6th October 2020

Twilio SIGNAL reminded us what to be hopeful for


Julian Hucker

This year’s Twilio SIGNAL conference has been, like lots of things in 2020, a very different one – hosted entirely online, with drop-in sessions, customisable avatars for delegates, and even its own ‘developer mode’.

And despite the limitations imposed by the ongoing pandemic, the meet-up was bigger than ever. More than 40,000 people were able to attend: ten times the usual number.

The big highlight for me personally was the fireside chat between Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson and Barack Obama. But before we get onto that, let’s look at the event as a whole…

At the cutting edge

SIGNAL has been another example of businesses at the cutting edge of digital transformation showing their ability to adapt and innovate to overcome any challenge.

There were plenty of other examples of that highlighted during the show’s opening keynote.

We heard from Nike’s CEO John Donahoe about his company’s use of Twilio to enable in-store retail staff to assist e-commerce customers from home; and David Kerwar from Mount Sinai Health System talked about the revolutionary impact that chatbots and virtual video appointments have had on managing and reassuring patients.

I was particularly inspired by the work Twilio.org has been doing with United Way Worldwide in the US to connect staff and volunteers with citizens seeking help and support during the height of the pandemic.

At Zing, as a Twilio partner, we’ve been applying our own expertise in digital transformation to ensure customers and colleagues alike have been able to navigate lockdowns and other unexpected hurdles smoothly this year.

The key trends that have accelerated this year

In his keynote address, Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson homed in on three key trends that we’ve seen accelerate this year:

  • The shift from physical to digital
  • Growth in opportunities for the modern contact centre
  • The advent of the agile workforce

Tony Lama, Twilio VP for worldwide contact centre sales, said that the pandemic caught many businesses flat-footed. Of course, he’s right. COVID-19 caught much of the world flat-footed.

But businesses like ours, and the others that make up Twilio’s partner programme, are defined by their flexibility and ability to innovate.

The team at Zing has been able to adapt quickly to the socially-distanced world of work – and assist our customers in doing the same.

Our workforce is one that’s naturally agile, and our tech literacy has paid dividends in being able to adopt new ways of getting the job done.

Jeff and Tony’s focus on the modern contact centre was one that particularly caught my ear.

The benefits of flexible, scalable, cloud-based solutions is one we’ve long advocated for at Zing.

In recent months, it’s been encouraging to see so many of our peers and customers come round to these benefits.

This summer, we’ve been able to offer our expert support to organisations thinking about shifting their contact operations to the cloud for the first time – and on hand to assist those looking to accelerate their existing transformation plans.

The new Twilio Flex Ecosystem is a welcome addition

Tony mentioned that 75% of businesses are still using on-premise contact centre solutions.

Meanwhile, Twilio Flex has been the go-to for governments and health organisations running contact tracing operations around the world.

I suspect that this time next year – whether we meet at SIGNAL in person, or virtually once more – that that on-premise percentage will have dropped dramatically. And it’ll be a welcome change.

A contributing factor will no doubt be the new Flex Ecosystem announced during the keynote.

By allowing businesses to integrate their existing suites with a new, formal ecosystem – including Google, Salesforce, Zendesk, and Calabrio products – transformation becomes an even smoother, and less daunting, process for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Flex has always been about being, well, flexible. It’s a quality we pride ourselves on at Zing too. It allows us to build the future proof solutions our customers need, even when ‘future proof’ also needs to be ‘pandemic proof’.

And then there was THAT talk with Barack Obama…

I think Twilio understands that successful online events are made up of short and sweet sessions to keep everyone interested – and that’s how SIGNAL worked in the main. But they gave a full hour to Barack Obama and Jeff Lawson and, to be honest, they could have given them two.

As you would expect Obama gave an erudite view on the strange world we live in and spoke of the need for tolerance and getting closer to our local communities. It’s easy to get a malaise when thinking about the pandemic and the challenges communities have seen, in the US and across the world. But Obama always gives us hope.

And it was hope he also gave when talking about technology and the role it plays to tackle some of our biggest challenges.

Technology is a force multiplier and essential to achieving the goals you want to achieve.


What was interesting was also his experiences of introducing technology to solve problems at a US government level. And it’s strange how what he said would have chimed with every business in the world, because it was the same fundamental procurement and legacy system upgrade problem.

And, and one of the things I learned was that it’s often times just smarter, to go ahead and say, ‘Look, what is it that we’re going to be trying to do, given where technology is now where we anticipate it being 10 years from now 20 years from now’, rather than us trying to constantly do patchworks on, on systems that really archaic, let’s start from some from first principles, and think about what it is that we’re trying to accomplish, and then iterative way, build up from there, and have faith.

Barack Obama

And it was on that idea of trying something new, having faith, but also learning from your mistakes.

Signing off from SIGNAL 2020

It’ll be interesting to see how this year’s SIGNAL informs next year’s event. Jeff Lawson said he hoped that next year, it would be in person. But in the interests of ‘trying something new’, there’s been a lot to take away from SIGNAL 2020. Let’s see where the next year of working with Twilio takes us.

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