Ignite Illuminates Microsoft’s Communication Strategy

Microsoft Ignite, usually Microsoft’s biggest customer focused conference, went the way of most large industry events in 2020, it went virtual. Communication and collaboration is playing an increasingly pivotal role in Microsoft’s overall strategy and there was no lack of relevant news for cloud communication industry stakeholders. 

There were the usual raft of feature and function updates for Microsoft Teams. The seemingly conquering collaborative hub application that has been one of 2020’s major success stories as businesses globally have had to enable disparate workforces to stay productive. There were a few pieces of news released going slightly under the radar though that might have wider ramifications for the industry as a whole.

Azure Communication Services

Probably the announcement which has bought the most focus in the communication sector is the launch of Azure Communication Services (ACS). It’s an Azure based fully managed communications platform that will enable developers to add communication functions such as voice, video, and chat into third-party applications.

Microsoft is leveraging the knowledge, IP, and experience it has garnered during the development of Teams to offer powerful integrations which boast the compliance and security aspects that are already present in the functionality of the Teams application. This play appears to be more relevant to existing CPaaS providers, such as Twilio, and moves a step further than Google and Amazon – who offer some of these features but not as a fully connected managed service. Developers will be able to access the features through a new set of APIs and SDKs as they become available.

Traditional PSTN services are also included as part of the possible integration suite. Developers will be able to provision phone numbers for in and out-bound calling and these can be integrated with on-premises equipment, third-party carrier networks, or even contact centres. As an example of its potential, Genesys Engage, an enterprise focused multi-cloud customer engagement solution, will run on Azure and is expected to debut later this year.

Scott Van Vliet, Corporate Vice President for Intelligent Communications at Microsoft, explained more about the fundamentals in his blog announcing the news.

“Azure Communication Services makes it easy to add voice and video calling, chat, and SMS text message capabilities to mobile apps, desktop applications, and websites with just a few lines of code. While developer friendly APIs and SDKs make it easy to create personalized communication experiences quickly, without having to worry about complex integrations.”

As well as the integration possibilities promised to developers, Microsoft is also going a step further by provisioning access to an additional layer of intelligence augmentation by adding the capability to overlay smart services such as its transcription and translation tools included in Azure Cognitive Services.

Microsoft has stated its intention to move into the communication infrastructure market for a while now, and the launch of Azure Communication Services follows the acquisitions of both Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks, companies with experience in the technology and logistics required to facilitate this sort of service. Integration between Azure Communication Services and Microsoft Teams was not mentioned during Ignite, but you can assume it will be in the pipeline and pretty soon a Teams user might be able to connect into ACS for calling capability.

Communications Key Strategic Target

With its recent acquisitions, no-one was questioning if Microsoft was putting its money where its mouth was in terms of the communications industry. The launch of ACS came around more quickly than I had expected and is certainly going to rustle some feathers especially in the CPaaS sector. 

It shows a clear strategic focus from Microsoft. It clearly wants to play a bigger role in communications infrastructure globally and with the imminent growth of 5G, Microsoft is building a base of services which will appeal to those enterprises looking for agile development and networking tools.

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