The last time I attended the Enterprise Connect conference was in 2014. Three years ago, we had already been following WebRTC in our team, but we weren’t doing very much client work yet in WebRTC. WebRTC was bleeding edge at that point – it was barely 2 years old and it was definitely not accepted yet as an enterprise class technology.
What a difference 3 years makes! Attending Enterprise Connect 2017 in Orlando, I can see how different the WebRTC world is now, and yet how far we still have to go.
WebRTC is now accepted in the Enterprise
In 2014, the sessions I attended at Enterprise Connect were filled with warnings and skepticism, mixed with a bit of optimism that I think seemed almost naive to many attendees. It was far from a standard, and the interface was changing on a regular basis. Browser adoption was not in place yet, and the suits and ties of the Enterprise world seemed skeptical to me that WebRTC could earn a place in the Enterprise anytime soon.
In 2017, WebRTC is in a very different place. No, we still don’t have support in Safari or Internet Explorer, but at least it’s on the way in Microsoft Edge. I’m willing to bet that by Enterprise Connect 2018, there will also be initial support of WebRTC in Safari. Browser wars aside, this is no longer the debate about whether WebRTC is viable. In fact, it’s been surprising to me this week how little debate there is about WebRTC.
Quite the contrary – WebRTC may not have been mentioned explicitly very much, but it’s been all over the keynotes.
Amazon has announced their Chime tool, which uses WebRTC for enterprise communications. Amazon also announced Connect, their new Call Center software which most likely uses WebRTC for the audio aspects of their customer contact center.
Twilio’s Jeff Lawson gave a keynote at Enterprise Connect for the first time, and while he was both celebrated and ridiculed by attendees for his jokes about legacy players like Cisco, WebRTC was all over his talk without him calling it out. Next to Google themselves, Twilio probably has the most experience with the audio-only aspects of WebRTC since they’ve used it for click to call widgets for years. With their Programmable Video offerings, they now also are a player in the video chat market.
Cisco’s Spark keynote showed off virtual reality in a futuristic conference room setting, and to the degree that live video of the real world enters VR simulations, it will probably be done with WebRTC.
On the exhibition floor, numerous vendors showed off WebRTC solutions, including Voxbone, Oracle, Frozen Mountain, and more. I saw peers from Callstats.io, Dialogic, Vidyo, and others walking the conference room floor. Vendors showed off virtual huddle rooms and all sorts of meeting tools. It all drives home the point I made in a post last week that we probably don’t need more meeting tools at this point – you need to build something that differentiates on value beyond just the presence of WebRTC.
WebRTC was everywhere at Enterprise Connect 2017, and it was given top tier positioning, without the sort of apologetic explanations that were necessary three years ago.
WebRTC still has a ways to go
While WebRTC as a technology has now become quite mature, there were still signs of how far it has to go in the enterprise.
One of my favorite moments was in a Video for Business Processes session, where a panel discussed how video is impacting business processes. There were two healthcare tech executives, and a tech executive from an insurance company. Rounding out the panel was a Product Manager from Twilio. The panel was aware of WebRTC, and one of the healthcare tech executives talked about how they are applying it already.
The session attendees were still not quite on the same level of innovation as the panel, and twice a comment was made that “I’m still trying to figure out exactly what Twilio does.”
Innovative telephony and communication services need time to take hold in an industry that is in many ways still defined by the technology advances and terminology of 30 years ago. While WebRTC has made a lot of progress in the last 3 years, enterprises are still learning what exactly it means for them and how best to apply it in their enterprise.
But I didn’t hear people questioning it’s value or viability anymore, and that is quite the change from a few short years ago.
What is next for WebRTC and Enterprise Communications?
The question is no longer “does WebRTC belong in the enterprise?”, but where should you apply WebRTC video communications?
One recurring theme of Enterprise Connect and the exhibitors is Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Understanding. Perhaps the most interesting announcement was that as part of the Amazon Connect call center solution, developers will also have access to Lex, an API for the same NLU technology behind Alexa and the Amazon Echo.
This will make for another interesting entry in a marketplace of APIs that developers can use to take the audio from a WebRTC call, create automatic transcripts, translations, or additional functionality. In the other direction, the idea of multichannel and omnipresent customer service bots was also present at Enterprise Connect, which fits in well with the experiments we’ve done with chat bots that enable and setup conversations between humans over WebRTC connections.
WebRTC is Rising in the Enterprise
When I left Enterprise Connect three years ago, I was personally still very excited about WebRTC but convinced that enterprises were not ready for it yet. True to that impression, most of our initial work at WebRTC.ventures was with startups who were willing to take a risk.