for unique applications, such as optimizing knowledge libraries, developing new products, and delivering unique customer experiences.

Conversational AI and Screen Capture Has Value Beyond Compliance

While compliance is the low hanging fruit, Red Box can be used for more. Conversations contain rich data that often goes untapped. Forward thinking companies know that conversations are a valuable asset, and the insights gained from understanding them can transform every aspect of a business including customer loyalty. The combination of Red Box and Uniphore offers customers the following benefits:
  • Complete data sovereignty and centralized data access: The control over data is particularly important in industries such as financial services and healthcare, but it is growing in importance in other verticals such as retail, telecom, entertainment, and others.
  • AI-delivered insights: The ability to find key insights in the massive amounts of data in real time using AI and automation is growing.
  • Faster time to value from self-service tools, agent assistance, and analytics: Businesses have experimented with bots and virtual agents in the past, but without AI, the customer experience can be frustrating.

Red Box Adds to Uniphore’s Platform

This latest purchase adds nicely to Uniphore’s approach to conversational AI, where it is creating one platform that can deliver rich capabilities across voice, video, and data. At a pre-briefing, I had a chance to talk to both companies. Uniphore’s CEO, Umesh Sachdev, explained how the companies fit together. “We can deliver all our AI and RPA (robotic process automation) pieces from a single architecture, but we had no control over where the customer’s voice and video data reside,” said Sachdev. “We would go to a customer and ask them to give us the data only to find out they had no access to their own data, as the legacy vendor had it locked up in their platform and were almost holding customers hostage. Now with Red Box, we are a full-stack data-to-AI provider for contact centers and beyond.” It’s important to note that while Uniphore will integrate Red Box into its own X platform, it was designed to be used in any environment. “We architected our solution to be a non-invasive overlay solution,” said Richard Stevenson, CEO of Red Box. “This allows us to work around that lockout problem mentioned earlier.” For Uniphore, this will be its fourth acquisition, with the other three having gone well. I expect to see Uniphore continue to add to its capabilities via buying complementary companies to augment its in-house research and development teams to give them an advantage in the conversational AI platform wars.

The cloud communications industry is maturing and it’s important that the vendors change how they sell and how they deal with the partner community.

Last week RingCentral announced a revamped channel program called RingCentral Reach. As markets mature, the way UCaaS and CCaaS are doing now, the channel plays a much bigger role in a vendor’s success. Early adopter customers tend to deal directly with the vendor, but as mass-market adoption occurs, customers prefer to leverage a trusted partner that can help with migration, integration, training and more. RingCentral currently has a channel program but it’s very basic. Several of RingCentral’s more productive partners have been pushing for change for some time. The biggest change is the shift from single tier to three tiers. Instead of treating all partners the same, the new program rewards partners that drive more revenue. The top tier, Diamond, requires $100,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR) in the US and $75,000 international. Qualification for the middle tier, Gold, requires $50,000 in MRR for US partners and $25,000 international. All other partners are considered “registered partners”. As one would expect, each tier has certain benefits that the one below it does not. The attached charts show that all partners qualify for items such as the partner portal, learning access and a dedicated partner manager. Gold and Diamond partners also qualify for discounted MVP service and co-marketing funds, but Diamond alone will receive the following:
  • Presidents Club membership: gives partners the opportunity to meet RingCentral C-level executives at a destination location.
  • Executive Sponsorship: partners now have a vice president or higher as their primary point of contact at RingCentral.
  • Discounted Certified Delivery Partner (CDP) certification, which allows partners to conduct their own professional services for customers, including customer onboarding and implementation.
  • Dedicated Channel Marketing Support: gives partners the opportunity to directly work with members of RingCentral’s channel marketing team to build comprehensive plans; develop assets; and assist with campaigns and events.
Over time, I would expect RingCentral to evolve to more of a “value” based partner program. At its current size, MRR is the best metric but as the channel program adds more application partners, certification programs and advanced capabilities, it should still be measured on revenue, but also on activities that help RingCentral move into adjacent markets or help with the adoption of emerging technology. Another interesting change to the program is removal of the qualification for partners’ revenue to be at least 25% contact center. On a pre-briefing, I asked Zane Long, SVP Global Partner Sales at RingCentral, why they removed the requirement to sell a contact center. His response was that the larger partners were already hitting that number. “Our largest partners already understand the value that contact center contribution brings and we will continue to support them to achieve these numbers”. For those that haven’t fully embraced the contact center, RingCentral will offer training and other programs to help the partners add this to their business. Wendy Harmon, AVP of Channel Marketing at RingCentral, told me, “We want all our partners to be successful selling all RingCentral products. The key is to take the partners that aren’t selling contact center and dissect their business and understand what training or other support is needed.” I agree with this change. As analysts, we talk a lot about the integration of UCaaS and CCaaS but in reality, the buyers can be quite different within an enterprise. For partners not well versed in this area, moving into it can be quite daunting. I’d rather see RingCentral let its partner be successful where they can and then add contact center later instead of forcing the issue. While these changes look good on paper, it’s tough to tell how partners will respond. I did check in with several RingCentral partners, including Joe Rittenhouse, Co-CEO of Converged Technology Professionals, a top RingCentral partner. He was positive on the new program and told me, “These changes are a win-win as it enables us to accelerate our business and rewards the partners that have committed to RingCentral. These changes are in line with what we have been echoing to them so it’s good to see the leadership is adjusting the program with partner feedback.” The UCaaS and CCaaS markets are certainly getting more competitive and RingCentral Reach should create more partner loyalty, which is critical to the vendor’s long-term success.

