A funny thing happened on Alcatel-Lucent’s way to breaking ground on its Rapport Communications-as-a-Service platform.
To the surprise of many, even within the organization, it completed its under-the-radar negotiations with Nokia, in a deal which may bring the caretaker of Bell Labs under the wing of a newly empowered management team with a score to settle with the world.
Rapport is now available today, and for the first time is being offered directly to enterprises as a kind of application in itself — not an end-to-end, single-vendor, locked-down solution. It’s not just the telephone as software, but the entire network.
Normally you wouldn’t see a story about a communications company revamping its IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) service portfolio, in a publication ostensibly about business applications. But the thing about disruption, when you truly do ask for it, is that it’s so disruptive.
Alcatel-Lucent makes Rapport a story for us, and for you, because it is now offering the next edition of the service it had been offering exclusively to mobile network operators, to big enterprises — literally, to many of you directly. Its value proposition is this: If communications is more effective now as a cloud service than it is outside the cloud, then why do GE, GM, 3M, P&G, and the like need a middleman? Why not just let customers provision themselves and subscribe directly?
Furthermore, why not enable the service to be contacted through API calls, as opposed to just IP addresses?
This way, communications can be welded into applications, so that customers using your branded services can communicate with the brand directly.
Here’s the problem, though: Applications vendors probably won’t be the ones who will do the heavy welding. As recent experience with the WebRTC browser-based communications standard attests, just because the lines are open to Web apps does not mean Web apps makers will rush to call.
“The productivity applications vendors aren’t interested in investing in communications,” said Mike Lambert, A-L’s senior director for IP communications solutions, in an interview with CMSWire. “They are very interested in consuming services provided from a platform inside of an application. And the user community is interested in that as well.
“We’re positioned to provide that in a very unique way,” Lambert continued. By that, he means that enterprise customers will be able to let their developers customize their communications with their own branding and UX.
Lambert named a few prospective names during our conversation, which, out of respect, we won’t repeat here, although you’ve certainly heard of them. A-L has prepared Rapport in such a way, he explained, that any of these major names could resell the service in a “white label” format.
This way, major enterprises building out their private cloud infrastructures could provision their own IP communications networks “out-of-the-box.” “It allows large enterprises to tailor the user experience to the needs of their particular organizations,” he said, “and drive the cost reductions or usability behaviors that enterprises feel are more important.”
One of A-L’s clear competitive targets is Microsoft Lync (now Skype for Business). Its user experience is, as Lambert described it, what it is. A-L will market Rapport as whatever the customer’s developers make it into.
And one suggestion for what they can make it into, he offered, is as the customer contact system that Salesforce left out.
“One of the novel ways that communications has been finding its way into organizations now,” said Lambert, is through a “freemium” Web app. A few people within a department will seed interest in the app, and soon a nucleus of workers are “collaborating,” but with a public app hosted by a non-contracted provider.
At some point, he continued, the department head requests for this service to be brought in-house, in order to subject the collaboration service to more stringent controls and compliance guidelines. That’s where the burden shifts from some Silicon Valley startup with a comic-book sound effect for a name, to the IT department. And the IT department is stymied.
“When that application comes from the outside in, how do you attach communications services to it?” asked Alcatel-Lucent’s senior director. “That’s the nature of the platform we’re proposing: When you bring that application in, you take a couple of developers from your application group, or you hire a system integrator.”
In a matter of days, Lambert believes, developers can demonstrate real world uses cases to executive boards. In a few months, services could be fully production ready. Integrating Rapport with a platform such as Salesforce, he noted specifically, would make communications a budget item for sales and/or marketing, helping operations and finance to distribute costs more effectively.
Lambert tells the story of a major corporate CIO who, in a private conversation with him last year, declared his company won’t pay bundled, annual prices for any service that’s budgeted to the IT department. With other IT costs becoming monthly, corporations are looking for their costing structures to be aligned.
And they want to choose the services they want. Like cable TV customers, they’re tired of paying extra for channels they don’t need and don’t want.
Nokia’s executives appear to be right on board with this trend. In their assessment of Alcatel-Lucent during their acquisition announcement last week, they drew a clear roadmap for a cloud-based, software-defined communications service that, in every conceivable respect, fit the profile of Rapport.
So even as the A-L brand recedes into history, you can still expect Rapport to disrupt a few things a few things in the next year. Maybe it’s about time.