MetriSight Ep.54 - Unified Communications Trends in 2024 with Mitel

January 16, 2024 00:29:16
MetriSight Ep.54 - Unified Communications Trends in 2024 with Mitel
Metrigy MetriSight
MetriSight Ep.54 - Unified Communications Trends in 2024 with Mitel

Jan 16 2024 | 00:29:16

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Show Notes

In this episode Metrigy President and Principal Analyst Irwin Lazar is joined by Martin Bitzinger, Senior Vice President for Product Management from Mitel to talk about unified communications trends in 2024 and how Mitel is meeting them. We’ll get Martin’s thoughts on a variety of topics including the role of on premises and privately hosted UC platforms, generative AI, the shifting vendor landscape, how buyer expectations are evolving, and much much more.
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Episode Transcript

[00:00:22] Speaker A: Hi everyone, this is Erwin Lazar, president and principal Ann list at Metroge. And welcome to this episode of the Metrogy Metro site. I'm excited to be joined by Martin Bitzinger, senior vice president for product management from Mitel, to talk about unified communications trends in 2024 and how Mitel is meeting those opportunities and supporting those trends. In this episode, we'll get Martin's thoughts on a variety of topics, including the role of on premises and privately hosted unified communication platforms, generative AI, the shifting vendor landscape, how buyer expectations are evolving, and much, much more. Martin, welcome to the show. [00:00:56] Speaker B: Thanks, Irvin. It's a pleasure to be here. [00:00:59] Speaker A: So I always like to start these with a little bit about our guests. So tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in the unified communication and collaboration industry. [00:01:08] Speaker B: Yeah, sure. It's been a while now. Been in the industry for more than 15 years. Started out doing some consulting work early in my career, then I actually had a startup that we were initially focused on actually mobile apps development really, and then kind of got into the development of voiceover ip clients and you can see the trending and it was a slope towards unified communication ever since. So my startup got acquired by Astra in 2012, then stayed with Astra. A year later we acquired Mitel and now we acquired unify and here we are. Combined company really centered around the UC space. Awesome. [00:02:00] Speaker A: So let's go ahead and start with a trend around platform location I guess is the best way to describe it. So we've certainly heard a lot about migration to cloud, and cloud seems to get a lot of the attention in the media these days. But yet our research shows about one third of companies are continuing to operate on premises platforms or private hosted platforms, and most of those are planning to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. What are you seeing from your customers in terms of where they want their platform and what they want from the ability to control it? [00:02:33] Speaker B: Yeah, it's been interesting over the past few years, a lot of changes, of course, with COVID also lots of changes in how people work. We tend to look at cloud from two different angles. There is a commercial angle or services angle, if you so want, in terms of how do people want to consume a communication? Do they want a product and then have a bunch of other people around servicing those products and operating them, or do they just want to buy a complete service from somebody? And with cloud, that's why it's called ucas as a service, that's one of the angles and one of the major things is just the way people want to consume those types of features has changed. But that's not necessarily a technology play. That's a broader change in the market. And then there is, of course, the technology angle, where people have gone from hosting something themselves or on their premises towards hosting the technology in either private data centers or then public data centers and in the ucas space hosted by those providers. And what we've seen is technology is evolving, customer preferences are evolving. And the reason why we see some of the changes or some of the complexities is, especially when you get into larger, more complex customers, their requirements are just fundamentally different. And some of the economic decisions and drivers are just fundamentally different, because if you're the size of a company that is going to operate their own data center, regardless, the whole outsourcing versus keeping running it yourself doesn't really matter in that space. It's kind of neutral from that perspective. So there's lots of angles that are driving people in a certain direction. And I think one of the key things we're trying to do as a vendor is also educate people around. The term cloud is way too broad, and it's too broad brush basically summarizing a lot of these underlying shifts in the market and trying to summarize that under one term, and it's just not that simple. And as you go down into the individual requirements, including data sovereignty, security, et cetera, that's where some of those discussions surface now, because a few years ago it was very indiscriminate, and now people are asking those tougher questions. And then you actually tend to get into some of these more detailed discussions on what you really want. [00:05:30] Speaker A: It makes sense. In our research, we've seen that some of the factors that you just mentioned, things like cost, data retention, data security, certainly customization, and that ability to leverage a communication platform as part of a digital strategy versus just thinking about it more as a commodity, certainly drive people to a solution like yours. Are there other factors that you've seen when you're discussing that UcAs alternative to the broader, more complete solution that Mitel offers that tend to get customers to choose your solution? [00:06:05] Speaker B: Yeah, there's definitely the product angle, the feature capability level. As with all the long standing providers in the market, there is definitely a different level of feature compared to just commodity type features that you can get from most. And you also mentioned the integration aspect, where people on the product front, there's very specific capabilities. That's one angle. Then there is very specific needs in terms of how they want these features to integrate into their respective business processes or application back end. And it's very custom. It's