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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The quiet emergence of WebRTC/Telecom development shops

A subtle but growing theme I've picked up from my recent attendance at TADSummit and WebRTC World is the background growth in development and consulting shops that are addressing communications capabilities.

While a lot of the focus is on "developers", most observers and industry participants automatically think about either (a) in-house corporate software specialists and teams building private enterprise apps, or (b) web and mobile-app developers creating their own products.

However, I'm increasingly noticing the presence of 3rd-party outsourced developers, creating comms-enabled applications or services, on behalf of other companies that lack in-house skills and resources. Among those that have cropped up recently are Blacc Spot Media, &Yet, Daitan and Mera.

I see this tier of companies - some specifically dedicated to WebRTC or telecom APIs, some just new specialisations of larger development firms - as an important part of the "glue" between product vendors/telco-APIs and their customers, whether the latter are enterprises, telcos or standalone web and line-of-business software providers.

This builds on a theme I spotted last year, about ecosystems and partnerships, where companies like Quobis provide a valuable role helping vendors with go-to-market support, if they lack their own customisation or integration teams. Quobis also has its own WebRTC-related products as well as offering services, as does Priologic.(&Yet has its own video-chat platform Talky.io, but that's more of a showcase, rather than a monetised product).

A similar trend is occurring in the Telecom API and platform space, where there is a significant gap between telcos' in-house teams focused on service exposure, and their ultimate target audiences who might actually use those new capabilities. Although some telcos run developer programmes, there is still an issue that the firms who could benefit the most (for example an insurance company or taxi firm) often don't actually employ the appropriately-skilled developers to understand and exploit them.

The idea of outsourced development is, of course, not new in the tech industry - there are countless web-development shops and IT consultancies, while niches such as contact centres have their own specialists as well. However, it is relatively new to see general communications-centric outsourcers, and I view that as a positive sign. 

It is also going to be important to extend the new class of "embedded communications" capabilities - whether voice, video or network-oriented - out to geographic markets where skills are sparse, and beyond the personnel footprint of all but the largest vendors and service providers.

While it is easiest to see the opportunity for WebRTC development firms - especially helping existing companies add interactive voice and video to their websites and apps - it is arguably in the broader Telecom App space that they are needed even more. While certain APIs such as SMS and telephony call-control are fairly self-explanatory, it is likely that telcos will really struggle with go-to-market for more complex capabilities, especially network QoS, sponsored data, identity and so forth. This is going to be a challenge for telco-offered WebRTC APIs and service elements, too.

I remember a telco strategist once telling me (about QoS) "There are 3 problems - firstly, we're not sure it works. And anyway, we don't know how to sell it, and our potential customers don't know how to buy it".

Take-outs from this?

  • Existing IT/web development shops should be beefing up their WebRTC & Telco API skillsets, staffing and marketing presence.
  • Vendors should be identifying, encouraging and cultivating specialist communications developer firms that can assist with go-to-market.
  • Some of the smaller "platform" providers should think honestly about whether they can attain scale, and perhaps focus more on consulting and customisation gigs until they get a commission that can spawn a client-proven product.
  • There is a large gap for WebRTC and Telecom API training and education provision.
  • While WebRTC awareness is growing, Telecom Apps are still the domain of relatively few specialists. Telcos should look to consultancies to extend their reach indirectly, as well as running their own developer engagement directly.
  • It may be a good idea for Hackathons and similar initiatives to distinguish between general development shops and "final" app/web developers.

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