Year in Review: Assessing the Developments in SaaS, CX, and Collaboration in 2023 – Enterprising Insights, Episode 7

Year in Review: Assessing the Developments in SaaS, CX, and Collaboration in 2023 - Enterprising Insights, Episode 7

In this episode of Enterprising Insights, The Futurum Group Enterprise Applications Research Director Keith Kirkpatrick is joined by Craig Durr, Research Director, Collaboration, and Sherril Hanson, Senior Analyst, CX, both with The Futurum Group. The trio will discuss the key developments in the market over the past year, covering SaaS, customer experience, and collaboration technologies, and discuss how the three areas continue to converge. They will also discuss the key underlying technologies in use, pricing models, and provide their assessment of key market trends.

Finally, the group will close out the show with the “Rant or Rave” segment, where Kirkpatrick picks one item in the market, and asks his two guests to either champion or criticize it.

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Keith Kirkpatrick: Hello everybody. I’m Keith Kirkpatrick, Research Director with The Futurum Group, and I’d like to welcome you to Enterprising Insights. It’s our weekly podcast that explores the latest developments in the enterprise software market, and the technologies that underpin these platforms, applications, and tools. This week I’d like to introduce two co-hosts for this special episode of Enterprising Insights. Today we have Craig Durr, Research Director for Collaboration, and Sherril Hanson, Senior Analyst for CX, both with The Futurum Group, and today the three of us are going to tackle some key developments in the market over the past year, covering SaaS, customer experience and collaboration technologies, and discuss of course how these three areas are continuing to converge. Then to close out the show and the year, we’re going to close out with our rant and rave segment where the three of us will get a chance to rant or rave about the good and the bad that we’ve seen in the market. So welcome to the show, Craig and Sherril.

Craig Durr: Good to be here.

Sherril Hanson: Good to be here.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Great.

Craig Durr: Can we just go to the rant and rave or should we-

Sherril Hanson: Usually my favorite part, but-

Craig Durr: Okay.

Sherril Hanson: … we’ll wait.

Keith Kirkpatrick: It’s like dessert, we’ve got to wait –

Craig Durr: Okay.

Keith Kirkpatrick: So let’s get into our first topic here, which of course is AI. You can’t talk about 2023 without talking about AI. So why don’t we just start out in terms of talking about where have you seen it being deployed well in your own specific coverage area? And we can talk about in terms of general technology or within specific products. Craig, why don’t we start with you?

Craig Durr: Yeah, thanks. Hey, by the way, thanks for having me here. This is pretty exciting here. We’ve got three time zones here, which is a lot of fun, so I’m still having a cup of coffee. So AI, one of the ways it was explained to me by a CTO at a company was he believes, and I agree with him, that AI in meetings is one of the first applications we saw in the business environment. The idea of using AI for meeting summaries, for Catch Me Up and things like that. I should say he framed it as one of the most practical use cases on a daily workflow beyond the generative AI. You can debate back and forth, but I do see that’s where it’s taking place. If I look at major vendors such as Microsoft Teams or Copilot, Google with Bard and now with Gemini behind it, Zoom has AI Companion, and other players out there, WebEx has their AI assistant. They all are doing a good job of helping to create moments of freedom within a meeting. And by that, what I see that I really enjoy is we can finish up a meeting and if it’s enabled properly, we all can share a meeting summary, which kind of gives us an idea of what we talked about, which helps minimize the distractions of taking notes. That’s one of the places I think I’ve seen it deployed well.

I’ve also seen it along that same lines deployed well in the Catch Me Up option, which is really interesting. I’ve seen Webex do it and they’ve done it nicely as well in deployment, which is through the AI bot chat, simply type catch me up, what’s going on, and you get some meeting summaries. Now the one thing I will say, there’s two cautionary notes I have about this. I do believe we are still in the learning curve and I can look at earlier meeting summaries that I’ve done with some of these vendors and question some of the points they made, but I see how it’s getting better over time, which I think is accepted in the market right now. The other thing I see taking place though, which I think is abusive of the technology, which I’m thinking I’m going a little bit beyond deployed well, is I’m seeing people with their AI agents showing up in meetings that they’re not attending and it’s got something to do with, I think, more of the workflow and people aren’t readily managing it, but third party services like Otter AI or Read AI where you register your calendar, automatically sends an agent into those meetings where it can, and what I’ve talked to people about is I think they’re not aware of that. So they have a meeting on their calendar, they keep it there just for their information, but meanwhile you’re in that meeting and all of a sudden this AI agent shows up. So we’re still learning the workflows, and how to make it work well, but I think the meeting application of AI is very promising.

