Twilio has been a big name in communications for over a decade. Even if you're unfamiliar with the San Francisco-based company, you've probably used their technology, which has been implemented by Airbnb, Lyft, Netflix, and many other companies. When we spoke with Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson last year, he told us that his team's mission was to fuel the future of communications with their telecom software services. During the company's initial public offering (IPO) in 2016, it was valued at $2 billion.
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The best way to think of the company's offerings would be as building blocks that other companies can use to build out their solutions. Rather than spending the time and resources on building out systems for video, voice, or text messaging capabilities, developers can use its different application programming interfaces (APIs). They can leverage the APIs and use Twilio's tech to bring communication features into their products and services.
Last week at the Enterprise Connect communication technology conference in Orlando, the company announced a new initiative, namely Twilio Flex. Instead of a mere building block, Twilio Flex is the company's play at a full-featured, cloud-based, standalone contact center platform. The company said that Flex will be extremely customizable, letting customers configure everything from the look of the user interface (UI) to integration with customer relationship management (CRM) tools. The launch of Twilio Flex marks an interesting change of pace for the company in the sense that Twilio promises Flex will be ready to use without any coding knowledge from its customers. That means that in some cases, Twilio's new product will compete directly with some of its customers.
A Focus on Flexibility
According to Al Cook, Director of Product Management and Engineering at Twilio, the inspiration for Twilio Flex came out of a desire to build a more configurable platform for the market. "We saw a need in the space for a fast and powerful platform that customers could get up and running easily," said Cook. "We've built Flex with a point of view based on everything we've learned over the years."
Flex is both a standalone platform and a vast sandbox for developers. "We looked at the contact center in a different way: we think of it as an application platform or a programmable application," said Cook. "With that said, if you want to, you can deploy it out of the box. With one click, you can deploy the solution without any code whatsoever—and it supports voice, video, screen sharing, and pretty much anything else you'd want."
However, what makes Flex unique is its, well, flexibility. Customers who want full control over how the app looks, feels, and works can completely configure Flex to suit their needs. Not only can you change superficial things about the platform, such as colors or branding, but you can change virtually anything else, too. "The UI is built out of what we call micro-components," said Cook. "For developers, we've built it on React and Redux, so you can choose to change it at anything you want." The implications of being able to use React architecture means that, in basic terms, every piece of an application's interface is considered its own component and can be changed without affecting the rest of the application.
For example, if you want to change what happens when you click a specific button, you are free to do so. You could also change the name of the button, where the button is, or you could remove the button entirely. If there's an aspect of the UI you'd like to change, there's a very good chance it's possible with Flex's React architecture. Your developers could also build components. Say you wanted a feature for the contact center that would display your company's customer service Twitter feed. Once one of these components is built, it can be added to your unique UI
This means that you can add or remove features as you please and very little about Twilio Flex is beyond changing—as long as you have capable developers, of course. The nature of the Twilio Flex platform gives it vast possibilities if put in the right hands. Cook mentioned that developers can even implement their own machine learning (ML) models if they want to.
Twilio Flex is currently in Preview mode and is expected to be widely released toward the end of 2018. Concrete pricing information is not available at this time but it is expected to be priced per user per month.
Perhaps most interesting about this announcement is that, with the launch of Flex, Twilio has essentially thrown down the gauntlet against a lot of the companies it considers customers. For instance, Talkdesk is a contact center developer that uses Twilio's tech as its primary communication provider. Another company, NewVoiceMedia, also uses Twilio for public switched telephone network (PSTN) connectivity. It remains to be seen how the relationships between Twilio and companies like these who use its infrastructure will continue in light of the Flex announcement. When asked about it, Cook did not shy away from the possibility of Flex being a threat to some of Twilio's customers. With that in mind, he also shared his hopes that his current customers would actually be able to benefit from the functionality of the platform.
Some of Twilio's customers-turned-competitors have shared their opinions on the matter. Ryan Nichols, General Manager of Zendesk Talk, published a blog post last week in which he discussed the implications of Flex. Rather than seeing it as an enemy, folks like Nichols see the customizability of Flex as a potential boon.
"Imagine being able to use pieces of Twilio Flex to extend Zendesk Talk," wrote Nichols. "You could get up and running with fully integrated, omnichannel phone support in minutes, completely out of the box. You could then roll up your sleeves to extend that customer experience and make it unique. This is possible today by combining building blocks from Twilio and Zendesk, and we're working to make it even easier."