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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

WebRTC platforms & distribution partnerships: From evangelists to acolytes

Over the last month I've been to a number of WebRTC and related events - AdvancedComms Asia in Singapore & HK, WebRTC World Expo in Miami, and GenBand's Perspectives customer/analyst conference in Orlando, as well as numerous meetings and calls with WebRTC-related vendors, users, investors and clients.

A couple of themes that have emerged are mostly continuations of existing ones - the overall pendulum of WebRTC swinging towards enterprise "disunified comms", a broad recognition of the equal (or greater) importance of mobile WebRTC-embedded apps vs. browser experiences, and the continued steady growth in profile of telcos and other service providers. All of these I've covered recently on this blog, or in my regular WebRTC research report updates for clients.

But one additional trend really jumped out at me last week at the GenBand event: the importance of distribution and integration partnerships, for WebRTC PaaS players. It's something I'd started seeing signs of at Enterprise Connect in March, but some of the impressive activity that's been done by GenBand's Kandy "ecosystem" really threw it into stark relief, and brough a few separate things together for me.

The headline: Evangelism is not enough

Lots of WebRTC companies are out pounding the conference circuit, not just for the technology itself, but also at specialist events for healthcare, finance, general web-design and so on. They are running hackathons, providing developer out-reach via web forums and other avenues, and generally "getting the story out there", especially to the long tail of developers.

That is absolutely necessary. But it's not sufficient.

The WebRTC PaaS market needs not just evangelists, but acolytes too. These are third-parties who are "devotees", or "followers", or assorted other religiously-inspired terms that imply not just "belief" but also provision of active help in the priest in performing the rites.

Translating the metaphor to IT terminology, this means systems integrators, channel-partners, consultants and others who assist in the "go to market" for the PaaS providers and their SDKs. (A fairly similar argument also applies to WebRTC gateway vendors, although that's somewhat different given upfront costs and existing infrastructure. I'll cover it in another post/report).

This gives a multiplier effect, as various types of partner are able to reach out to their customer base, adding broader marketing and sales resouce, adding value through other products or software customisation, or giving an impression of greater credibility and stability.

I see at least important 4 go-to-market channels for PaaS providers, each with sub-divisions:
  • Major software companies embedding PaaS (or components). Temasys' recent announcement with Citrix for its browser plug-ins is a good example, as is Kandy's expanding role within SAP's applications, and also as a basis for its own fring application. At Enterprise Connect, I liked CafeX's integration with Humanify for contextual-comms in B2C websites as well.
  • Systems integrators. Acision announced last year that it was working with Capgemini, and Kandy is working with Tech Mahindra among others. I know from my own research sales and consulting that other major firms are interested in WebRTC, but it's less clear if they will "roll their own", work with established PaaS players, or pick-and-choose for particular projects.
  • Telcos & SPs: While some telcos are developing their own PaaS offers, others are acting more as solution integrators, combining an existing platform with other elements. Tata Communications is using SightCall's PaaS, as well as various other vendors' products in its Click2RTC offer.
  • Consultancies & agencies: There is a broad range of "general" web, comms and mobile-app professional services companies interested in WebRTC. They range from high-profile WebRTC specialists such as Quobis (which also has its own software products) through to "digital media agencies" that work with brands or B2C players on overall web/mobile strategy and design. Acision's work with Blacc Spot and Kandy's with Deloitte's Digital arm are examples.

The categorisation can never be perfect - various companies can exist in multiple roles, and sometimes the PaaS offer blends into the background, while sometimes it's more transparent as a "resell". But the general principle is the same - the PaaS provider gets the benefit of extra scale and reach, as their ecosystem is doing some of the heavy-lifting.

The relationships have to work two ways as well - the PaaS vendor needs to invest quite a lot of effort to turn a couple of isolated deals into a genuine "ecosystem", where there are genuine feedback effects. At the moment, I'd say Kandy is probably ahead in terms of brand-name partners, and seems to have invested quite a lot to get its message across, at least in North America. The heavily-branded tour bus is a nice touch.

There is also another spin on distribution here - some WebRTC PaaS providers have another ready-made channel: their own existing developer programme/community for other APIs. Twilio and AT&T are the two most obvious proponents of this approach, as well as Tropo although its acquisition by Cisco rather changes things.

I'm going to keep a close eye on the evolving partnerships here. I suspect some don't get much further than a press release, while there are certainly others that have not (yet) been publicly announced. 

I'm also curious to see if any of the gateway-specific SDKs evolve into full PaaS platforms (eg Oracle's, Sonus', Broadsoft's), or indeed the UC-centric APIs from Unify or Avaya. A number of those companies - notably Avaya and Oracle - could also WebRTC-ify their own company's vertical market apps via their own platforms. Cisco+Tropo is an obvious candidate for that as well, while Tokbox could potentially be leveraged by other units of Telefonica.

The bottom line is that the various WebRTC platform providers are doing a better job in 2015 at promoting their role in the industry. But signing up third parties and ecosystems should have a multiplier effect.

More detail on the WebRTC market, PaaS, gateways, channels and vertical solutions is included in the Disruptive Analysis research report & updates. The next edition, due in early July, will consider the channel/ecosystem dynamics in greater detail. To order the report & updates, click here.

If you want to discuss a more specific research project, or brief me on your company, please contact information AT disruptive-analysis DOT com .