Keith Kirkpatrick: It’s interesting you mentioned that sort of assistant popping up into the meeting when they’re not there. Is that kind of like the Rodney Dangerfield movie, Back to School, where he sends-

Craig Durr: Yes!

Keith Kirkpatrick: … his secretary into the class?

Craig Durr: That’s the same exact reference, yes.

Keith Kirkpatrick: It’s interesting because I think that to your point, we are still learning how to use this technology. I look at it from the enterprise application space where it’s being deployed to help people, let’s say craft an email or do a summary or something like that, and maybe they’re not even, a lot of folks aren’t really used to the fact that this is an assistive technology, this is not do your work for you. You can’t just take a summary and plop it into an email and expect it to be completely a hundred percent true and it will not be in the voice that you need as a professional. So it is interesting that we’re still sort of on that learning curve. Sherril, what about you in your space, particularly CX-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Keith Kirkpatrick: …. a lot of-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, so in CX, and this won’t be a shock to either one of you. There’s certainly been a ton of AI activity in the contact center area and all the likely players making announcements, particularly over the past six to eight months, about putting AI throughout their platform. And one of the things that I have found interesting over the past year is that it’s being used not just with an eye towards the customer experience, but with an eye on the agent experience. And going back to what you said, Craig, there’s been a lot of buzz about agent supporting technologies and similarly, I think it’s pretty early days, but the most positive indicators for using AI in the contact center really still kind of goes down to those kind of mind-numbing, mundane tasks that agents or their supervisors have to do and post-call summarization, just like post-meeting summarization. It’s a real time suck for supervisors or agents to have to do that.

Something else I find an interesting use case that is getting some leverage is the layering in of sentiment analysis, which is kind of helping agents read the room a little bit better, to see if a call is starting to go sideways, to see if they are perhaps getting a little less than professional in their interaction. And so that’s a great way that they’ve been using it in the contact center. And related to that is real time coaching and guidance. Not just they get off the call, they get, their manager comes over, they tell them what went wrong, what went right, but in the moment they can see what’s the next best action here, what do I need to offer up to the customer to help round out that experience. And kind of overall helping agents connect to information faster, getting to the knowledge base, getting to the exact answers that they need so that they can have a happy customer and that they can themselves maybe move on to something more interesting.

Craig Durr: You and I saw a great example of that, I think, because the UC CC Grouper side-by-side at Webex and the static knowledge base is just blown away by the possibility of what AI can provide with real-time information that updates as the agent and as that language model learns-

Craig Durr: … what’s successful recommendations. That was really nice to see.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Keith Kirkpatrick: You know, one of the other things you mentioned there I think was really interesting is the ability to provide that sort of real-time coaching to basically take an interaction that might be going off the rails and pull it back. And along with that, I think that also helps more long-term in terms of the overall training of the agent.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Speeding up that process, helping organizations actually realize a higher ROI with each agent, because you’re not having to pull them out and do that sort of remote training saying, “Okay, when the customer starts yelling at you, that’s a bad thing.” Getting that sooner…

Craig Durr: Reading the room.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, reading the room.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Before we leave the topic. And we could talk about AI all day, but one thing I really wanted to touch on is just to get a sense as to what we might see, what we’ve seen so far in terms of pricing, how organizations or how vendors are actually pricing AI. Is it something where it’s sort of inclusive in sort of that ice cream man in the truck, you know, make it really cheap, really appealing to get you hooked on the sugar and then they’re going to raise the price? What’s going on in pricing?

Craig Durr: So I’ll take the first swing at it, Sherril, is that okay?

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, sure.

Craig Durr: Yeah, it’s mixed bag. So in the UC space, which kind of also probably crosses over to what Sherril’s seeing is I can name two major vendors that have made it as part of, free, of their baseline application and then I can talk to a couple of vendors who’ve made it as an upsell. So free included, it’s a big value proposition of what Webex and Zoom are doing. Inclusive of their paid subscriptions or suites, you have this AI companion agent available, comparing it to copilot and what you see in the Microsoft environment. And although Microsoft is included, we’re starting to see things in market right now talking about the total cost of ownership.

