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GoogleVoice Grows Up and Goes To Work

I've been a GoogleVoice user since the earliest days of GrandCentral. Back then not only was my agency handling blogger relations and social media for the disruptive startup, I was also an early investor and shareholder, just as I am today in Dialpad, so there's a lot of love for the service that is now at age 12 and also some conflict, so with the transparency out of the way, here's what I think.

For a long time there has been scuttlebut about a new service called Wolverine that Google was experimenting with that would bring an enterprise grade telephony based service to market. If GoogleVoice for GSuite is that, it's really more of a mashup of Google's technology than a new service.  In essence Google has just given us back the deskphone, something we all have been trying to get away from, and like so many announcements that come out from them, it's not so much what they say, it's what they didn't say. So read through as there's more to this story than the echo chamber is reporting elsewhere.

Those time challenged, here's the net net--At the end of the day Google Voice for GSuite is an entry level product that's designed to say "we can give you phone service too now with the G Suite. Consider it a Prius, while the established players are more akin to BMW's, Lexus and Tesla.

First, here's what I can discern by reading the news accounts by highlighting key points from what's bouncing around the SV Echo chamber and on the web so far:

First from TechCrunch:

AI-powered parts of it like voicemail transcription, that employees may be already using and potentially skirting the guidelines of a company. Administrators can provision and port phone numbers, get detailed reports and set up call routing functionality. They can also deploy phone numbers to departments or employees, giving them a sort of universal number that isn’t tied to a device — and making it easier to get in touch with someone where necessary.

From Android Police:

Spam filtering is also going to be present in the enterprise version. This enterprise version will also feature tight integration with other enterprise G Suite services, like Hangouts Meet and Google Calendar, with administrator-facing tools for easier deployment, phone number porting/provisioning, company directory synchronization, reports, and call routing. There's even an app—like the consumer version—for Android, iOS, and the web. Businesses will soon enjoy the same conveniences and benefits of separating phone numbers from devices.

From ZDNet:

The enterprise-ready version, now available via an Early Adopter program, takes telephony beyond simple audio. Google is bringing in context and intelligence to offer features like voicemail transcriptions and call filtering. Prior to this, Google relied on third parties to provide telephony to its G Suite customers.

From CRN:

Google Voice has been a beloved consumer product for some time, but Google is ready to reveal a new beta version of its Google Voice for the enterprise through its G Suite Early Adopter program.

What this tells me is:

  1. It's beta. Google wants their Early Adopter Program members to bang on the service and help make it better. Since you pay for GSuite, you're paying to beta test. This is crowdsourcing the final product, as Google will secure lots of data from the early adopters, and then spin out the final feature set and additions. 

  2. Google wants to compete with their third party partners. Companies like Dialpad and RingCentral have long worked with Big G on integrations, recently being part of the news cycle around a plug-in for Google Mail.  A lot of learning comes to Google from this, and then in turn they've cherry picked the features and functions to initially include in the proposed Enterprise version of Google Voice. Who said copycat products aren't en vogue.......

  3. AI-no surprise here as Google made a big deal about AI at their I/O event this past spring. 8x8, RingCentral and Dialpad have all made announcements, Dialpad has deployed Voice AI based upon TalkIQ's platform which they acquired for $50 million and then raised another $50 million to propel it. Clearly the battle for AI in voice is just ramping up and will remind us all of the "cola wars" or "burger wars" with each company touting why there's will be better. Here the contact and call center is the first battle ground for it, but companies like CEN.ai (I'm an advisor) started by Truphone founder and touch screen inventor, James Tagg and VoIP patent pioneer Ed Guy will also play a role in all this. My take is there's a long march ahead in the Voice AI space and we're going to see a steady steam of one upping each other happening for a few years to come..

  4. There's Mashups ....(where have you gone Thomas Howe and Jay Phillips)...Basically GoogleVoice users will see a beefed up return of Hangouts via Meet which means one-click conferencing for voice and video, while also doing the same for scheduling via the Calendar functionality of the GSuite. This latter functionality is already available from conference providers like Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx and Dialpad's UberConference so it's really not a new feature, just one that Google is finally changing from being an active part of the calendaring choices with Hangouts to Hangout Meets. The one- click call in feature to join a conference call, or be told a caller has dialed in, has been a feature of Dialpad for quite a while. So Google simply gave the enterprise what they already had, just under a different wrapper.....

  5. All the Administrator features are well, expected. Services like provisioning and porting, are table stakes to be in the enterprise Unified Communications space. The same for directory sync, etc. Here Google made the IT guy happy....they can have all this work to do, but really, Google will do it for them. Talk about getting put on the endangered worker list, the telco guy in IT just moved to the head of the line.

Now let's be the elephant in the room. Here's what Google didn't say and why this is for now, pretty much a "me too, me also" service offering. 

  1. NO INTEGRATION WITH GOOGLE'S PROJECT FI...talk about a bonehead exclusion. Enterprise executives who travel internationally need to be on one device all the time. Right now you can't link a GoogleVoice number to a Project Fi phone. It's a big hassle on a few levels with the biggest having you still stuck on using two numbers vs. one number (for life) with Google Voice. Fi is hands down the best global roaming solution but suffers from a slow uptake in users. Put that mobile service together with GSuite GoogleVoice and you have a really interesting value proposition that's native on Pixel devices. Why was this left out? Internal conflicts, deals with partners, who knows...but it will have to happen.

