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Microsoft ACS going GA with preview of Teams integration

Microsoft Azure Communication Services is now in preview, with deep integration with Microsoft Teams so developers can build real-time user experiences.

Microsoft is making its Azure Communication Services technology generally available and has introduced a preview of ACS integration with Microsoft Teams to enable developers to build engaging enterprise customer engagement systems that take advantage of Teams technology.

Launched last September, ACS is Microsoft's communications platform as a service (CPaaS) play, which provides a set of APIs, including voice, video call and chat, as well as connections into SMS and PSTN -- for developers across applications, websites and mobile platforms, said Scott Van Vliet, corporate vice president of intelligent communications at Microsoft. Microsoft ACS will be generally available later this month.

Microsoft has customers using Microsoft Teams inside their organizations that want to connect directly with their customers from the Teams environment. These organizations can now use ACS to enable real-time communications inside their own white-label applications and their own products, but also connect those calls and those customers to people inside of Teams, Van Vliet said in an interview.

"From retailers looking to enhance remote customer engagement, to banks and financial institutions needing to use mobile authentication and notification technologies, Azure Communication Services is making the development of intelligent, secure, and global communication experiences simple with just a few lines of code," he said in a blog post.

Going real time with Microsoft Teams

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Microsoft focused on Teams in hopes of enabling developers to build core capabilities and services for these real-time communication products and experiences.

Scott Van Vliet, corporate vice president of intelligent communications, MicrosoftScott Van Vliet

The goal was, and remains, to provide a developer platform that would allow individual developers, ISVs and partners to take the same real-time communication stack used in Microsoft Teams and embed those capabilities in their own products. From there, companies could build real-time communications, whether that be chat integration inside their websites for connecting with customers, or adding voice inside their applications for customer service, or any of those scenarios with video.

ACS is based on the Azure cloud platform, and developers can use other Azure services like Azure Cognitive Services to help with translation and other functionality, said Courtney Munroe, an analyst at IDC. The ACS SDK supports development using iOS, Android, web, .Net and JavaScript.

"We've created a set of advocates that work across iOS, Android, web and all kinds of popular platforms that Azure supports," Van Vliet said. "We also created a set of services to a lot of chat. So, this is real-time chat at scale, including persistence. We also launched some capabilities for PSTN calling, so that instead of your own applications, you can dial real phone numbers and build bots that react to interactive responses from customers on a PSTN line calling into your application or into your bot."

Microsoft also added capabilities for SMS for sending messages from an application and receiving and handling events from SMS messages received into Azure. The company also added some capabilities for low-level networking, as well as notifications and some ancillary services that developers would need to implement those kinds of capabilities into their products.

It was only a matter of time before a major cloud platform provider joined the party.
Courtney MunroeAnalyst, IDC

Communication breakdown

When Microsoft made its initial foray into the CPaaS market last year, four companies dominated the space: Twilio, Sinch, Infobip and Vonage -- holding more than 70% of the market, Munroe said.

"It was only a matter of time before a major cloud platform provider joined the party," he said. IDC projects that the CPaaS segment, currently valued at $4.2 billion, is one of the fastest-growing communications sectors. The research firm is forecasting a 33% growth rate over the next five years for this sector.

Microsoft was the first hyperscaler to enter the CPaaS market but will not be the last. Van Vliet acknowledged Twilio as a leader, and he said that Amazon "has made some investments" as well. But the combination of bringing the Azure cloud together with the real-time communications platform Microsoft built for Microsoft Teams, and making it easy to use with ACS, will make it a formidable competitor in the space.

IDC's Munroe said he agrees but added that Microsoft has a way to go despite its cache of cloud tools, resources and support for developers.

Developers can utilize SMS-based automation workflows based on Azure Event Grid and Logic Apps, he said. In addition, developers can tap into Azure developer tools and services like Visual Studio, Azure App Service, serverless functions and DevOps with GitHub.

"It will spark a new round of competition, as companies react and innovate to meet the threat," Munroe said in an IDC report. "It may even drive a new round of M&A as its peers take note."

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