So to put it in context, Copilot starts becoming available not in Office 365, but Microsoft 365. And then you also have to have a point of having a minimum of 300 licenses. And there’s kind of a matrix of feature sets, meeting summaries that I talked about appears as part of Teams Premium, which is unrelated to an AI Copilot licensing, but it’s also part of Copilot AI. So there’s a lot, it’s still working itself out. I think the winners I’m going to bet on though are the ones that are making it inclusive and keeping it clean in the licensing of the value add they’re doing, at least in my immediate meeting summary use cases I’m talking about.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right.

Sherril Hanson: In my area, I would agree with that, that it is a bit, it’s not well baked yet how it’s being offered and in some instances it is simply a platform enhancement. And then in others there might be cost involved in deploying a particular type of bot or conversational assistant. I have seen some kind of coming up with packages and tiered pricing, and I haven’t really dug into this a hundred percent yet, but Zoom actually just did come out with some tiered pricing plans for their contact center offering. And their premium top tier plan does have things like the Zoom AI expert assist, and then there’s a mid-tier plan and a lower tier plan. So Keith, as you said, it’s still a bit all over the place and we’ll probably if we have this conversation again next year, we’ll see a lot of change in what we’re seeing right now.

Craig Durr: What about for yourself, Keith? You have a broad area of coverage, but in the context of enterprise applications, what are you seeing as working well.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Yeah. Well, I think like both of you and the vendors I’ve spoken with, they’ve taken the approach of let’s, for a lot of enterprise users, it’s let’s pick a price point, 25, 30 bucks a month per month per user. Let’s see where that goes. Because they’re not entirely sure. They’re kind of stuck between two different things. One is they want customers to use this technology. They’re not going to eventually buy or really get hooked on it unless people have experienced having a good experience with it. And the only way you have a good experience with it is to start using it. On the flip side, this is expensive technology, generative AI, it’s expensive. If you think of just the multiples of, let’s say, a thousand or 10,000 employees using it every day, eight hours a day, you look at the compute costs, that’s not cheap. They cannot be underwater on this technology from a cost perspective.

I talked to a couple vendors, today, who said, “Look, in 2024, we may be changing.” There seems to be a shift or a slow shift to consumption-based pricing. And then the real trick is going to be how do you basically attach that to the value delivered? And that’s going to be a challenge for a lot of vendors because very low hanging fruit, you can sort of go, “Okay, yeah, it’s neat,” but you really have to look and see, “Okay, organizationally I’ve wiped out, I’ve deflected X number of interactions at a cost of however many FTEs,” or what have you, or “I’ve been able to save this amount of time,” or looking more broadly across organizational workflows, “I’ve been able to cut out these costs.” So we’re still in a very early situation, but I do think though that from an enterprise application perspective for now, they’re still going to be pricing that as a premium because they will be able to show some pretty big organizational benefits.

But yeah, it’s interesting. I think with AI, we’re still in pretty much a wait and see kind of mode. But why don’t we move a little bit beyond, obviously AI has dominated the conversation here, but I’m just curious if you’ve seen any other sort of enhancements to products or services that aren’t necessarily focused in on AI. Maybe they’re informed or maybe they’re powered by it, but it’s not sort of the AI in a big blinking lights.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, and again, this might be a little bit powered by AI, but a general thing that I wanted to touch on is just kind of the general smoothing out of omnichannel interactions and self-service. And companies have of course been going at this for years, but I do feel like this year there’s been just a bit more focus on the bridge points between channel jumping and being able to, not just that, but to just do a hundred percent self-service. A bit related to that is I’ve seen increased use of video in either contact center types of solutions as well as other parts of the CX chain, and for service that could help save a truck roll out and save the company money, could make for a happier customer because they don’t have to wait for a service person to come. And maybe I’m just warm to this topic because I live with a family of MacGyvers who feel like they can fix everything themselves, and they’re constantly on YouTube trying to figure out how to fix the hatchback of their truck. This could save, this could make for a great customer experience for people and save companies money. And not just the support channel, but I’ve also seen it in a different part of the customer experience tech stack, which is feedback and customer feedback and being able to offer people not just a flat survey, but to give some video feedback and companies can get so much more information from that, hearing tone of voice, seeing facial expressions, that it really opens up a much broader view of what their experience was like.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Yeah, well, hopefully they start to roll more of that out because we’ve all had those pretty horrible just voice only interactions with customer support where they don’t seem to understand you and you don’t understand them.

