Is Amazon Echo Disrupting the UC Industry?

Amazon is shaking things up in the highly competitive UC industry with its expanding family of Echo voice-controlled smart speakers.

West's Rob BellmarThat’s according to Rob Bellmar, executive vice president of business operations at West’s Unified Communications Services. The latest model is the Echo Show, which has a 7-inch touch screen and a video camera that let people place video or voice calls to each other over a Wi-Fi connection. Amazon also released a free software update that brings voice-calling features to existing Echo devices.

As more consumer-grade, flashier products are released to the public, the UC industry will be forced to change as well, especially with these products supplementing the devices, Bellmar said.

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, Bellmar discusses the impact of Amazon Echo and what’s likely to be ahead on the crowded UC landscape.

Channel Partners: What is the significance of the new Amazon Echo release in regards to the UC space?

Bellmar: The new Amazon Echo indicates a trend toward the integration of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled assistants into UC tools. With new video and calling capabilities, the Echo could disrupt traditional UC tools. However, it’s more likely this new release will encourage UC giants to continue innovating and updating their current products to keep up with evolving technologies and consumer trends.{ad}

CP: What sort of impact is Amazon Echo likely to have on the UC industry?

Bellmar: The UC space has been growing and evolving dramatically over the past few years, and the Amazon news is just the latest push in the move toward AI technologies. Amazon’s move will likely pressure other major UC providers like Google, Microsoft and Cisco to incorporate and improve their AI capabilities within their platforms. However, in the long-term, Amazon faces huge competition in the enterprise UC environment and the use of Echo as a key differentiator may not be enough to make them stand out in the crowded market. Still, Amazon is a company notorious for its disruptive market capabilities and that alone makes them worth watching.

CP: What sort of issues are impacting the UC industry and could Amazon Echo prompt changes to address those issues?

Bellmar: One of the challenges — and opportunities — facing the UC industry is its ability to support the…


…growing remote workforce. Over the past decade, technology developments have rapidly enabled more employees to work from anywhere. Providers that are able to give remote workers a simple, unified user experience and support consistent, real-time communications from anywhere will stand out. Amazon Echo’s voice command capabilities could help automate the communication and collaboration process for remote workers, ultimately forcing other providers to think how they can do the same.

CP: Can Amazon successfully compete in the UC market with Echo?

Bellmar: Amazon’s Echo technology is immensely popular among consumers, with sales of its smart home solution, surpassing 5 million in just two years. However, other major UC players also offer refined AI technology that is already incorporated or could be incorporated into their UC solutions including Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant.{ad}

CP: What sort of innovation/disruption do you see coming in the UC space?

Bellmar: While AI technology is advancing rapidly, the beginning stages are already happening in UC with the use of bots. Today’s bots are primarily streamlining or automating basic tasks like starting a call or booking a conference room, but they will grow steadily more sophisticated in the coming years. Ultimately, bot technology will better support efficient workplace communication and processes. Team chat apps like HipChat, Microsoft Teams and Slack are also disrupting the traditional UC space.

These tools have grown immensely popular, enabling consistent internal and external communication. However, it is still unclear whether these platforms will truly replace traditional UC tools or if they’ll remain boutique solutions. Over the next few years, we’ll see whether these tools are actually capable of displacing traditional technologies.

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