customer by customer sometimes. And that is something that is hard to do if you have a broad brush, commodity type platform because it's tough to customize. So there's this product angle. But the third leg on this tool is really who is going to do that integration. And that's where our partner network comes in. The people that understand the customer that have the services, people that have the engineering skills to do that, or our own professional services department that then leverage the flexibility and integration capabilities of our product to do precisely those integrations that customers are asking, you know. [00:07:22] Speaker A: So one of the things I found to be unique about Mitel is the focus on lifecycle management that kind of ties into what you just mentioned in terms of professional services and helping guide customers on their journey. So how do you view, or how does Mitel view lifecycle management in terms of helping customers support long term strategy? [00:07:41] Speaker B: Yeah, the first 100,000 foot view is basically we want to retain our customers and that's the first angle in that is a broad portfolio, because we do have UCAS partnerships, et cetera, in our portfolio. With RingCentral, we now as a combined company, we have CCAS partnerships in our portfolio. So we do offer those types of options if that's where customers want to go as part of our broader portfolio. But of course, we have our own solutions in the mix as well. And what we find is if you really come to the table with a portfolio of options and then sit down with a customer in a lifecycle discussion, have the discussion with them, where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you need, et cetera. You get to the right outcome for the customer and that's what ultimately counts. And if that means is parts of their estate have to go to a different solution, ideally a solution of one of our partnerships. But even if that's not the case, I mean, we've got lots of customers that have Microsoft Teams or other solutions in the portfolio, and we can integrate that as well as part of the broader communication landscape and accommodate it and find the right outcome for the customer. And that's the real differentiator, where we say we have an end to end holistic portfolio on our own products, but also third party products. We got the services capabilities, we got the partner landscape that is capable and skilled to do those types of integrations. Let's sit down and find the right solution for the individual account. And that is a very different approach compared to many of the other vendors out there that basically have one product, and it's already clear once they enter the door what their conclusion is going to be on what the customer is going to need. It typically happens to be that one product that they're selling. Right. And that's just in the complex environment. We just don't think that's always the right answer. [00:09:49] Speaker A: Yeah, it makes sense, I think. What's the old adage, the world looks like a nail if all you have is a hammer. And it's probably also important to note that lifecycle management isn't a one time thing. You're constantly staying engaged with customers to help reevaluate over time, as conditions change, as opportunities, business direction changes. Right? [00:10:09] Speaker B: Yeah, and we've seen a lot of that over the past couple of years with COVID et cetera. There have been customers that two years ago, three years ago, they very clearly told us, you know what, in two years, we're all going to be there and that's going to be it. And that's all we're going to do. And now you talk to some of the same customers a couple of years down the road and says, well, things have changed. Work balance has changed. Some of the requirements in our verticals have changed. We have all this additional regulation. We need to do this, we need to do that. So you know what? While it may have seemed simple at a time, especially in a time of crisis where you're only trying to do one thing and maybe only think about business continuity, once things calm down and you got a plan, not just for how do I survive next month, but what am I going to do for the next five years? Then a much more holistic discussion tends to happen. And then we typically, our products are in high demand and it's a much more balanced discussion than with a lot of those customers, even though some of those big picture UCas multitenant platforms, of course, have changed the industry to a significant extent, but not everywhere, and especially not with some of our core customers that are more weighted towards frontline workers and maybe less weighted towards just back office type people, because historically that's just not the types of customers mitel or recently acquired unify tended to have. It was more a mixed environment, much more than a pure knowledge worker environment. [00:12:03] Speaker A: Yeah, definitely. So you mentioned Microsoft, Microsoft Teams integration. I wanted to drill down a little bit into that. How are you integrating into customers who may have a Microsoft Teams messaging, maybe even meeting environment today and are looking to bring the Mitel UC portfolio into that? [00:12:21] Speaker B: Yeah, so we offer all the types of integrations that you can think of and especially with our newly acquired unify portfolio in the mix and services capability in the mix we can basically provide services for mixed estates. We can do the typical types of integrations with direct routing, et cetera. We got our own certified session border controller for doing that. But then we also have a very good client side integration where you would continue to leverage Mitel products for your voice communication while taking advantage of Microsoft collaboration type features, but still provide a really integrated user experience. And that extends all the way down to integrated monitoring tools, clients that are easy to use, but also management back end type topics. So we got a pretty good selection of integration capabilities, but it really depends on where the customer is, where they're coming from, where they want to go. But for most types of customers, we found that one of the types of integrations, and in some cases even a mix, depending maybe on site, country, regional cluster, or whichever way they're organized or division can be the right thing to do for the customer. One thing that's always key in some of those discussions is also the contact center, especially when it comes to