Sherril Hanson: Right, right. Yeah.

Keith Kirkpatrick: What about you, Craig?

Craig Durr: So looking at the holistic area of workplace collaboration, I think in the last year, actually, it’s been about the last 18 months, we’ve been tracking this idea of how people are managing the hybrid work models, and it’s an overused word, but people coming and working in person as well as remotely and making the friction points less. One of the things that we’ve been looking at is what I dub workplace experience platforms. These are those software applications that help you… Starts off with some basic ideas like reserving a room or reserving a desk, shared desk environment. But then it continues to add upon that by sharing information so that, for example, I might know if you choose to share it, that Keith’s going in the office, that Sherril’s going in the office and you’re both sitting on the second floor, and since we work together I may want to book my desk next to that.

Or it might be information that also is working in terms of visitor management now that we have people in and out, notifying people coming in. And it continues to go up this Maslow hierarchy of adding value, of transforming us from just being efficient to actually making this workplace collaboration kind of a strategic advantage to the point that as a manager, I can start seeing patterns and understand what’s going on around the groups that I manage. So the enhancements that I’m seeing is this idea of helping to manage both the physical time working together, as well as the virtual time working together as well. And what you see that taking place is there’s a lot of independent software vendors out there doing it. People like, I’ll name some names, Robin, Eptura, Humley. These are companies that were these reservation based ideas. AppSpace is another one. They were kind of doing digital signage in in-context messaging. But what’s interesting is you see these large UC platforms pulling that functionality into their own stack that they’re delivering. So Zoom has Spaces, Webex has had another thing called DNA Spaces that they’ve rebranded as Spaces. Microsoft has talked about a solution called Places, but it’s been put on hold because I’m told the software engineering resources were put on their Copilot needs immediately, but they’re coming out with the same idea, kind of bridging this hybrid work taking place.

And it’s actually taking place because it’s important. Because it plays not only into the IT stakeholders but real estate stakeholders and HR stakeholders. As you start thinking about real estate consolidation strategies or expansion strategies, this helps with the optimization of it. And frankly, one of the things that Sherril and I are crossing over is in the HR element, in the employee experience too. These wind up being touch points that you can capture information from an employee. So we all have been in the Zoom meetings or the Teams meeting and it ends and you get the five star rating. How was that meeting? But that same concept by these software platforms has been expanded to, was that desk, did it have the technology that you needed? What was the service like for you that day in the office? Did you find parking? And so you can start collecting this information that helps feed insights into employee experience, which holistically is that workplace collaboration story again. It’s a really exciting bit of technology, because there’s a lot of awesome data for people to harvest there, I’m really excited about that, and some people are just on the leading edge of really taking advantage of that, which is exciting.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Yeah. You mentioned a really interesting point that plays with something I’ve been seeing in the enterprise application space, which is this idea, this sort of platformization of everything where these vendors want to really pull in a lot of disparate functionality, become sort of that whole platform that can provide everything. Because, and I’m going to break my own rule here, but I’ll mention one of the main reasons is organizations are really trying to deploy AI across the entire organization, across all different workflows. Exactly. And I think it is something that is interesting. We’re seeing it a number of different platforms after we’re saying, “Look, the tech stack has gotten just incredibly bloated and integration is a pain in the neck, and you’re spending more time working on integration issues than you are actually doing the work.” And I think that’s something that we’re going to continue to see throughout 2024 is this desire for validation.

Craig Durr: And that platformization is underlying that. Adobe is a great example, I think, that’s doing that. You and I touch base when they have Adobe Connect, which is a element of communications, but I can see how they do that communications element into some of those other shared applications of collaboration. But I think that besides the platformization, to me, if I were to take it back, a step back, it’s this almost esoteric idea of how these companies are trying to blend the physical working environments and the virtual working environments. That’s the friction points they’re trying to end up. First, you have buzzwords like hybrid work, meeting equity, and then there’s AI that plays into all that to help break that down.
It’s pretty exciting. I think there’s a lot of good functionality taking place-

Keith Kirkpatrick: Yeah.

