Embedded Communications

Communications Platform-as-a-Service is changing the way communications and collaboration services are delivered.

Remember when the phone system was a distinct piece of equipment that was managed by specialists? Those days are becoming a distant memory as more organizations adopt unified communications (UC) solutions. With UC, communication and collaboration tools are delivered via software running on commodity servers or in the cloud, and managed by the IT team.

Now, communications technology is moving even further away from its hardware-based roots with Communications Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS). CPaaS is a cloud-based software development solution that makes it possible to embed rich communications functionality into a wide range of applications. And industry analysts are predicting that CPaaS will eventually overtake UC as the primary delivery mechanism for business communications.

The Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications, released in July, illustrates this trend. In order to be included in the Magic Quadrant, products had to have “the ability to integrate with other business and communications applications, such as collaboration software and contact centers, as well as application development environments such as CPaaS.” The report notes that CPaaS is an increasingly popular option among organizations adopting UC solutions.

The rise of CPaaS builds upon Gartner’s belief that UC is “intended principally to improve user productivity and enhance business processes." CPaaS creates significant business value by integrating communication services directly into applications and workflows.

A New Approach

The notion of combining phone systems with software is hardly new. For years, UC vendors have provided application programming interfaces (APIs) for integrating their platforms with customer relationship management (CRM) systems and other business applications. APIs make it possible to deliver “screen pops” of information to a customer service representative along with the incoming call, or allow outbound sales teams to automatically dial the customer’s number from the CRM application. However, the application and the UC platform are still separate.

CPaaS is different in that real-time communication capabilities are seamlessly woven into the app itself. This offers a number of benefits, particularly for enhancing customer service. With CPaaS, developers can add click-to-call and click-to-message features to customer-facing apps, and video-enable e-commerce and customer service sites for a more engaging experience.

SMS text messaging capabilities make it easy to generate system alerts based upon specified thresholds and to send reminders and notices. For example, text messaging can be used to simplify password recovery, verification and reset procedures. Video conferencing and screen-sharing capabilities can be added to help desk software to facilitate troubleshooting and support.

Market Evolution

CPaaS has been around for years, but the technology really gained momentum in 2016. Most CPaaS offerings fall into one of two camps — “pure-play” solutions and services built into UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS) platforms.

The pure-play CPaaS solutions typically provide an API for adding communication services on top of an application. According to research firm Frost & Sullivan, the first generation of these “over-the-top” communication services provided only best-effort delivery. While most solutions have advanced beyond this model, organizations with large-scale requirements or specific needs should look for enterprise-class CPaaS services.

“Many of the popular CPaaS offerings on the market today utilize a transactional business model,” said Frost & Sullivan Connected Work Industry Analyst Michael Brandenburg. “Many of these providers are not necessarily able to scale, in terms of both their infrastructure and business model, to truly support large enterprise customers.”

UCaaS vendors typically offer more advanced capabilities. Their CPaaS solutions include a suite of development, testing and deployment tools, and are designed to ensure a high level of customer service.

As more organizations discover the value of CPaaS, startups and established vendors are evolving their solutions to address the needs of customers. The capabilities of CPaaS providers vary widely, however. Organizations looking to add CPaaS capabilities to their applications should clearly define their communications requirements to determine the type of CPaaS solution they need.

The traditional phone system is rapidly become a relic, replaced by platforms that use software to deliver communication and collaboration services. CPaaS takes that to the next level by turning voice, video, instant messaging and conferencing into code that can be embedded in any application.