The use of cloud software principals can transform network operations.

Cloud computing has impacted almost every part of the IT stack. Applications are built with composability in mind, compute has been disaggregated to improve agility, and security has evolved into a cloud-centric, AI-driven industry. The one laggard has been the network. The architecture used today isn’t much different from 30 years ago. There have been incremental changes but nothing that has transformed networking. For Arista Networks, which developed its trade serving the needs of the cloud titans, creating differentiation through software has always been the company’s strong suit as its customers demanded it. It’s now bringing these principles to the enterprise buyer. I recently chatted with two experts from Arista, Fred Hsu, a distinguished solutions engineer, and Douglas Gourlay, Vice President and General Manager of Software, about how the cloud and software are impacting the network. Highlights of the ZKast interview, done in conjunction with eWEEK eSPEAKS, are below.

Legacy Networks Hold Back Innovation

For businesses, this creates a challenge as a legacy network can’t support the needs of a business with a modern, cloud-centric approach to applications. In application development, DevOps has embraced the concept of continuous innovation (CI), but if the network takes days or even months to program, verify, and deploy, it holds the company back. Today’s network must be designed to support distributed multi-vendor, multiservice applications that run globally. Businesses are moving at faster speeds and digitally transforming, so the role of the network is changing. The commonly used software principle of CI must now come to the network to make it programmable and agile.

Homogenize Network Design

Network design patterns are seeing tremendous homogenization. While legacy networks have had a massive disparity in architecture, most organizations today are approaching their network design with a common repeatable pattern. A repeatable design pattern enables automation to execute networking at scale, so organizations can plan for future business apps. The operational driver is taking software best practices and principles and applying them to day-to-day operations.

Apply DevOps Practices to Networking

There is a lot of business value in making the network programmable, using application programming interfaces (APIs), and treating the network like software. Taking what an application developer (DevOps) does in their world and applying it to networking is a transformative concept that Arista has poured into a new solution called Continuous Integration (CI) Pipeline.

Implement Network and Workflow Automation

Launched in November, CI Pipeline is a comprehensive network automation solution built on Arista’s EOS Network Data Lake (NetDL). It is designed to help organizations adopt a modern network operating model through continuous design, integration, and testing. In essence, CI Pipeline is a workflow that starts at the API level and builds on top of it for high-level automation. Instead of admins manually executing tests, CI Pipeline automates the entire workflow for them. It also incorporates the change control process, which is a lot like what a software developer does when making changes.

Introduce a Continuous Design Framework

In conjunction with the CI Pipeline, Arista introduced Validated Designs (AVD) to provide organizations with a continuous design framework. AVDs are design guides for network best practices that can be turned into code. When used as part of the CI Pipeline, AVDs improve network reliability.

Utilize Network Design Templates

Instead of copying and pasting everything in the Arista design guide, there is a template organizations can use to fill in the variables and AVDs generate all of the configurations automatically. They can also generate documentation and tests, making things easier for network engineers.

Consider Multiple Deployment Models

Arista is offering one primary AVD with multiple deployment models. The framework is completely open source and multi-domain, which means it can be used to automate the data center, campus, or wide area network (WAN). It tackles the full life cycle of network provisioning from configuration generation to pre- and post-deployment validation.

Upskill for Different Traffic Types and the Cloud

It’s important for organizations to start building networks that are designed for very different traffic flow patterns. Meanwhile, IT pros and network engineers should be thinking about refreshing their skill set as organizations move to software and the cloud.

Zscaler Inc. today announced “Zscaler Resilience,” which as the name suggests is a set of capabilities that improve the resiliency of its services with the aim of delivering nonstop operations.

Businesses have become heavily reliant on cloud services, and when they are unavailable, it can cause significant disruption in operations. One of the challenges in creating cloud resiliency is that there are so many factors, including network connectivity, security and data center operations. Some highly technical organizations may be able to do this on their own, but most companies do not have the skills. Zscaler Resilience is designed to deliver the necessary components as part of its service, simplifying business continuity.

Zscaler Resilience accounts for both infrastructure and operational processes and is comprised of the following components:

  • Disaster recovery. This protects the customer against a Zscaler cloud outage. In the event of a major event that prevents access to private applications behind the Zscaler cloud, the customer traffic can be redirected to a Zscaler Private Edge residing in the customer’s local data center or in a public cloud where the most updated secure policies are. This ensures that business operations are not disrupted. As an option, direct internet access can be limited to only the business apps considered critical. I like this option as it makes companies review their apps and understand which ones are crucial and which should be best effort.
  • Dynamic performance-based selection. This capability protects against one of the most difficult problems for information technology organizations, and that’s the brownout. When things are down, they’re down and troubleshooting and remediation is straightforward. With brownouts, things are still connected but not working quite right. This can mislead engineers as connectivity is confirmed but things aren’t working. Zscaler automates brownout remediation by continuously probing the gateways for HTTP latency and dynamically establishing tunnels that choose the optimal path for traffic.
  • Customer-controlled data center exclusion. This feature, also known as “soft power,” is like brownout mitigation but puts more control in customers’ hands by allowing them to set a temporary exclusion period for one of the data centers experiencing problems. This prevents traffic from bouncing back and forth if connectivity is intermittently dropping.

