Q&A: A look at how Amazon Chime will stack up in the UC market

Earlier this year, Amazon announced a new cloud-based video and voice conferencing tool called Chime. Amazon accredits Chime with being easier to use than other similar platforms. But in an already saturated UC market, how will Chime stack up against established players? Rob Bellmar, EVP of Business Operations at West’s Unified Communications discusses the basics of this launch and what it means for the industry.    

1. What are Chime’s prospects in the UC market?  What’s missing in today’s UC marketplace are clear differences across service providers. Industry players often duplicate and build on pre-existing ideas instead of championing original innovation in areas like commercial, product or delivery. From disruptive startups to established brands, the industry is packed with plenty of contenders seeking customers. Therefore, the greatest attribute Chime brings to the market is its association with Amazon, a company notorious for its disruptive market capabilities that are worth watching. 

2. What do they need to do to compete with Cisco WebEx and Microsoft Skype for Business?  Industry giants like Cisco and Microsoft have established go-to-market strategies, which makes them better positioned to target customers. While Amazon employs GTM strategies in other industries, in the UC arena it currently feels like a solution targeted at small businesses. To compete with the likes of Skype for Business and WebEx, it will need to strengthen its go-to-market approach. If relying on a channel sales team to push their product, Amazon will have to worry about buyers and deal size to justify direct selling involvement. To target enterprise customers, Amazon will need a plan to make Chime a real telephony replacement service.  

3. What role might channel partners play (AWS has signed up Level 3 and Vonage thus far) in bringing Chime to market?  As Amazon looks to compete in today’s very crowded UC market, leveraging the channel will be essential for Amazon to break through the noise. Because channel partners have historically focused on telecom rather than selling computer/data centre services, Amazon will have to make a significant effort with the channel and resellers to be successful in the space.  When it comes to breaking through existing noise in the UCaaS market, Amazon needs to keep in mind that it will need more than a collaboration platform and calling capabilities. Replacing an enterprise voice platform is tricky because providers have to consider a variety of core private branch (PBX) type features and functionalities, integrations, PSTN -- all while complying with existing US and global regulations. Not only do UC providers need to support clients’ on-premises environments, they also need to strengthen user experience.  

4. Chime seems like it’s targeting the low-end of the UC market and is not yet a serious challenger to large UCaaS providers. What would AWS need to do to get there?  To become a serious contender, Amazon will need to develop a sustainable long-term strategy and market itself as a true telephony replacement offering for enterprises. However, it’s important to keep in mind that full telecom replacement is much more complex than standalone apps – an ambitious task that we’ve seen Microsoft struggle with. 

5. What does the introduction of Amazon Chime tell us about the unified communications industry’s trends, specifically for new entries to the market amid a recent history of consolidations?  UC consolidations are merging overlapping products and services, which ultimately benefits UC customers. With consolidation becoming the new trend in the UC industry, players like Amazon must bring distinct differences in products and true innovation instead of more clones to stand out and compete. 

6. What are the benefits of new players in the UC market to businesses that use the services?  Overall, more competition leads to lower prices, increased innovation and better overall products. It follows the simple economic understanding of supply and demand, which is clearly at play here. With more players entering the UC market, there’s no room for complacency by larger more established firms. In an industry that has been known for getting comfortable in their product lines, a new player in the market can mix things up in a great way. With new products like Amazon Chime, other UC companies will be forced to innovate, improve their products and customer experience, which will benefit everyone. 

7. With AI as one of the top UC industry trends, will Amazon’s already refined “Alexa” technology affect its outlook in this market?  Amazon’s Alexa technology has proven to be immensely popular among consumers, with sales of its smart home solution, Amazon Echo, surpassing 5 million in two years. However, Amazon Chime is still in its infancy and it’s unclear if the incorporation of Alexa will lead to a significant impact on its long-term outlook. Other major UC players also boast refined AI technology that could be incorporated into their UC solutions including Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant. 

8. What are your predictions for the future of team-based collaboration in the workplace? As last year’s partnership between Cisco and Microsoft illustrates, interoperability is a major focus in the collaboration industry. Greater interoperability between solution providers will lead to a simpler, more streamlined end-user experience. More interoperable and integrated UC solutions will also encourage greater adoption among users. Team chat apps like HipChat, Microsoft Teams and Slack have also taken the workplace by storm, enabling consistent internal and external communication. But it remains to be seen whether these platforms truly replace traditional UC tools in 2017 or if they’ll remain boutique solutions. The next few years will bring more clarity on how these tools will be capable of displacing traditional technologies. 

Rob Bellmar, EVP of Business Operations, West’s Unified Communications
Image Credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock