In the pathways of his career, 8x8 UK's Managing Director Kevin Scott-Cowell occupies a space somewhere between fate and self-determination. You decide. But his disposition to lead from the front in new technology areas and drive emerging markets is without question.
Scott-Cowell believes that the course of his life has been influenced, in the main, by fate. But self-determination, decisiveness, taking well-considered risks and immersing himself in dynamic environments that catalyse change all feature prominently in his career story. So was Scott-Cowell's destiny really on the cards, or did he himself create the conditions in which he has always thrived?
Rewinding the clock, his first job was not in telecoms, but automating processes for a glass manufacturing company where he also gained a scholarship. He then moved to Plessey to build digital PBXs and, in doing so, take on the mantle of a seasoned industry forecaster. "I knew at that point that this technology was going to be revolutionary, so I wanted to be part of something that would last," he explained. "Since then I've always been in the technology industry, primarily all things related to communications."
Scott-Cowell also played a key role in running and managing one of the biggest manufacturing sites for GEC Marconi Radar and Defence Systems. Here, he assimilated the importance of leadership, teamwork and the value of sourcing and retaining people with talent. With this experience under his belt Scott-Cowell put gutsy adventurism before caution and took his biggest risk, leaving GEC Marconi (where he worked with 3,500 people across a 35 acre site) to join a relatively small start-up with just 90 people - an environment where he could stand up and be counted. "I wanted to see the impact of what I was doing and it's much easier to witness this in a smaller company, which is incredibly rewarding," he added. "You feel more invested in what you do and that's important."
Having magnified the positive effects of his work on the wider business Scott-Cowell set about scaling up the impact of his efforts and ultimately helped to change the dynamics of a whole market. The influence of 8x8 on the UK comms space was first felt in 2004 when the company began its commercial life as Voicenet. Attracted by its pioneering pedigree, Scott-Cowell joined Voicenet in 2010, moving from TS Technology Services where he was Managing Director for five years.
"Voicenet was one of two ‘first to market' service providers and launched a hosted service on its own platform," said Scott-Cowell. "We have operated as an independent pure play cloud service provider ever since. It's exciting to be at the forefront of cloud communications."
Voicenet invested in the BroadSoft platform in 2005 and claimed a market first with the launch of a feature rich hosted IP telephony solution for SMEs, dealers and white label service providers. Not surprisingly the company caught the eye of US-based cloud giant 8x8 which acquired Voicenet three years ago, a move that has significantly strengthened its presence and capabilities in the hosted and UCaaS space.
"Since our acquisition we have added the DXI purchase, bringing strong product management and development competencies," noted Scott-Cowell. "As cloud-based communications becomes the standard among UK businesses we're able to expand our reach further. We're now seeing many more mid-market businesses consider cloud as the norm. This is where we're focusing our growth."
8x8 is already in expansion mode and has opened new offices in Manchester, Romania and New York. The UK operation has exhibited strong 30 per cent growth during 2016 which is expected to continue. "We've got ambitious growth targets and we're asking our partners to join us on our exciting journey," added Scott-Cowell. "This won't be a short sprint. We've set our sights on long-term growth and we can't continue our rate of growth without the support of partners. Our success is entwined with the success of the channel so resellers will be key to our growth strategy in 2017 and beyond. This means continuing to invest in our partner programme, including training accreditations, marketing funds and PR support, as well as expanding our partner reach."
8x8 UK also has offices in Aylesbury and in October opened a new flagship office in the Relay Building in London, consolidating its two previous offices in the capital. "We may be a large international company but we try to breed a culture of openness and transparency," stated Scott-Cowell. "Apart from the meeting rooms our new London offices are completely open plan, as is the kitchen and breakout areas. We encourage everyone to come together for lunch or for informal meetings. If you're championing collaboration to your clients, you need to lead by example."
Collaboration is not about the simple replacement of phone systems, its purpose is to help companies move to a seamless communications system that enables employees to interact using whatever device they choose, pointed out Scott-Cowell. "What we call Enterprise Communications as a Service (ECaaS) brings all real-time communications and contact centre services together in one integrated platform that's user centric, 100 per cent cloud and mobile first, delivering continuous communications for distributed organisations and remote workers," he added.
8x8 has shown the way forward with innovation becoming a standard part of its strategic plan. "One of our biggest strengths is that we own and develop all of our technology," commented Scott-Cowell. "We are constantly innovating to build on our 125-plus patents, and as a result have been named a Gartner Magic Quadrant UCaaS Leader for five consecutive years. For partners and customers, this means they are always using innovative technology. It also means we can react quickly to developments in the market."
One trend that has moved to the forefront of Scott-Cowell's mind is the use of chatbots and AI as businesses attempt to scale their customer service channels. "While automation is important we don't see this as a threat to human agents," he added. "Companies will continue to invest in AI as a way to reduce easy-to-fix issues that would only drain the time of experienced agents. But there's no code at the moment that could allow a chatbot to deal with sensitive customer enquiries or emotional support.
"However, we're seeing wider adoption of call analytics platforms across businesses as a way to make better decisions based on Big Data. These platforms are now easier to deploy across any department. The data can be used to improve employee performance, sales campaigns, customer experience management and offers easily accessible insight into staffing requirements."
Demand for 8x8's technology will also be driven by a new National Productivity Investment Fund introduced by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement. The initiative includes a £1 billion investment in the UK's digital infrastructure and according to Scott-Cowell this ‘open door to the world of cloud comms' is going to drive an already accelerating market. "This will provide welcome relief for many remote workers and catalyse the adoption of cloud systems that offer access to sophisticated communications tools on the go," he said.
Resellers cannot escape the implications of the market trends discussed in this article. They must keep up with the times to be relevant and competitive. "Resellers need to constantly educate themselves to make sure that they understand the issues facing their customers and the products they can deliver," advised Scott-Cowell. "So we have created the 8x8 Academy to upskill our partners. For wholesale, dealers and affinity partners 8x8 has a laser focus on channel enablement."
We have seen that 8x8 UK is a modern business with deep roots. It has retained the flexibility of a start-up and aligns tightly with the dynamics of an evolving comms market, while unlocking revenue opportunities for channel partners via a combination of services and support founded on experience. The company, and its ethos, encapsulates much of Scott-Cowell's personal qualities, therefore its destiny was perhaps decided the day the company was founded. "I'm a great believer in fate, and everything in my career has led me to where I am now, a role that I'm fortunate to have," said Scott-Cowell.