Craig Durr: … and a lot of deployments happening. I think what’s interesting though is I think the technology curve, the feature curve, and the adoption curve are not catching up. We’re waiting for the market to really understand, “Oh, I can really leverage this information to know when Keith and Sherril are in the office.” “Oh, I can really leverage this thing to know when my team’s going to come in or when’s the best time to schedule an all hands in person,” things like that. So it’s catching up, but that’s, I think, the path I see.

Keith Kirkpatrick: So that leads us into the sort of final question for this afternoon, which is I think something that is actually bigger than any technology, and that’s really about messaging. What are the vendors doing in terms of messaging with their product? I mean, is it feature sets, is it something else? I mean, because I know from my perspective, I’ve been sitting in all of these product briefings and analyst days, and a lot of it’s all about feature set, feature set, feature set. And one thing that I’ve been trying to convey to them is, features are great, but everyone’s going to be doing this leapfrogging in terms of one’s going to be superior one week, one’s going to be superior the next week. Really, you need to compete on something else. And I know that in a couple of conversations I had, they do sort of get that they need to start talking about things like time to value. They need to talk about their skill with playing nicely in the sandbox, all of that kind of stuff. But I do feel like there is still a disconnect because we’re in that sort of hype period of, “Ooh, I’ve come out with the latest shiny new object.” Thoughts on that? Sherril, do you want to start?

Sherril Hanson: Yeah, this is something I think Craig and I spoke about once, that when you are speaking to technology vendors and going to conferences, there’s usually this slide of 600 new features that are in eight point font and of what’s coming out. And you can kind of feel in the room people are a bit almost overwhelmed by it all, and how are they going to roll it out, and do they need this? And so I find in my space that vendors need to do a little bit better job on what is the problem being solved rather than the list of features. Map it out, show it in black and white, what is this feature going to do for you and your organization? And also how does that tie into ROI? How is this going to… And I see this a lot in employee experience, and Craig, it’s basically like you said, there’s so much technology out there, it’s not quite being, the adoption hasn’t caught up yet, and when it is adopted, the culture and the strategy and the mindset hasn’t quite caught up yet to keep it moving forward.

Craig Durr: Right.

Sherril Hanson: And so I guess I would say that I am seeing a little work to be done in that area. I am seeing that, I think, companies are being very thoughtful about their partnerships and integrations. And I’ll give an example. Recently, Genesys and Salesforce kind of deepened a partnership that they had, and so that the Genesys contact center and workforce engagement management is going to now be able to tie into the Salesforce service cloud. And that data between those two big systems are going to be able to be shared. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s making, how is it going to make someone’s job easier and get the data that they need, get the picture of the customer that they need so that they can get that good customer experience, support the employees in their employee experience. And I think we’re going to see more of that. How do we combine best-of-breed together to make things easier for people?

Keith Kirkpatrick: A Lot of feature set stuff, but I’m starting to see a little more about linking some of these features to real outcomes. And a lot of the outcomes are not just, I’m not talking about sort of, okay, you use generative AI and you can summarize a meeting. That’s great. There’s certainly some ROI there, but really when we start to see actual benefits across an entire workflow or an entire process, that’s where you start to see almost an exponential benefit. But it’s harder to convey that story because a lot of times the vendors are only using a very small piece or their software is only in a very small area within a process. So it’s harder to convey that, a real value across the entire organization or across the entire workflow.

But it’s coming, I think. My advice to clients is to really play up how they’re a part of that, because ultimately that’s going to actually generate ROI. That’s what’s actually going to make it a meaningful change in the way that you’re doing business. And then to tie it back into what you’re saying, Sherril, you do this, you make the employee’s jobs easier, less friction, less frustrating, that’s going to pay dividends well beyond sort of a single interaction, it’s going to pay dividends throughout the entire employee journey as they’re working for the company.

Craig Durr: I think both what you guys are saying is spot on. If I would try and remove myself from the technology and I want to talk about what I think is successful product marketing, I think it’s when I’ve seen vendors hone in on a friction point and continue to reiterate and support that, removing that friction point with the feature set. So it’s okay if they come out with 10, 100 features, but help me bucketize those that it’s aligning with a constant consistent message. So I’ve talked about a couple of vendors. One of them, I’m not going to name them, has this really great three point strategy, and some of it’s a little bit sales strategy, but it aligns to what they’re doing for the stories. They want to reimagine workspaces. They want to align people to a single suite of applications, and then they want to reengage or redefine customer engagement. So thinking about contact center and employee experience. So in each of their updates to us as an analyst community, for example, they go through their feature sets, but they help us see how they align to each of those.