Additionally, the company is introducing a service called Zscaler Resilience Audit, which is a custom service that helps customers with their business continuity plans. Audit looks at all aspects of the customer environment, identifies areas for improvement and then helps with the deployment and configuration of Resilience.

In a previous life, I was involved with business continuity initiatives, and the biggest mistake organizations make is a lack of planning and preparedness. It’s difficult to understand all the possible scenarios one might face, particularly today when there are technical, geopolitical and human factors to consider. Then there are different kinds of outages that range from brownouts to blackouts and catastrophic failures. Leveraging a service like Audit can help companies understand what gaps they may have.

From a price perspective, Zscaler is building these capabilities into the Business Edition subscription tier and higher (Transformation and Unlimited). On a pre-brief, Zscaler told me the idea wasn’t to make money off the service but rather to ensure that the service is always available. Zscaler will also be proactively reaching out to its customers to ensure they are taking advantage of Resilience.

In my opinion, not charging the customer for these features is the right thing to do as it shouldn’t cost the customer extra to ensure they can access services they are paying for. To be clear, not all issues that affect services are in the domain of Zscaler. There can be telco issues, DNS problems, security events or other factors. But Zscaler is putting its money where its mouth is and taking ownership of anything that could cause a customer to experience and outage. This is a model all cloud providers should follow.

The company also announced a “kickstarter” program for Teams customers to bring Poly | HP solutions into their enterprise.

This week the ISE event kicks off in Barcelona. This is the first major communications-centric show of the year where the vendor community gets to show off their latest and greatest technology. At the event, HP announced a complete Microsoft Teams Room solution that brings together HP compute as well as endpoints from Poly. When HP acquired Poly, some industry watchers, myself included, wondered how well the two companies could go to market together. Work from home seemed obvious for personal devices, but the question was how Poly plus HP would extend into the workplace. The ISE launch is the first example of a combined solution as it provides everything required to power a Microsoft Teams Room. As part of this announcement, the Poly Studio Room Kits for Microsoft Teams Rooms can now be paired with the Teams-certified HP Mini Conference PC for a complete solution. The HP PC runs Windows IoT, a member of the broader Windows 10 family designed specifically for this kind of use case. It’s got a slimmed-down feature set and includes enterprise-class power management and manageability to connected endpoints, like a conferencing room PC. The PC is powered by the 12 Gen Intel Core i7 processor, giving it plenty of horsepower for collaboration and video conferencing. The PC comes pre-loaded with HP’s endpoint security software, Wolf, to protect the device. Businesses are using collaboration tools like Teams to share sensitive information making endpoint security an important component of the solution. Historically, Poly (and Polycom before) has maintained a broad portfolio of devices for Microsoft collaboration software. Its latest endpoints are designed for Teams, but Poly was one of the first endpoint manufacturers to jump on the Microsoft bandwagon. At ISE Poly added two more products to its list of devices. These are:
  • Poly CCX350 phone – Poly’s first Microsoft Teams-certified desk phone with a physical dial pad. This type of phone is ideal for a shared endpoint in high-traffic areas as well as retail, manufacturing, and other environments. The phone comes outfitted with Poly’s Acoustic Fence and NoiseBlockAI enabling businesses to put the phones in areas that may have been typically too noisy. Stadiums, airports and hotel lobbies are excellent examples.
  • Poly Voyager Free 60 Series wireless earbuds – These are professional-grade wireless earbuds that are built for work but can also be used for everyday life. Key features include active noise canceling (ANC) and WindSmart technology, enabling people to wear them while out walking. There are two versions – a standard model with a charging case or the Voyager Free 60+ UC with a smart charge OLED case. The earbuds are available in a version certified for Microsoft Teams and non-certified for other platforms.
HP also announced programs to simplify the purchasing of a Poly | HP solution. The My First Room 2.0 is a promotional bundle that includes the new HP Mini Conferencing PC-based Microsoft Teams Rooms solution and Android-based Teams Rooms. If also offers one-time discounts on first-time purchases. Think of this as a "kickstarter" program for Teams customers to bring Poly | HP solutions in. When it comes to third-party solutions for Microsoft Teams, there is no shortage of options available to customers. One of the challenges for Teams has been that doing anything "end to end" often involved cobbling together multiple products from different vendors. This announcement from HP was good to see as it demonstrates the value of bringing the two portfolios together.

Organizations are investing more in privacy because they view it as a critical business priority, but there’s a major disconnect between consumer expectations and how organizations are actually handling data.

That’s according to Cisco Systems Inc.’s newest 2023 Data Privacy Benchmark Study, which also revealed that customers believe companies can do more, especially when using artificial intelligence with their personal data.

This contrast poses an interesting challenge for corporate chief information security officers, as many have them have told me that consumer privacy has become a top initiative because of the intense media pressure every time a breach occurs. The Cisco report clearly shows that despite the increased focus and budget, businesses can’t seem to close the gap with customer expectations.

