By Scott Hoffpauir, Managing Partner
A fews weeks ago someone asked me to help them with replacing a BroadWorks platform. My initial reaction was — wait… what? Naturally, I thought BroadWorks would be like the Pyramids of Giza and continue to be the wonder of the unified communications world. Apparently this version of history isn’t going to happen. Technology moves quickly and BroadWorks is aging (which also means I’m getting old). Our industry moves in phases, and that got me to thinking.
When we started BroadSoft, the industry used PBXs and class 5 switches for telephony. Service providers served smaller businesses with business POTS lines and sometimes Centrex, and larger businesses with T1/E1s and BRI/PRI (wow, I haven’t used those terms in a while). These larger businesses had on-premise PBXs with lots of features and functionality. Some smaller businesses used key systems to go beyond just basic connectivity. We’ll call this generation one of telephony.
Our mission at BroadSoft was to move to generation two — transitioning from circuit switched telephony to packet switched telephony, or Voice-over-IP. Most of the end user feature functionality and capabilities remained the same, with only the underlying technology changing. This was a massive change, and the large incumbent class 5 switching and PBX manufacturers struggled with the change. These vendors were the biggest technology companies in the 90s, but they weren’t able to make the transition and they faded in the new millennium.
I’m proud that BroadSoft was able to lead the industry helping service providers to transition from using class 5 switches to BroadWorks for their consumer and business telephony offers. Having to replace something that’s been around for decades is no easy task, and we had to develop feature transparency with the older technology. Even if the features were outdated and antiquated, we often had to develop them to match the existing offers at the time. Mike always talked about us developing “purple” call forwarding.
Now, after we gained traction in the market, things changed as they always do. The industry was moving from network hosted solutions to cloud SaaS models. Like before, most of the end user feature functionality remained the same, but what changed was how the solution is sold and consumed. End users wanted to easily try out the solution before buying it. They also wanted flexibility in adding and removing users, and only paying for what they use. We’ll call the move to cloud SaaS generation three of telephony.
At BroadSoft, we introduced BroadCloud to address these changes. Like most vendors, we underestimated the magnitude of the change. While the underlying product was the same, we didn’t anticipate how much investment was required in the “buyers journey” — digital selling, onboarding and adoption. We also struggled with our service provider customers. Our service provider customers liked the existing software model, and didn’t or wouldn’t see the value in moving to a cloud SaaS model.
New vendors emerged — RingCentral, 8x8, Fuze, etc. — that only had a cloud SaaS solution. They didn’t have to deal with a legacy or previous generation solution. It took a while, but these vendors slowly gained more and more traction in the industry. They leveraged the cloud and innovated quickly. Service providers, on the other hand, aren’t really known as innovators. They’re better at scaling sales and marketing. Today, it’s clear that the industry has fully transitioned to generation 3 — a world of cloud SaaS solutions.
So, what’s next? If history is any indicator, there will be a new generation of solutions emerging soon. What will they be? If I had to predict, the change will be around end user functionality. Unlike the old days, there are lots of communications options for businesses beyond just calling. Messaging, meetings, and contact centers are commonplace with almost every business. The next generation of telephony will be mobile first and probably mobile only. It will be simple and straightforward, focusing only on features that matter. It will leverage the data generated and use AI to help end users be more productive and efficient. There no doubt will be more and it will be an exciting time for the industry. Let us know your thoughts on what’s next.