And if they can do that, they get their sales team aligned and their marketing aligned. I think… Remember that old adage about billboards or marketing, it takes six, seven times for a person to see it before the message takes hold. It’s kind of that same idea. So it’s a little bit of I can accept and I’m a gadget guy, I love technology. I can love seeing a lot of cool features, but help us align to what your key message is in. And if you evolve your strategy, that’s okay. Just realize that strategy in those key points is a little bit, it’s a large ship turning. You can’t do it quickly and immediately.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right.

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Craig Durr: I think that is examples of what I’ve seen work well. There’s been a lot of features coming out, a lot of people doing catch up during the pandemic and now coming out of the pandemic. But I think you just need to have a commitment to a strategy, align your messaging and your feature sets to that. And then just reiterate, “I’m supporting message A, message B, message C with this activity.”

Keith Kirkpatrick: And Craig, you’re finding some of these companies are doing that well or starting to do it well?

Craig Durr: I think there’s a couple, I’ve already highlighted a couple in their conversations. I’m repeating someone that I think had a great year. Zoom is doing well, great job of doing that. Webex is doing a great job as well too. Microsoft is going to probably call me up because I think they’ve got a very robust feature set, and I love what they’re doing in the Teams space as well as how it rolls into how the pilots are playing into it, Copilots are playing into it, but they’ve had so much in this last year that I think they’re at risk of being confusing. And I kind of gave you an insight in terms of the licensing. It’s a lot of cross matrices right now. Everything from E3 to E5 licenses before. Now where do you get the feature sets and what’s the core message? I think they’ll get this aligned-

Keith Kirkpatrick: Yeah.

Craig Durr: … and get it cleaned up. But coming out of Ignite, which was a couple of months ago, is probably the same as AWS, reinvent. I mean, there was like a thousand announcements, and you have to sift through them to understand what they’re supporting. It’s a lot going on.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right. So Craig, is that your rant or you want another shot at another rant?

Craig Durr: No, I got another one. Don’t worry about that.

Keith Kirkpatrick: All right.

Craig Durr: I’ve been saving this one here.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Okay. Well here, Sherril, why don’t we go to the rant and raves, because I know that you always have something to highlight.

Sherril Hanson: Well, Craig, to keep you on your toes, I’m going to rave.

Craig Durr: Oh, right.

Sherril Hanson: What? I know. I have two small raves for this one, and one is a bit related, Craig, to what you mentioned. My small rave is the increased focus on employee digital experience. And that might be looked at as maybe a softer part of an employee journey, but it’s that day-to-day interaction with your technology, and in many cases, your dozens and dozens of technologies that can kind of make or break your experience. And so I feel like that is definitely getting some more attention. And it should, it can really… It’s tied to employee dissatisfaction, low engagement. The enormous amount of Gen Z kids, people, young adults that I’ve got two of myself coming into the workforce that are used to having very consumer grade experiences in their day-to-day. And then my other very small rave is the acceleration focus on agent experience. And there’s some really interesting products that are out or coming out that can help gauge burnout before it happens. Webex has something, I think, coming out of first quarter related to that, and there’s been some partnerships with wellness apps, Thrive Global that helps contact center agents take a little break, get a little reset between interactions. So I’m going to give that a rave, I like it.

Craig Durr: Nice.

Keith Kirkpatrick: You’re in a real charitable holiday spirit there with the-

Sherril Hanson: It’s the holiday spirit upon me. Yeah.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Great.

Craig Durr: I don’t know. Should I start off with the rant or the rave? What does the audience want to hear here first?

Keith Kirkpatrick: Oh, let’s hear… Let’s hear another rave and then you can rant.

Craig Durr: Okay. Okay. Yeah, let’s leave them wanting to find out where I live-

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right.

Craig Durr: … and deliver a piece of coal in my stocking this year, okay?

Keith Kirkpatrick: Exactly.