The study, released Jan. 24, is Cisco’s sixth annual global study gauging perspectives on data privacy strategies. Cisco anonymously surveyed more than 4,700 security professionals from 26 geographies in 2022. The survey respondents come from various industries and company sizes. The study also includes results from Cisco’s 2022 Consumer Privacy Survey that was also conducted in 2022, surveying 2,600 adults in 12 geographies.

For most organizations (95%), privacy is a business imperative and an integral part of their organizations’ culture. Ninety-four percent of the respondents said customers would not buy from their company if data was not properly protected, while 81% agreed that the way an organization treats data reveals a lot about how it respects customer privacy.

Given the growing importance of privacy, it’s no surprise that organizations continue to invest in it. Despite a difficult economic climate, spending on privacy averaged $2.7 million in 2022, compared with $1.2 million just three years ago. The most significant growth between 2021 and 2022 took place at smaller organizations. For those with 50 to 249 employees, spending increased more than 17%, to $2 million. For those with 500 to 999 employees, spending rose more than 13%, to $2.6 million. Spending at larger organizations remained mostly unchanged after significant increases from 2019 to 2020.

Organizations view privacy as an attractive financial investment. In fact, the average organization reported getting 1.8 times return on their privacy investments. Thirty-six percent of organizations said they are getting returns at least twice their spending, up from 32% last year. The key benefits from privacy cited by the respondents include reducing sales delays, mitigating losses from data breaches, enabling innovation, achieving operational efficiency, building trust with customers, and making their company more attractive.

Yet when it comes to building trust, many organizations are not on the same page with consumers. According to findings from Cisco’s 2022 consumer survey, 60% of consumers worry about how organizations are using AI, while 65% said they’ve already lost trust in organizations over their AI practices. Consumers also said the best way to make them more comfortable would be to provide an opt-out option for AI.

I find the consumer demand for AI fascinating because just a few years ago, the sentiment was very much anti-AI, since no one wanted machines continually looking at their data. Sure, it might protect them, but the fear is it may be used for sales and marketing purposes. It seems consumers now recognize the value AI can bring to privacy. The challenge for businesses is that AI brings an expectation of perfection and even the best AI tools aren’t capable of that.

Although 96% of organizations believe they have an ethical obligation to treat data properly, their priorities are not consistent with those named by consumers. According to this year’s benchmark study, 30% of organizations named compliance as the most important priority for building customer trust, followed by transparency (26%). However, in the consumer survey, 39% of the respondents cited providing easily accessible and clear information about how their data is being used as the top priority.

The findings from both surveys reveal that compliance is not enough to build trust. Organizations must treat privacy as a critical business priority and ensure that everyone across the organization plays a role in protecting data. In fact, 95% of the respondents in the benchmark study said all employees need to know how to safeguard data privacy.

Privacy legislation plays an important role in ensuring that governments hold organizations accountable for how they manage personal data. Such laws now exist in 157 countries, an increase from 145 just last year. Even though complying with privacy laws can be costly and time-consuming, 79% of organizations believe they have had a positive impact.

Most organizations (90%) feel that a global provider operating at scale can better protect their data than a local provider. This is surprising, considering that many governments and organizations have data localization requirements in place that force data to be kept within a country or region. While conducting its research, Cisco found that localization isn’t optimal when taking into account costs, security and other tradeoffs. According to the study, 89% of organizations agree that data localization adds significant cost to their operations.

In conclusion, Cisco makes several recommendations based on the survey findings. First, it recommends that organization continue to invest in privacy and involve security and information technology professionals, who deal directly with personal data processing and protection.

Organizations should also be more transparent with their customers about how their personal data is used. For example, when using AI, companies should provide management options to customers.

Lastly, data localization is not always the answer since global providers are better equipped at tackling today’s complex privacy requirements.

Three recent customer cases show what value integrated UCaaS and CCaaS bring to an organization

For years now, we analysts have been fed a steady diet of “UCaaS and CCaaS must come together.” Conceptually, it makes sense, as the communications channels are across both product areas are the same, thus enabling companies to create seamless workflows that span both customer and employee interactions. While that concept makes sense in the abstract, I’ve had a hard time finding good actual customer examples of the value integrated UCaaS and CCaaS provide, outside of having a “single throat to choke” or providing purchase order simplicity. So it's fortuitous that 8x8 recently released a couple of assets that highlighted the value of integrated UCaaS and CcaaS with specific customer examples. The company hosted a webinar, which also included Oracle and Frost and Sullivan; the webinar focused on the importance of a UCaaS/CCaaS-integrated approach, used 8x8’s XCaaS as an example, and provided strategies to boost employee and customer experience. Many 8x8 customers are implementing XCaaS across industries to enable modern communication experiences, remove silos, boost productivity, and collect insights/valuable data. Below are a few of those customer success stories. It also released an e-book titled, “How Forward Thinking Organizations are Embracing eXperience as a Service (XCaaS)”, which contained a number of actual customer stories. Not all of them were about integrated UCaaS and CCaaS so I extracted a few of the ones that were and summarized below.

