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A global study of 2,500 enterprise leaders commissioned by communications platform provider Twilio two months ago found that 97% had brought forward their digital transformation plans in the wake of this year’s pandemic, by a factor of six years on average. Some of the new capabilities announced at the opening of today’s annual Twilio Signal conference, held virtually this year, reflect those new priorities — greater integration of multiple data streams across customer touchpoints, supporting deskless frontline workers, adding a new developer toolkit for video. But transcending all of the technology detail is a sense that a new era has begun for Twilio’s core audience of developers and application builders. As Glenn Weinstein, Chief Customer Officer at Twilio, put it in a pre-briefing with diginomica earlier this week:

In the past, digital initiatives were something you put on a roadmap, you tried to align with your corporate IT strategy, you looked for broad-based alignment and approval. Somehow, in days or weeks, organizations of all sizes and sectors and geographies solved all those problems and figured out ways to reimagine [and] reimplement all of these engagement models.

We’re not going back to a world where builders are stifled in that way. I think we’ve unlocked the builder gene that’s present in all enterprises and has been sort of suppressed, and those people are now aware of the power that they have. Their organizations have seen that power, and they don’t want to go back to the old way either.

API-centric vs packaged

Much of this has been driven by the new imperative to engage digitally with customers at a time when physical engagement is either discouraged or prohibited. That’s created demand for a whole range of different digital solutions, many of them more packaged than the API-centric platforms and toolkits that Twilio offers. But Twilio’s offering caters to a new trend towards more adaptable platforms — what I think of as headless/serverless or tierless architectures — than the packaged solutions of old. Weinstein:

We believe that the future belongs to builders … the old watchword would be minimize your customization, it’s dangerous, it’s expensive. That may have held water a decade ago with CIOs. But that approach is dead and gone now. The only way to build truly differentiated customer experiences is by being willing to build. The application platform is the future of the enterprise, not the application.

Similarly, the way that customers engage with enterprises can no longer be contained in discrete applicatoin silos, he adds.

The conversation is at the centre of a customer interaction. And that conversation may start in one channel, may be continued in a different channel, may end in a third channel. The customer is looking for a unified experience with you through those shifting channels.

The notion that they log into your application, or that your agents log into their application, is just a very rigid and antiquated way of looking at it.

This trend may have started out with digital native businesses, but it’s now taking hold in more established businesses, he believes.

We have traditionally been very well adopted by ISVs and by digital economy firms, companies that are born and grew up in the digital era. But we believe a big part of our future lies in increased adoption by the enterprise.

Building in video

The huge surge in adoption of video is an example of this tide of change. There’s been a 200% increase in customer sign-ups for Twilio’s programmable video offering since the pandemic, and a 500% increase in video traffic since March, says Weinstein.

Twilio voice has always been a very popular set of APIs with tens of thousands of adopters. But now we’re seeing Twilio programmable video go down the same path.

The interest in video stems from that move away from discrete applications to a more integrated customer experience. An app like Zoom is great for ad hoc meetings, but for customer interactions, a company like Twilio customer Comcast wants to build that video experience into their own environment, says Weinstein.

You don’t want to tell that customer in the middle of an interaction, ‘Hey, let’s start a Zoom. Let’s jump out, do you happen to have Slack installed?’ You need to have that communication built into the Comcast B2C framework. So let’s make all those APIs. And let’s let companies like Comcast have the same richness of interaction that we already have in our internal collaboration.

To increase developer take-up of the Twilio platform, one of today’s announcements is the launch of Twilio Video WebRTC Go. This is a free toolkit that provides readymade APIs for developers to build video apps using the WebRTC open source project. This is a proven pattern for Twilio, winning the trust and confidence of developers by solving problems for them, says Weinstein.

Frontline, streams and IoT

Another announcement is the private beta of Twilio Frontline, a mobile application that runs on a field worker’s personal mobile device and brings them into customer conversations across WhatsApp, SMS/MMS, web chat and other channels to be added later. Extending customer interactions to these workers is another demand that’s risen as a result of the pandemic, says Weinstein.

Anybody that’s not sitting at a desk needs the ability to participate in a conversation. And that conversation needs to be contextual. It may have started in the contact centre. The context for that may live in a ticket, the context of the customer may live in some databases. But that deskless worker, that field service agent, needs immediate access, immediate knowledge of that context, and dive right into the conversation regardless which channel it’s in.

The introduction of Event Streams, also in private beta, serves the need to integrate the components of a customer experience by offering a single API that aggregates data from all Twilio-powered experiences. Customers have already been trying to harness all these various signals and analyze them for trends and patterns, says Weinstein, so it makes sense for Twilio to aggregate them all into a single API.

Another development is the launch of a formal partner ecosystem for the highly customizable Twilio Flex cloud contact center platform. This recognises around 30 partners, such as Google, Salesforce, Zendesk and Calabrio, who have worked with Flex and can now offer jointly supported integrations to the platform. The ecosystem is also intended to encourage system integrators to build out features across Flex and these third-party partners.

The final announcement is the Twilio Microvisor IoT Platform, which helps developers create, secure and manage connected devices. It builds on last year’s introduction of programmable SIMs that help keep IoT devices current without the need for hardware changes.

My take

It’s a shame to be missing out on the in-person spectacle that Twilio Signal typically delivers. But the vendor’s announcements continue to move the puck forward to where today’s fast-moving enterprises want to be. Building solutions is not to the taste of every enterprise, but for those that want to truly own the customer experience, the Twilio platform continues to expand its capabilities in useful directions