Craig Durr: So I’m actually going to play off of Sherril, and I’ve mentioned this on some other forecast predictions that I’ve talked about. I like looking at the human side where technology touches people, employees for this collaboration element. And my rave is I am actually finding people, vendors, and then therefore enterprise as customers are starting to use a magic word, which is culture. I love the fact that we have these companies trying to create this idea, whether it plays off an employee experience or workplace collaboration, but they’re working on the idea of culture. And the way I like to say it is this, is we’ve kind of had this in the past, but a lot of times we’ve been doing it wrong. We have an executive that says “We have culture,” and “Go do culture. It’s my value statement,” and it doesn’t work.

And what I’ve said multiple times when I have a chance to talk to audience, culture is not the words on the wall. It’s not the values that you say that we’re dedicated, customer-centric. Culture is not the words, it’s not the beliefs, it’s the behavior. And more importantly, it’s the group behavior, and it’s not the executives, executives set the standards, set an example, but it’s got to be down to the employees doing the same thing. I show up to a meeting on time, I’m considerate towards customers in a certain way, I have this element of follow-up. These behaviors are culture and the technology supports that. So what I like, my rave is I’m seeing multiple companies in terms of their technology roadmap that they’re delivering, bringing technology to bear to help support culture.

Zoom has brought in and acquired Work Vivo, which is an employee experience as well, which, helps again, create with some internal communications. I had the rare chance, standing in for Sherril, to go to a conference with a HR technology vendor. And it was really insightful watching how these guys were interacting. And here I was, kind of the communications UC expert looking at this. And it was very helpful to see these worlds and how they view each other and collaborate. So my rant… I’m sorry, my rave is that I’m excited about culture being taken serious and people are trying to align technology and their implications of it to help support that going forward.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Great. Any rant that you have?

Craig Durr: Oh, yes, yes, yes. So this is one that I also kind of shared with some people, and so I’m going to keep going with it. I love that In the space of unified communications, people have broken down barriers about interoperability between meetings, between video platforms. You see Teams able to communicate with Zoom, you see Webex and Google and things like that. That is awesome. But I happen to work every day in multiple messaging applications, like many of you do as well too. I right now have Slack open, I have Webex open, and I’ll have messages on Zoom. My rant is, I know it’s out there, the capability, but I need somebody to help unify that messaging experience across these different platforms. And not even being a third party application, but the ability for me to pull in you, native to whatever platform you’re using, Teams, and make it part of the communications, that you see the history that I choose to share with you within that chat thread, that it doesn’t matter whether I’m primarily in Zoom or Webex or you’re in Teams, but somehow there’s a unification opportunity there. And I find it frustrating, it’s a point of friction in my workday when I need to change messaging platforms or move information back and forth that isn’t natural. So that’s my rant and it’s my wish, my Christmas wish for the industry out there. Please just deliver to me a unified messaging experience.

Keith Kirkpatrick: Well, maybe that’ll happen in 2024. You never know.

Craig Durr: I’ve been planting that seed everywhere. So maybe Santa’s listening, who knows?

Keith Kirkpatrick: Right, right. Well, for me, I would just say I’m going to start off with a rave, which is, again, a little surprising because normally I’m just complaining all the time. But one thing that I really was pleasantly surprised, particularly over the last quarter, was in my conversations with vendors, talking about generative AI, talking about pricing, talking about AI guardrails, all of this kind of stuff, that they were very open and transparent about the fact that they said, “We are still learning, we are still trying to figure this out along with our customers, along with regulators, along with everybody.” Because really the one thing I don’t want to hear is “We’ve got all this figured out. We are definitely taking the right path,” because if you think about it, when did Open AI make chatGPT available to pretty much everyone? What was that, February roughly? Something like that?

Craig Durr: Yeah.

Keith Kirkpatrick: We haven’t been at this very long. For anyone to come out and say they know everything-

Sherril Hanson: Yeah.

Keith Kirkpatrick: … you just got to really wonder about what their motivation is or whether they just don’t get it. So I am pleasantly surprised, and I will rave about the fact that really, I have not encountered vendors who have said, “I know all the answers. I know exactly what I’m doing.” To me, it shows that they’re willing to listen. They’re willing to hopefully evolve their products, their pricing strategies. And I know our colleague, Mark Beccue, who is the AI guru, who’s talking about the adults in the AI rumpus room, it sounds like a lot of the large players are in there, and they are being the adults and understanding that they’re still learning and trying to do the right thing with AI. So in that respect, I’m certainly going to rave about that.