Example #1: the Kansas City Royals' Digital Transformation Initiative

The Major League Baseball team was looking for ways to transform employee and fan experiences. The team migrated its IT services from on-prem to the cloud over the last couple of years, and it reduced the number of on-site business systems and storage pools from over 20 to one of each. As part of its digital transformation initiative, the Kansas City Royals deployed 8x8’s XCaaS Platform to provide its workforce with a single phone number and integrated chat, video, and messaging capabilities, to be available anywhere on any device. This is important for sports teams, as representatives can be anywhere in the stadium at any time but may need to interface with fans or other employees. Furthermore, the team deployed 8x8’s Contact Center solution, offering fans omnichannel customer service. The combined XCaaS solution has helped the Kansas City Royals improve the fan experience. For example, the platform’s speech analytics feature interprets unstructured data from customer conversations and allows contact center agents to improve interactions with customers. On top of that, the team now has a simplified infrastructure that doesn’t require so much operational upkeep by the IT team.

Example #2: Fred Loya Insurance

Fred Loya Insurance is one of the largest Latino-owned companies in the country, with 726 agencies in 11 states. The company struggled with its legacy phone system, especially the costly changes it required to stay in compliance with new privacy laws. 8x8 offered Fred Loya Insurance a proof-of-concept implementation of XCaaS for three months, and the company saw immediate improvements. By moving to 8x8’s platform, costs went down significantly. The centralized administration provided by the platform helped Fred Loya Insurance reduce its five phone admins to three, while meeting the necessary privacy standards. Last year, 8x8 released a bespoke version of XCaaS called Frontdesk, specifically designed for receptionists. The experience is specifically designed for high call volume roles. Additionally, the company was able to implement changes much faster than in the past. For example, after getting a request from management to change how the contact center was handling calls, the company made the change within 30 minutes on a live system without interrupting any calls. The XCaaS Platform has enabled more than 3,500 employees and contact center agents in 700 offices to operate remotely. Meanwhile, the company also improved its customer experience by recognizing problems during calls using customer sentiment insights provided by the platform.

Example #3: Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust

The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust provides general acute, outpatient, and diagnostic services to approximately 500,000 residents in Essex, U.K. Similar to the previous example, the healthcare system had a legacy phone infrastructure that was failing on a regular basis and impacting both patients and staff. The Trust deployed 8x8’s X Series platform, which has since evolved into XCaaS. Softphones were given to employees, so they could work from anywhere using mobile phones, laptops, and the 8x8 app. As for patients, they no longer wait at the switchboard to be connected and can easily reach employees or request call-backs. When the Trust opens its state-of-the-art digital hospital in 2025, the plan is to keep using 8x8 plus Microsoft Teams, artificial intelligence (AI), and leading-edge tech. The staff will be able to move into the new building and migrate with 8x8 right away. * These three varied examples show actual customers that have deployed an integrated platform to change the way they do business. This is one of the best ways to highlight the value of a product as most customers want to know what other companies like them are doing. The e-book 8x8 put together is a good start but I encourage them to continue to release case studies and would like to see something similar from other vendors.

An explosion of Internet of Things connectivity mandates that security teams rethink threat protection.

The world is more connected than ever thanks to the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT), connected edge computing devices and the technology that facilitates communication between devices. Additionally, the term Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is used to describe devices and sensors in manufacturing and industrial processes. Then there’s operational technology (OT), a specific category of hardware and software that controls the performance of physical devices. Cloud security provider Zscaler has seen an increase in the use of its services to secure connected “things.” OT, IoT, and IIoT all have unique requirements in every industry. The same principles that apply to IT security cannot be applied in OT environments because they’re a different class of devices. As an example, agents often can’t be loaded on IoT devices limiting the ability to apply critical security updates quickly. I recently talked to Deepak Patel, head of OT/IoT/IIoT at Zscaler’s Office of the CEO, to better understand the challenges around connected things and how Zscaler is addressing them. Highlights of the ZKast interview, done in conjunction with eWEEK eSPEAKS, are below.
  • When it comes to OT devices, the risk of a breach is much greater than just being taken offline. It could have major business consequences. In an industrial environment, for instance, it could mean the loss of life, limb, and equipment. With OT, there needs to be a separation between the control network and the management network.
  • The key is to provide access to systems that connect to the internet without actually connecting them to the network. That’s where zero trust becomes relevant. By applying the principles of zero trust to IoT and OT, whether it’s a user or a device, the identity is validated before the user/device is permitted to connect to the network.
  • The majority of breaches in OT environments result from establishing an information highway by connecting two networks together. Zero trust is about connecting an entity to another entity without connecting the networks, which contains the lateral threat movement. Companies can choose to add privileged remote access for partners and third parties to avoid exposing the network to threats.
  • Take the factory floor as an example. Everything doesn’t have to be connected to the internet. There needs to be a separation of management and control, where the whole factory can operate without an internet connection. It’s not about restricting day-to-day operations, but rather separating physical security and cybersecurity.
  • Segmentation is widely deployed in corporate networks to minimize the attack surface. In IoT and OT environments like a factory floor, the same rules don’t apply. Segmentation should be approached on macro level, rather than the micro level. A coarse-grained approach would work well on the factory floor, but not in the financial sector or consumer packaged goods. Understanding those nuances is crucial.
  • For one customer, Zscaler is supplying a solution that allows third parties to access enclaves in its oil rigs through an isolated mechanism, without setting up VPNs and firewalls. It’s all done over satellite links. Zscaler runs a distributed cloud with more than 150 data centers. Now, when the oil rigs move around, they can still connect to the closest data center.
  • Zscaler recently partnered with Siemens to create an all-in-one solution for securing OT environments. The solution, offered directly from Siemens, combines Zscaler’s Zero Trust Exchange cloud security platform and Siemens’ devices. Customers with OT infrastructures can now securely manage factories and monitor quality assurance from any location.
  • For those who are thinking about securing their OT environments, Zscaler recommends first starting with the goals. The most common goals for OT are plant and people safety, as well as increasing production. It’s important to come in with a business-oriented mindset versus a generic IT playbook for patching systems.