larger customers. And there we have some very unique ways of how we can preserve a lot of the capabilities by retaining some of the voice functionality within the UC landscape. We can preserve the integration with the contact center environment while still providing a front end integration for those customers that have chosen to go with Microsoft Teams, at least for their knowledge workers and typically pc bound workers. Excellent. [00:14:34] Speaker A: So I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about generative AI. Certainly it's been the topic on everyone's agenda over the last year. I'm curious to get your thoughts. How do you see generative AI evolving next year? What are your customers asking you about and how do you see the technology itself evolving and applying to my Tel portfolio? [00:14:57] Speaker B: Yeah, it's really exciting new tech, right? I think everybody was astounded when they first used chat, CPT or other services, and when you got first in touch with them, everybody thought, wow, that's quite impressive. That said, I think over the past year we've also learned that it's not that simple in a lot of cases to apply that technology. And that's where I think there is tremendous opportunity both for Mitel, a lot of other companies that are in a similar position as us, and also for a broader system integrator reseller landscape, because I think the true power of AI comes from applying that technology. There is a lot of technology out there and we see the race, all the big parties introducing their own gen AI models. So there will be a bunch of technology out there. And I think at a certain point that technology itself will probably commoditize and the winners are going to be the ones that apply that new technology in the best possible way. We see a number of ways of applying generative AI. The most obvious one is, of course, some of the contact center front end type integrations that are always first in mind. Genai bots, support desks, et cetera. I think there is a lot of work already done in this space, and it's fairly simple to integrate, and every company can done that. That's a technology that's there. All of our products feature that level of integration so that you can integrate those types of bots. I think where we got some ways to go is really packaging it up and making it accessible for mid market companies, not only the Fortune 500 companies that have the deep pockets to pay for all the professional services to do that. So that's going to be the step. But we believe from a deeper product integration, we see significant opportunities in agent assist or employee assist type capabilities, where based on a chat flow, whether that's in a contact center or a phone call, where you basically help guide some of the people to make the right decisions, to give the right answers, based on basically listening in or looking at the chat. If it's a chat interaction and we call it agent assist in the contact center, it could be user assist. In a more generic world, we see significant upside in that, especially in a world where it's harder and harder to find skilled people for some of the jobs, so tremendous opportunity there. The other thing we see is in the reporting space, where in the past, big data, et cetera, data collection is a big thing for most companies. The other problem is it's complex, so you need to know what to look for. You need to collect the right data. And I think with some of those AI technology, by simply collecting the maximum amount of data you can, recording all the interactions, recording all the chats, and data privacy aside for now. But just what's the art of the possible to then have AI technology to mine that data and basically draw their own conclusions out of it without any first human interaction? That's certainly a very exciting area for a lot of companies to leverage, both for internal communication as well as for external communication. When it comes to customer facing communication and contact center. [00:18:54] Speaker A: And imagine you're in a unique position, just given your exposure and position of being a global provider to address some of those. You mentioned some of the challenges about data localization, data privacy. That's certainly a lot of the concerns we're hearing as companies are thinking about. Yeah, I really want to balance the ability to take advantage of generative AI, but might not be comfortable having my data living in an LLM outside of my control. [00:19:18] Speaker B: Yeah, this is exactly where some of our products and solutions shine, because you can basically target some of those solutions. It starts from what data do you actually collect and where do you collect it and then where do you put it? And you can definitely with some of the instance based technology we have, where it's an instance per customer and some of the private cloud hosting, et cetera, where you can just draw these hard boundaries on what certain tools can access. It's a much cleaner separation that is much easier to understand for a lot of the customers, and that's definitely something they really care about and in some cases have to care about because there is legal or regulatory hurdles and those hurdles are not getting smaller the way things are going. Those hurdles are getting higher essentially every day. [00:20:14] Speaker A: Yeah, no, I definitely agree. So you mentioned the ability to work with partners and developers to help leverage some of these capabilities or integrate even third party capabilities. So you've got the Mitel Solutions alliance, which is a developer partner network. So tell us a little bit about that and how you see that evolving to support some of these emerging kind of opportunities and use cases. [00:20:36] Speaker B: Yeah, over the past year we've actually taken a big focus, or we've focused a lot on our Mitel solutions alliance. Refreshing that getting with some forward thinking developers, and we're doubling down on that. With the recent unify acquisition, they also had a technical partner program that brings in a few hundred more technical partners. So we have a really good footprint of technical partners, and this is where a lot of them are actually, since we just touched on the AI discussion, a lot of them are actually, or some of them are in the AI space already. And the unique thing there is, what we find is some very vertically focused AI solutions that are focused on financial industry specifically, hospitality specifically. And this is the first step also from a