  2. NO INTEGRATION WITH GOOGLE HOME..here's another bonehead exclusion. Right now you can't tie a Google Home device to a GSuite account's calendar, contact directory so I'm guessing GoogleVoice will be there too, even though I can use my non GSuite GMail account and work with my Home devices to make calls. As cheap as these devices are priced, they could be the hands free calling service on every desk. This is a big opportunity, and one that needs to happen fast. HOME is selling and the fit is too natural.

  3. NO INTEGRATION WITH GOOGLE ASSISTANT...since the Assistant is so tied to HOME as the Alexa rival there was no mention of any linkage between the two. With a voice assistant you could update a contact, schedule a call, make a call, answer a call, send a call to voice mail, but also more. When a call from your spouse is announced, you could reply "honey, I love you but I'm with my assistant now...." (Let's just hope it stops recording at the right time of course) or "Hi Craig. Sure I'd love to go to the Warriors game tonight-text me the details while you continue with whatever you were doing". ... The lack of this integration, as well as Home shows how fractured Google is internally. Cloud vs. Consumer products...you get the drift. Sell Home into the Enterprise, beat Amazon at their own game.....too easy. Why wasn't it part of this now?

  4. GOOGLE DIDN'T ANNOUNCE PRICING.... They also didn't say that like GoogleVoice of today, which is free other than for international calls and texting, what the pricing will be. GoogleVoice Enterprise could be very disruptive if it was "free" domestically as telephony service bundled in with $10 per seat service for GSuite would be Skype Version 2 in so many ways. I could see calls within the enterprise and to other GoogleVoice users (Enterprise and Consumer) being free but terminating calls to non GV users would need to be part of a per second or minute bundle of sorts. Likely as part of the EAP program Google will try to ascertain pricing. Competing Telcos, it's time to make sure your contracts are all under NDA and pricing is a no no to talk about, even if it's "suggest what you would pay for another service."

  5. GOOGLE DIDN'T REVEAL ANY SALES STRATEGY...beyond the EAP program, there was no real discussion in the media on how Google will sell this. Too many Silicon Valley companies focus on the "selling in" phase of their new offerings, not the more important "selling through" activities. Unfortunately, telephony and collaboration are not easy self service sales to the Enterprise. Here Google reminds me the Apple in the past. A service the Enterprise wants, but no real route to get there. Solution-buy an enterprise channel company and just do it. If I was one in that space I'd be offering myself for sale immediately.

  6. THE RETURN OF THE DESKPHONE....Why is this approach so much like the deskphone? In the past the idea of going VoIP meant changing the wire to your phone and who the bill came from. But at the end of the day, your phone service still was about your deskphone. The solution set that Google's putting together really feels like that and more like a CallCenter, Bullpen, Gopher suite solution than one built for the modern "anywhere worker." 

    I say this as the core functions they've started with are largely positioned for the deskbound, not the mobile worker, even if the mobile apps will be able to be such a major part of the story. This also feels like a very slick way to sell more Chromebooks and Pixels as the service works natively with the Chrome browser and you can usually make GoogleVoice your dialer, call placer on Androids to present that number, with everything but a Fi phone.

  7. WHERE ARE THE INTEGRATIONS THAT MATTER...where are the integrations natively with SalesForce, Zendesk, Service Now, HubSpot. that Contact Centers rely on. These companies have to wonder what Google will do next. Time to hit the pause button and think through just what you reveal and what Google can see. Hello GDPR in California...

With all this in mind, here are some "sidenotes" to ponder....

Sidenote 1: In the end Google just made Dialpad a very attractive acquisition target for Microsoft and their Teams offering, as it already does everything this does (and more) with Office365, has the mobile and desktop footprint, works in the Call Center, has collaboration and works on all devices and platforms.

Sidenote 2: Totally lacking in the media coverage-how this impacts Verizon, AT&T and Century Link and the legacy SMB channel partners who are already selling G Suite. Watch Microsoft keep pushing Office365 with them.

Sidenote 3: Mitel/8x8/RingCentral and the rest of the Enterprise Market players-Google pretty much as said, we want your customers to use GoogleVoice and dump you. That means all the money spent on integrations really created a path to take your customers away. Talk about a trojan horse strategy by Google, this really conflicts with all the "do no harm" claims of the past. Google doesn't want to harm you. They want to kill you.

Sidenote 4: There's no real talk about core enterprise needs like call transfer, call queuing, receptionist functionality,  call parking, integration with deskphones, busy lamp indicators and other "enterprise" nice to haves.

Sidenote 5: Enterprise telephony selling is close quarter combat. You have to have feet on the street. Google sells GSuite with a low touch, online effort and through resellers, many of whom have proven to be good at selling email, calendaring , contact directory,  apps that get you away from Office, but those same sellers are not always the best at selling telephony and collaboration. Selling Voice is a slog. Longer sales cycles and many more hoops to jump through.

This all shows me that what Google is doing is really just "adding on" to GoogleVoice, dressing it up for the Enterprise with AI, making the integration into the collaboration sector easy and really giving the IT guy some management tools they can say will keep them busy. 

Not bad for an entry level product but seriously, not ready for the prime time enterprise based on what's been said, or reported.


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