The move will further consolidate the legacy unified communications market.

Today, Mitel announced it has entered exclusive negotiations to acquire the Unify Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) and Communications and Collaboration Services (CCS) businesses from France-based system integrator Atos. The wording (“entered exclusive negotiations”) may seem strange but that’s consistent with the terminology typically used in French business announcements. If Atos had been a US company, it would have been stated “entered a definitive agreement…”, which is what people in the US are more accustomed to. The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2023 following the customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals. The addition of Unify continues Mitel’s long history of consolidation that includes acquisitions of ShoreTel, Toshiba and Aastra. While Unify has faded in the US over the last decade, it still has a massive installed base across the globe. The combined entity will have over 75 million users in over 100 countries. Using the generally accepted figure of 400 million business desktops as the global base, Mitel-Unify would hold a shade under 20% of the total installed base. This combined market share would make Avaya and the new Mitel 1 and 1A as far as the leader in installed base. I’m sure some analyst firms will have Avaya leading while others will have Mitel, but it should be very close. This also expands Mitel’s channel community to over 5,500 partners globally, giving the company reach into almost every country. The acquisition marks the end of an era for the company formerly known as Siemens Enterprise Communications. In retrospect, the demise of the one-time powerhouse is a bit of surprise. Most legacy vendors get caught asleep at the wheel and miss market transitions. That wasn’t the case with Siemens Enterprise Communications. They were the first IP PBX vendor to roll out a pure software system with the release of its HiPath 8000. They were also the first to unveil a unified communications client with its OpenScape product, later rebranded to the current Circuit product. Siemens was also the first vendor to jump on the Microsoft train when, in 2003 it announced integration with Microsoft Live Communication Server (LCS). With all these firsts, it’s hard to believe they suffered the rapid decline they did. Much of the failure of the company was due to an inability to market effectively in an industry that had Cisco come on strong and later Microsoft. The Atos acquisition certainly didn’t help things as Unify never seemed to fit quite right in that portfolio. Atos is a massive, global services company and every time I met with management, the Unify business didn’t seem a high priority. For Mitel, this deal makes sense given the company’s current strategy of being dedicated to driving innovation in on-premises systems. While one might chortle and guffaw at this, as cloud has been all the rage for the past half decade, it’s important to understand how large the on-premises base is. If one takes all the UCaaS providers at face value regarding the number of cloud seats--and one can certainly debate them--the cloud installed base is only about 20 – 25M total seats, meaning most businesses still have an on-prem system. The on-prem market certainly is declining but it will be at least another 5-10 years before cloud seats outnumber on-premises. This also should put to rest any speculation regarding the Mitel strategy. When the company cut its partnership deal with RingCentral, many felt it was Mitel waving the white flag and selling its installed base to Ring. Au contraire. The deal was put in place to allow Mitel to drive innovation into its on-premises UC systems while not being distracted with playing catch up with UCaaS. It's important to understand that “legacy” or “on-premises” does not necessarily mean bad. In fact, a legacy hardware business can be very profitable if managed correctly. The poster child for this is Dell. In 2016, the company ponied up a whopping $67 billion for EMC, and effectively cornered the market on legacy compute, with HPE becoming a distant number two. Since then, the combined Dell-EMC has churned out cash, despite its primary markets of PCs, servers and storage systems being in decline. There is no reason Mitel can’t do the same, and this is why the company chose to partner with RingCentral for cloud. The partnership with RingCentral enables Mitel to focus all its R&D efforts on driving innovation into the on-premises business. Counter to what one might think, Mitel and Unify are highly complementary to one another. Mitel is a product-led company that augments with its services business, while Unify is a services company that supports with product. The combined entity has strength in both areas. Also, Mitel’s core base is in the US and the company has been trying to expand globally for years. Unify has its base built in Europe, particularly Germany as well as in Latin America. Lastly, Mitel’s strength is in mid-market where Unify, particularly under Atos ownership, was focused on large enterprise. One of the other interesting aspects of this move is the managed services business and vertical expertise that Unify brings. Mitel has oriented its go-to-market around the concept of customer lifecycle management and could address most aspects of this except a customer that wants to leverage a managed service. Unify has strength in public sector, healthcare and financial services, where Mitel is widely adopted in hospitality, retail and credit unions. The managed services business could cause some overlap with its existing channel, but Mitel has very few large partners capable of delivering services to global companies. I discussed this with Mitel’s Chief Sales Officer, Graham Bevington and he’s keenly aware of the rub it could cause. “The managed services business we are getting is not intended to compete with our partners. This expands the number of options that our customers will have, but we will do right by our partners,” he told me. This is a good move for Mitel as it gives the vendor a larger base to monetize. There are some questions that need to be answered. The first is what happens to Circuit, the Unify cloud UCC platform? Will Mitel keep both? Bevington told me Mitel will be looking at that down the road, but I suspect the Unify product will be put to rest and Mitel will be the go-forward product. Also, the Mitel – RingCentral partnership was to reference-sell RingCentral MVP, whereas Unify took the “cloud office” approach. Bevington told me the plan right now is to continue with both strategies, but I believe the cleanest approach for Mitel is to go the MVP route across the board. Looking ahead, I’d like to see Mitel continue to be aggressive with growing its legacy base. The most obvious target would be the UC business at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE), currently owned by China Huaxin. ALE currently sells both networking and UC products and while neither is “market leading”, the network products are more competitive than UC. It would make sense for ALE to sell off the UC base and focus on networking where it has some large public sector customers that it can build on. In closing, I asked Bevington what excited him most about the deal with Unify and he told me it was the managed services business and the opportunity it opens up. He stated, “The analysts have told me the UC market is currently $50B but that’s not just product. It’s also software assurance, services and other things managed services drives. We have only been able to address the tip of iceberg, but the Unify deal makes much more of the iceberg available and that’s what excites us.”