technical perspective, of simplifying the AI story by having basically a provider that takes the first step in taking this huge general model, simplifying it down, pretraining it for a certain use case and a certain vertical, and then making it consumable for an average value at a resell partner to then do the remaining integration. So this is a big focus for us as technology matures and broadens out in the UC space. The MSA is exactly the vehicle we want to use for bringing those parties together to really add value when they sell these complete solutions to our customers. [00:22:17] Speaker A: Very cool. So putting your kind of looking at, I guess, into your crystal ball, what do you see as focus areas or emerging trends that you're keeping an eye on going into 2024 that may either offer new opportunities to mitel or reshape the business direction that you have today? [00:22:38] Speaker B: So a couple of trends maybe that we're seeing. So number one is with the whole economic environment, there is a continuous focus on efficiency and how can you do things more efficiently from a management perspective, from a hosting perspective, from an integration perspective, and that's a heavy focus for us. How do we improve our products? We've done a cloud administration portal that enables a much better story for self service. We're extending that to the contact center, et cetera. So there's a lot of focus in that area, certainly for us as a vendor and by our customers. The second thing I think we already touched on is some of these innovative technologies, like how is AI going to reshape things, how are some of the applications going to change and evolve? What do we need to do with them? Third one, I would say is verticals that we put a very heavy focus on as UC solutions have very much, or the features at least have very much commoditized. A lot of customers are looking for specific vertical type solutions and the requirements are very different. If we look at some of our big verticals, like healthcare for example, is one of our biggest vertical. And I think it's not hard for people to understand that the requirements of a large hospital are fundamentally different from somebody that's sitting in front of a pc all day long. And when they talk about communication, the most used thing for the nurse and the doctor is their alarming system, their potentially paging system, their cordless voice phone, whichever type they use, whether it's wifi, decked smartphones, there's all types of technologies, but that's what they think about communication. They certainly don't first think about video conferencing as us when we sit in front of desk for most of the day. And that's the same in a lot of our verticals. It's healthcare. To mention that retail is very different if you look around in stores, et cetera. What they need, government, they have very specific requirements as well, especially with all their front end workers, financial industry, a lot of client interactions, a lot of regulation. What can you do? Et cetera. So there is these very interesting things if you go into some of those big verticals that are very different from the traditional horizontal type feature set we've thought about. And we think the technology is at a point where we've all moved to IP. We're on a common infrastructure. There's no boundaries anymore from the devices that people use that limit our ability to deliver some of those functionalities. But now we need to do it right. And that's one of the key focus areas that we have as a company is really going much deeper into those vertical. And with the portfolio we have, there's quite some interesting stuff when it comes to alarming type features, functionalities. We even got some bedside terminals for hospitals in our portfolio, and that's a telephony endpoint, that's a video endpoint for one thing, for patient consultation, et cetera. So there's very interesting stuff in some of our key verticals that we're doubling down on. [00:26:30] Speaker A: Yeah, and it'd certainly be interesting to see your continued focus around mobility. And I know there was a launch of new deck headsets earlier this year, as people listen to this in 2024 last year. Yeah, it's going to take a little while to get used to that. [00:26:45] Speaker B: Right. [00:26:46] Speaker A: But it seems like mobility and frontline workers are really a key focus area for you. [00:26:51] Speaker B: Yeah, it absolutely is. And basically it's not really about the technologies. Yes, we do DECT because we fundamentally believe that DECT has a few advantages in terms of functionality and technology reserve frequency. It's very cost effective, low power, real time communication. So for a number of verticals, that's a key standard. But that said, we also have Wifi solutions, we have apps for smartphones, et cetera. It doesn't really matter. We have partners that have specialty devices with, for example, included barticode scanners that we then have to deliver the voice application onto that is used in retail or warehouses, logistics, et cetera. So there is lots of devices, some of which we manufacture ourselves, others where we deliver software to run on the respective devices. But what's in common to all of them is that they need a very specific type of solution. You can't just really install a horizontal office worker UC client on it and expect a guy in a warehouse to be happy with it. You can always install it. Some of those are Android based or other standards, but it's not typically what they are looking for in terms of the solution they want to use. [00:28:19] Speaker A: Yeah, it definitely makes sense to have something optimized for workflow and specific. So as we wrap up, how can our listeners or viewers get in touch with you if they have additional questions or they'd like to find out a little bit more about Mitel? [00:28:32] Speaker B: Yeah, absolutely. You can find me on LinkedIn. It's probably the easiest. I'm also on Twitter, so just shoot me a message, and then let's see what we can do. [00:28:46] Speaker A: Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Martin. And this wraps up our episode of Metrosite. I'd like to thank Martin for joining us. And I invite you to check out Mytel at ww mitel.com. If you like this episode, please share with your friends and colleagues. And remember that we publish metrosight on a bi weekly basis, so please check out our archives and keep an eye out for future episodes. Thank you so much.

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