During its 20 year history, Broadsoft was at the forefront of innovation of cloud communications and collaboration software, developing much of the technology that the world is now reliant upon to execute business continuity plans for businesses, to enable remote employees, and to keep people connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time Cisco acquired Broadsoft two years ago, they had become the market leader globally with nearly 50% of the world’s Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) market share.
When Broadsoft’s Founder and former CEO, Michael Tessler, left Cisco in February, little could Tessler have envisioned that within a mere 30 days, virtually the entire globe would be using the technology that his team developed as a critical means of safety, business survivability, and keeping people connected. With his plans to begin traveling the world delayed by the COVID-19 virus, he took some time to reflect on the nearly two decades he invested in transforming the communications industry from wires and telephone poles to voice over the internet and wireless.
We caught up with Michael In a candid conversation covering a range of subjects both personal and business. What made this interview special was the opportunity to exchange memories around the development of a new technology that not only disrupted traditional telecom, but paved the way to the innovation that is enabling today’s employees working from home. We approached our conversation from three perspectives - from Tessler’s perspective as innovator of the technology, from our perspectives leading UCaaS businesses who on the Broadsoft platform, and from the perspective of today’s CIO facing the challenge of quickly implementing UC technology.
Given our history together, combined with our passion for the technology, and our passion for serving customers and helping them drive adoption of UCaaS, it was a great opportunity for us to take a stroll down memory lane, while discussing the challenges that businesses around the globe are now facing with being forced to quickly adopt the technology as a means to survive.
Designed for Business Continuity
Throughout the history of technology, specifically the innovation of emerging technology, we often find that technology is developed to solve problems, many of which are identified during times of crisis. The development of Unified Communications & Collaboration technology was no different.
Since its inception, Broadsoft’s mission revolved around enabling companies to have redundancy and enable sustainability. Soon after Broadsoft was founded, it was another major crisis that became the catalyst for innovations enabling remote work. “What we realized leading up to and going through 9/11 was that the underlying IP infrastructure enabled us to build truly geographic redundancy. There was no single point of failure,” according to Michael Tessler. “The mission of BroadSoft for many years was to move the PBX from the LAN to the WAN, and one of the main reasons was workforce flexibility.”
“Cloud Communications...it’s no longer a nice to have.” - Michael Tessler
Throughout Broadsoft’s 20 year history, there was overwhelming evidence of how much of an impact having the right technology deployed made to customers of Broadsoft’s service providers, albeit, many of those were short lived, such as natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. As Tessler acknowledges, it’s different this time, “We saw the results of businesses having their communications capabilities in the cloud, leading to the fact that these companies could continue to operate. It became a business continuity imperative. We’re now faced with a global situation where people are going to have to face up to the fact that it’s no longer a nice to have. You have to have the flexibility of your communications capabilities in the cloud.”
Adoption Starts with Leadership
One thing we both agreed on was that VoIP suffered from a lack of awareness and slow adoption rates for many years. For businesses that have yet to transition to UCaaS or even drive adoption throughout their organization, it starts with leadership. As we discussed with Tessler, even some of Broadsoft’s service provider customers weren’t ‘eating their own dogfood’ - a critical component to driving adoption, both within their own organizations as well as into the market. How can you sell something you don’t have confidence in enough to use yourselves?
For service providers and business customers alike, user adoption of the technology starts with the leaders of the businesses using their own technology. In our case, we share the passion for the technology, and we all used the technology within our respective companies dating back to the time that Broadsoft introduced it to the market. In the case of ANPI, the internal utilization of the technology drove the highest percentage of sales of the full UC stack amongst providers globally and it was large in part due to everyone throughout the organization using it day to day, and having it ingrained into their daily routines.
“As a leader you’ve got to demand it.” - Michael Tessler
At Broadsoft, they were a living example of how the leader can drive adoption, with Tessler using it himself and driving into his own organization, “We had employees in 23 countries. We had to use a ton of video to work together in a different way than getting together face-to-face all the time. When I looked at Broadsoft and the number of video minutes we would do on a daily basis, it was significant - I never made a call in the last few years that wasn’t video. As a leader you’ve got to demand it.”
A Catalyst to Force User Adoption
COVID-19 will certainly change that. As evidenced by a number of recent headlines, for companies that have been unable to quickly pivot due to technology limitations, it has created serious liability issues, public relations problems, and worse yet, a harmful and unsafe environment for the employees.
“It’s not a responsible situation, and it’s a lack of leadership in terms of companies that have not taken to that imperative to move to the cloud. I’m hoping, sadly enough, that this will create the clear need.” Tessler continued, “If you are a responsible business owner, you want to have business continuity, and you want to be able to operate through these kinds of situations - you’re able to have the flexibility that comes from operating these capabilities from the cloud and having a more agile workforce that’s able to work remotely.”
“Necessity will create adoption way above what we ever thought in the normal sales cycles.” - Michael Tessler
Tessler’s advice for business owners, CEOs and CIOs? “I encourage everyone to get quickly on board. Then, how do you really get your teams to collaborate more effectively? The future of work is really what we’re all trying to figure out. How to make that easier for people to work together in a more flexible way.”
The Workplace Forever Changed? The Genie Is Out of the Bottle
As the countries around the globe continue to mandate increasingly more restrictive social distancing measures to ‘flatten the curve’, it’s going to force businesses around the world to adopt to a new normal, and with it force people to use the technology as a means to keep business moving, and to keep people connected during these challenging times. The impact that will have on adoption and redefining how we work?
Tessler believes it will be profound, “I don’t think the genie goes back in the bottle. People are experiencing it. It’s a way of life. It will be interesting to see what happens when we get through this to see how much business gets done on video. One of the biggest challenges we faced was getting companies to do their intra company work on video. How much has that now forever been changed? How much will adoption change? Can you even operate a business without a full UC suite going forward, or does that model just not work anymore?”
We all were in agreement that for a high percentage of businesses that have yet to make the conversion to a full UCaaS stack of solutions, that COVID-19 is likely to accelerate adoption well beyond what many of the analyst reports had ever contemplated. During his last two years with Cisco, Tessler interacted with a number of Fortune 100 CIOs, most of whom were in the midst of making plans to conduct a transformation tied to large projects that ranged from 24 to 48 months with various phased approaches.
What will recent events do to those plans? Tessler believes it will shift priorities dramatically, “This tilts the priority up for that transformation and likely makes that overall period happen quicker. Companies will throw some of that caution and care to the wind as they’ve got to get there - they can’t take up to 48 months. It will speed the transformation faster than anyone originally planned.”
Rapid Acceleration of Adoption For Enterprises
We all agreed that recent events likely pull adoption forward by as much as two to three years faster than anyone ever contemplated. According to Tessler, he believes that within two years, that most of those Fortune 100 CIOs he’s spoken with will likely have completed the full transition. This will lead to a new approach mandated out of necessity to adapt to the global crisis, and force a new approach that is driven by speed.
How will that shape the approach for enterprise CIOs? It likely means a three phased approach, which we’ll dive into more on a forthcoming blog post. The current phase being the one we’re in now - get the tools in place as soon as possible, leveraging many of the ‘freemium’ versions of applications, and the free promotions most companies are now offering. The second phase will likely be driving adoption of the tools, integrating them into the way of doing business with the ‘new normal’. Once we get on the other side of the global crisis, the third phase will likely see widespread adoption in a compressed period of time.
Tessler’s advice to CIOs? “If I was any one of those CIOs with 50,000 employees, this would be my tomorrow imperative.”