Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

enterpriseenterpriseauthorTom KrazitNoneAre you keeping up with the latest cloud developments? Get Tom Krazit and Joe Williams' newsletter every Monday and Thursday.d3d5b92349
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Protocol | Enterprise

Can we talk? Microsoft unveils voice and text-chat service for developers.

Web and mobile developers will be able to use Azure Communication Services to let customers chat with service reps directly from their apps or web sites.

A Microsoft data center.

Microsoft is adding more communication services to Azure.

Photo: Microsoft

One year after the pandemic forced businesses to adapt in countless ways, the race to overhaul how they interact with their customers is starting to heat up.

Microsoft said Tuesday it would release Azure Communication Services into the wild this week, kicking off the first day of its Ignite virtual conference. The service, first introduced at the autumn version of Ignite last September, allows developers to embed voice, text chat, SMS or video capabilities into their applications.

It's based on the same technology that runs the communications features in Microsoft Teams, and the company is also planning to preview a service this week that lets Azure customers use Teams to manage the back end of interactions with their own customers through their respective apps.

Microsoft started working on this service prior to the widespread shutdown orders imposed one year ago in hopes of containing COVID-19 in the U.S., but that experience "really accelerated our thinking," said Scott Van Vliet, corporate vice president for intelligent communications at Microsoft.

The experience of the past year has sped up many businesses' plans to overhaul customer communications. Microsoft's new service targets a customer who has no shortage of options after deciding to ditch traditional call centers with rows of operators on landlines, a trend that was well underway before the pandemic.

Twilio became a $63 billion company on the back of its developer-friendly communications APIs, and enterprise software players like RingCentral also offer customers communications tools for their apps. AWS updated Amazon Connect last December at re:Invent 2020 with new machine-learning capabilities, and Zoom is reportedly thinking about using its pandemic dividend to go after this market.

"We've been building this rich, real-time communications infrastructure for products at Microsoft over the last couple of decades," Van Vliet said, citing products such as Microsoft Live Meeting and Skype as a proving ground for Azure Communications Services. "We realized that we really had something special in terms of the scale that we were able to achieve in building this platform with something that third party developers may also get the benefit from."

While Microsoft wants to encourage its own customers to use Microsoft Teams to manage those communications, those companies do not want to force their customers to download yet another communications app in order to talk to a doctor or resolve a customer service issue.

The idea is "really to give developers … the choice to take the core communication services that we offer and integrate them into the products and workflows they may already have," Van Vliet said.

Still, in keeping with its efforts to make Microsoft Teams as one of its most visible products, Microsoft would really like Azure customers to use Teams as well. For now, the link between Teams and Azure Communications Service is available as a preview, but it's clear that Microsoft has organized much of its product-development strategy around Teams as a central hub for business customers.

"If [a Microsoft] customer was already using Teams, they could add ACS to their own mobile application, or even to their own website using WebRTC, and allow customers to join a call, that on one end, they're using their mobile device or their desktop and on the company side, they're actually using Microsoft Teams and the same familiar interface and workflows that they already have to connect those experiences," Van Vliet said.

That's one reason why Microsoft has an advantage over the other cloud companies jockeying for a piece of this market. Thanks to the ubiquity of Microsoft Office, the company already has a business relationship with countless enterprise software buyers, making it easier to entice those customers to use other parts of the Microsoft portfolio in their own applications.

Still, many companies that were forced to reinvent their customer-service and purchasing workflows last year as in-person business activity ground to a halt went with other vendors. Yet as with other categories of cloud services, which a surprising number of companies have yet to adopt in any fashion, Microsoft believes there's still plenty of growth left in this slice of the market.

"What we see happening in the future is really this concept of a hybrid work model, where a lot of the things that were requirements, or things you just had to do during the pandemic, will be things that will be pretty sticky," Van Vliet said.

Microsoft Ignite kicks off later Tuesday with a keynote from CEO Satya Nadella and runs through Thursday.

The metaverse is coming, and Robinhood's IPO is here

Plus, what we learned from Big Tech's big quarter.

Image: Roblox

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: First, a few takeaways from another blockbuster quarter in the tech industry. Then, Janko Roettgers joins the show to discuss Big Tech's obsession with the metaverse and the platform war that seems inevitable. Finally, Ben Pimentel talks about Robinhood's IPO, and the company's crazy route to the public markets.

For more on the topics in this episode:

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

Keep Reading Show less
Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.

Facebook wants to be like Snapchat

Facebook is looking to make posts disappear, Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, and more patents from Big Tech.

Facebook has ephemeral posts on its mind.

Image: Protocol

Welcome to another week of Big Tech patents. Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, Amazon wants to make voice assistants more intelligent, Microsoft wants to make scheduling meetings more convenient, and a ton more.

As always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

Keep Reading Show less
Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

Keep Reading Show less
Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Latest Stories