New DigiCert solution simplifies the path to digital trust.

DigiCert this week launched a comprehensive digital trust solution that unifies certificate authority (CA), certificate management and public key infrastructure (PKI) services. Trust Lifecycle Manager, now available as part of the DigiCert ONE platform, is a major product launch that was years in the making. DigiCert is well known for helping companies implement digital trust across the enterprise. DigiCert ONE is a modular platform that can be deployed individually or as part of a suite, either on-premises, in the cloud, or in a hybrid environment. Using the platform, companies can issue millions of certificates on devices, servers, to sign software, for user authentication and so on with digital identities attached to them.

Endpoints Drive Need for Digital Trust

With the rise of connected devices and cloud deployments, the network perimeter has expanded. For IT operations, this means greater complexity and risk. For identity and access management (IAM) administrators, the authentication needs are increasing. For software development and IT operations (DevOps), security operations (SecOps), and operational technology (OT) teams, the attack surface is expanding. That’s where Trust Lifecycle Manager comes in. It brings together certificate lifecycle management and PKI services. It also tightly integrates with public trust issuance. On the certificate management front, the solution provides:
  • Discovery (centralized repository of all public and private certificates)
  • Management and notifications (prevents expired certificates)
  • Automation (one-touch provisioning and renewal)
  • Integration (governance across CAs, or specific vendor Certificate Authority)

Multiple Deployment Options For Trust Lifecycle Manager

On the PKI services front, Trust Lifecycle Manager oversees identity and authentication of users, servers, devices, and other IT resources. DigiCert offers three deployment options. The first one is PKI as a service, where DigiCert manages customers’ public or private PKI. The second one is on-prem for those who have more complex environments. The third one is in the customer cloud. Approximately 50 percent of customers are deploying PKI as a service, 30 percent in the cloud, and the remainder on-prem. “We’re seeing a pivot in the industry, where instead of looking at siloed areas, organizations are starting to look across them and see how trust can be managed and measured throughout the organization,” said Brian Trzupek, senior vice president of product at DigiCert. “All the previous announcements and the infrastructure work we’ve done is leading up to DigiCert being able to execute on this launch.”

Digital Trust Is Challenging To Deploy With Point Products

When thinking about the building blocks of digital trust, standards that help create trust in the ecosystem are at the core. Creating digital trust is a complicated process involving several key steps that can be visualized as a pyramid, explained Trzupek. At the base of the pyramid is defining trust through industry and technology standards. “This is where our leadership in the standards bodies that we participate in is so crucial. We’re the voice of the customer in those bodies. We’re taking their concerns, requests, and challenges into consideration,” said Trzupek. Moving up the pyramid is establishing trust through compliance and operations. DigiCert operates global data centers in six regions with service-level agreements (SLAs) for high availability. “This gives us extraordinarily high availability as a company. We operate data centers under a compliance regime that’s managed by 25 annual audits to ensure that we can deliver trust in those regions,” said Trzupek. Toward the top of the pyramid is managing trust for public and private PKI in the enterprise, which includes certificate lifecycle management. At the very top of the pyramid is extending trust even further into connected trust ecosystems—essentially everything beyond the perimeter like devices, software, identity, and content. Although certificate lifecycle management solutions have been on the market for a while, what differentiates DigiCert from competitors is its PKI service provider roots and ability to offer a full-stack solution that combines private and public trust with CA-agnostic certificate lifecycle management. DigiCert’s PKI Services draw from its rich history in PKI management, simplifying the complexity involved in managing identity and access with pre-built and customizable templates, deep integration and automated provisioning.

DigiCert Is Shifting From Product To Platform

Additionally, DigiCert has more than 100 integrations with third-party vendors, offered out of the box with Trust Lifecycle Manager. DigiCert is opening up application programming interfaces (APIs) to third-party vendors, so they can do this work on their own. According to Trzupek, this gives DigiCert the scale to help more customers. DigiCert is actively adding support for management of other CAs beginning with Microsoft CA in Q1 and extending to other public and private CAs in subsequent quarters. With these expansions, DigiCert customers will be able to manage any certificate from any CA. Customers can already work with multiple CAs when building their certificate inventory with Trust Lifecycle Manager’s discovery features. “This opens up a whole new market for us. Previously, we had to sell to customers who are only using DigiCert CA services,” said Trzupek. “We’ve created an entire integration API and surface layer through this product, which third parties can extend and add functionality to it as they see fit. That’s a game changer.”