But to close out the show, I will rant a little bit because, and I’m sure the two of you have experienced this, in our line of work, we hear a lot about how organizations are using all of this technology to provide personalized experiences for all of us, and deploying AI to make things seamless. I have to say, I don’t know what’s going on, but in a lot of my experiences, even as recently as the last couple of months here, I still run into the same frustrations that I would’ve run into 10, 15, 20 years ago. And I’m not one of those people who never uses a credit card… Basically, companies have tons of data on me, and what I don’t understand is how they’re not able to provide these experiences that all of the vendors that we deal with on a daily basis say they can provide.

Craig Durr: Yeah.

Keith Kirkpatrick: It’s a bit of a shock to me. I don’t know whether they are falling down on an implementation side of things or if the vendors aren’t helping to pull them along or what it is. I tend to think it’s also a training issue as well. But I just find it hard to believe that in 2023, almost 2024, they still don’t know who I am. Customer- I’ve been a customer for them for, I don’t know, 10, 15, 20 years.

Craig Durr: Google Maps is still not recommending the best restaurant for you, is what you’re saying? You know?

Keith Kirkpatrick: I think more than that, but it’s an interesting, I think the interesting thing about it, I’m kind of joking about it, is there are just a huge lost opportunity there to really make a great impression because it’s really, the data is out there.

Craig Durr: Yeah.

Keith Kirkpatrick: The companies should know how to use it now if they’re going to be collecting it. So-

Craig Durr: This is true.

Sherril Hanson: It’s a good one. Yeah, that’s a great one. I mean, that’s a great rant. The dots are not connecting. And so it’s kind like a little bit the analogy of when you ask people for feedback, but then don’t do anything about it. If people are opting in, saying, “Go for it. Take all my data, do with it what you want, but make my experience better for me,” and it’s still not happening, that’s a good rant.

Keith Kirkpatrick: All right, well, I want to thank both of you for joining me here on the final episode of Enterprising Insights for 2023. I hope you both have a great holiday and to everyone out there, thank you very much for tuning in and be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast on your preferred platform. Thank you very much, and we’ll see you next time.

Sherril Hanson: Yep. See you.

Craig Durr: Happy Holidays, everybody.

Sherril Hanson: Happy Holidays.

Author Information

Keith has over 25 years of experience in research, marketing, and consulting-based fields.

He has authored in-depth reports and market forecast studies covering artificial intelligence, biometrics, data analytics, robotics, high performance computing, and quantum computing, with a specific focus on the use of these technologies within large enterprise organizations and SMBs. He has also established strong working relationships with the international technology vendor community and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events.

In his career as a financial and technology journalist he has written for national and trade publications, including BusinessWeek,, Investment Dealers’ Digest, The Red Herring, The Communications of the ACM, and Mobile Computing & Communications, among others.

He is a member of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP).

Keith holds dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Magazine Journalism and Sociology from Syracuse University.

As Practice Lead - Workplace Collaboration, Craig focuses on developing research, publications and insights that clarify how the workforce, the workplace, and the workflows enable group collaboration and communication. He provides research and analysis related to market sizing and forecasts, product and service evaluations, market trends, and end-user and buyer expectations. In addition to following the technology, Craig also studies the human elements of work - organizing his findings into the workforce, the workplace, and the workflows – and charting how these variables influence technologies and business strategies.

Prior to joining Wainhouse, now a part of The Futurum Group, Craig brings twenty years of experience in leadership roles related to P&L management, product development, strategic planning, and business development of security, SaaS, and unified communication offerings. Craig's experience includes positions at Poly, Dell, Microsoft, and IBM.

Craig holds a Master of Business Administration from the Texas McCombs School of Business as well as a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Tulane University.

As a detail-oriented researcher, Sherril is expert at discovering, gathering and compiling industry and market data to create clear, actionable market and competitive intelligence. With deep experience in market analysis and segmentation she is a consummate collaborator with strong communication skills adept at supporting and forming relationships with cross-functional teams in all levels of organizations.

She brings more than 20 years of experience in technology research and marketing; prior to her current role, she was a Research Analyst at Omdia, authoring market and ecosystem reports on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and User Interface technologies. Sherril was previously Manager of Market Research at Intrado Life and Safety, providing competitive analysis and intelligence, business development support, and analyst relations.

Sherril holds a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from University of Colorado, Boulder and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Rutgers University.


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