RingCentral Makes Major Platform Play

Carol Wilson
News Analysis
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large

RingCentral, a company that build on its VoIP roots to become a leader in the Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) space, is trying to expand its market presence once again. In a series of announcements that started last week and spills over into next, the company is seeking to become a single platform for business communication and collaboration, cleaning up and simplifying the sometimes-messy space now typically inhabited by multiple applications.

By announcing a next-generation meeting solution, new collaboration with Google Hangout, and expanded contact center collaboration, RingCentral Inc. is trying to solve a growing problem for enterprise IT that it is calling "app overload." The company released a survey on Monday of 2,000 knowledge workers that shows they are using an average of four communications applications -- with 20% using six or more -- to handle phone calls, meetings, texts, team messaging, video conferencing and more.

While those tools are designed to improve productivity, their proliferation is having the opposite effect, says Neha Mirchandani, vice president of corporate marketing for RingCentral. "Just toggling between applications to get things done is cutting into productivity," she says in an interview.

The survey shows a majority (69%) or workers waste up to an hour a day navigating between apps, sometimes losing their train of thought in the process, which adds up to 32 days of lost work per year, she adds. Two-thirds of those surveyed wanted a single communications platform to improve that productivity, although that number falls off considerably among the top executives surveyed, who tend to be more content with existing systems, she admits.

The RingCentral strategy is to provide a UCaaS platform that is open and easily customized for use by enterprises but includes the full range of communications and collaboration tools, says Mirchandani.

New features
At the center of that strategy is RingCentral Connect Platform, which today integrates more than 1,000 partner and customer applications, and last week added Google Hangout chat to that list. The open platform was launched almost five years ago and designed to be easily customized by customers or partners, with a developer portal and sandbox, and multiple software development kits available, says David Lee, vice president of platform products for RingCentral.

"No software-as-a-service company can guarantee they can fulfill 100% of their customers' requirements and that's why open platforms exist and are such a critical element in enterprise software," Lee says in an interview. "If someone wants to see communications data in a specific way that combines data from other sources, like their internal software, or customer CRM, they want to paint a picture of it. There is no way to do that using out of the box software, you have to have API access, which we provide."

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Enterprises also need software that can work together, which RingCentral enables with its open platform approach, he adds. "We just passed the 10,000 mark in terms of registered developers -- there have been more than 1,000 custom applications built out of our platform. Most of those are by customers, either on their own or by hiring independent software developers or systems integrators."

By integrating with Google Hangout, RingCentral enables customers who are engaged in team messaging to quickly switch an ongoing conversation into a real-time meeting or call, Lee explains. "Today you would have to go scramble and create a meeting, copy and paste a URL into the team messaging string," he explains. "With our integration, you can just type @ringcentral and meet and that information is injected automatically for you, to save time and make it easier for our joint customers to get into a real-time more interactive engagement."

Those kinds of time-saving integrations -- Lee says there are 1,400 of them today -- make collaboration and communication easier for employees to use, even if individually, they are shaving seconds off a process, he adds. In addition, RingCentral Connect is augmented by the acquisition in 2015 of Glip, a team collaboration software maker.

Next page: New meeting solution

New RingCentral Meetings
Announced today, RingCentral Meetings combines high-definition video conferencing and online meetings with screen sharing, the Glip team messaging, and file sharing/task management, into one experience, says Jose Pastor, VP of product management for RingCentral.

"There are so many solutions in the marketplace that let me share a screen, but they are all kind of clunky," he says in an interview. "This acknowledges that people are trying to get work done to get ready for meetings and lets them do that in a seamless way that is easy to use online, then afterward they have action items to take away."

The RingCentral Meetings combo can be part of a RingCentral UCaaS offering, but it can also be purchased as a standalone service, Pastor adds, and the company is letting customers start using it for free, and decide later if they want to upgrade to one of two paid packages. They can even mix and match the free and paid experiences, on a per-user basis, he says.

RingCentral Contact Center
Also announced today, RingCentral's Collaborative Contact Center solution is integrated with its Glip team messaging and collaboration suite and also a new feature, RingCentral Pulse, which specifically lets call center agents and supervisors communicate and collaborate to handle customer issues more efficiently, says John Finch, AVP of product marketing, Contact Center, for RingCentral.

Using Glip team messaging, agents can more easily communicate with the experts needed to resolve customer problems or answer questions quickly, Finch says, by contacting the subject matter experts either within the call center or in the broader organization. That leads to faster response times and shorter calls, which is not only more cost-effective but improves customer experience, he says.

In addition, RingCentral Pulse adds intelligent bots so that supervisors can monitor how the call center is performing on a real-time basis, including whether key performance indicators are being met, and can identify problems and adjust quickly.

"Key people get notice of call center performance or lack thereof," Finch says. That enables them to make the best use of a call center's most expensive and valuable resource, its people.

These product additions -- with more to come this week -- are happening as RingCentral's UCaaS products are being identified as among the leaders in that growing space. This week, Synergy Research Group says RingCentral is holding onto a slim lead in subscriber seats over rival Mitel, with the latter growing faster in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Overall the UCaaS market continues to expand rapidly. "UCaaS seat additions in 2017 were 16% higher than in 2016, which were themselves 11% up on 2015, demonstrating the robust demand for these services to displace traditional premise based telephony and UC," said Jeremy Duke, Synergy Research Groupís founder and chief analyst, in a prepared statement. "Our firmographic analysis of this market also shows that UCaaS is gaining market acceptance momentum with large businesses and enterprises. Given the sheer scale of PBX installed base and the low penetration of UCaaS into those segments, this bodes well for continued strong growth."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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