The most successful organizations use an integrated communications platform, according to experts from 8x8, Oracle, and Frost & Sullivan.

In a post-pandemic world, organizations are dealing with various challenges and strategic imperatives, whether it’s improving the customer experience (CX), boosting operational efficiencies, or automating business processes. These needs are driving investments in communications, collaboration, and contact center tools. The most successful organizations have adopted an integrated communications platform approach, according to a panel of experts from 8×8, Oracle, and Frost & Sullivan, who recently hosted a webinar titled Three Strategies to Boost Customer and Employee Experience.

Hybrid Work: The Path Forward

In the webinar, the experts explored the evolution of work over the past two years. Research conducted internally by 8×8 found that about three quarters of organizations are adopting a hybrid work model – 82 percent of companies in the U.S. and 76 percent in the UK. The findings are staggering, noted Amrit Chaudhuri, chief marketing officer at 8×8. That’s because work is no longer a physical place. It can be anywhere. People are now working digitally across boundaries and across teams. “A lot of work now takes place in the digital universe, rather than a physical space. We use technology to communicate and collaborate,” said Chaudhuri. “The multi-device and work-from-anywhere practice only increases the challenge to get a 360 degree view for employees and customers, which creates a new set of requirements for IT leaders. All of us have to evolve to meet our customers where they are.”

A Heavy Load on IT

There’s a massive burden on IT today to manage multiple disparate solutions to support hybrid work. The strategic approach should be for IT decision makers to adopt solutions that empower enterprises with modern communication experiences but aren’t siloed to just the CX or the employee experience (EX), explained Chaudhuri. At the Enterprise Connect 2021 conference, 8×8 introduced a new offering that brings together unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) and contact center as a service (CCaaS) in a single, cloud-native platform. 8×8’s experience-communications-as-a-service (XCaaS) platform has been in the works for a long time in order to bring EX to the same level of importance as CX. Much like customers, employees are becoming more demanding. 8×8 data shows that four in 10 employees are willing to quit if their employer isn’t flexible about remote work.

CX and EX Improvement Drives Cloud Communications

Every year, Frost & Sullivan surveys thousands of IT decision makers across the world. At the height of COVID-19 in December 2020, the research firm asked IT decision makers what is driving their investments in communications, collaboration, and contact center tools. The majority said the key drivers were to boost the CX and EX. Both have become equally important. In addition to improving the CX, IT decision makers said they were looking to invest in tools that enhance information management, teamwork, and remote worker productivity. Frost & Sullivan also asked the survey respondents what their top goals are over the next two years:
  • 43 percent said dealing with pandemic-related challenges.
  • 32 percent said improving the CX and customer satisfaction.
  • 28 percent said improving operational efficiencies.
  • 24 percent said automating business processes.
The other goals included expanding to new markets, enhancing sales, and launching new products/services.

Digital Tools Impact Worker Productivity

The survey findings show that employees need to be given the right tools to be successful, which plays a key role in employee retention. With hybrid work becoming the norm, organizations need to be flexible with the tools they provide. Therefore, they must adopt strategies to create a supportive digital workplace that drives productivity across the board. “Productive employees are happier employees and happier employees lead to happier customers. They really do go hand-in-hand,” said Chad McAfee, vice president of cloud engineering at Oracle. “When you think about embracing cloud solutions, it plays a big role around providing scalability, agility, and operational efficiencies in a hybrid world.” Ultimately, moving to the cloud is the way forward. The cloud provides organizations with the ability to scale up and down as their needs change. However, not all cloud solutions can deliver on the privacy, compliance, and security that customers and employees expect. When selecting a cloud provider, the leading criteria for IT decision makers are security, reliability, and price. Year after year, these are the top three requirements for organizations, according to Frost & Sullivan. In a hybrid workplace, security presents many new challenges related to managing devices and users across multiple remote locations.

Integrated Communications Improve Security

With an integrated communications platform approach, organizations get consistency in managing security policies. Such a platform treats security as a first class citizen and doesn’t come at the expense of functionality. The Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), for example, was originally developed with enterprise-class workloads at the forefront and evolved into a cloud infrastructure platform for communications providers. OCI’s architecture assumes zero trust, where a user’s identity must be validated before they’re allowed to get on the network. By transitioning away from point solutions to an integrated platform, organizations gain a common security framework, improved usability and manageability, and vendor accountability. Chaudhuri believes there are many other benefits for organizations, including:
  • Company-wide collaboration.
  • Unified administration for IT to provision, configure, and manage from a single pane.
  • Single integration framework to accelerate workflows and meet customer needs.
  • Cross-platform insights and analytics to help make better decisions.
  • Guaranteed service-level agreements (SLAs) for more reliable services.
Chaudhuri concluded: “We are entering a new era of integrated cloud customer and employee experiences. It will accelerate information flow across the enterprise. It will remove silos and create more agile organizations. And it will empower every employee to be customer-facing, bringing intelligence into how we interact with our customers.”

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