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6 Disruptive Forces to Talk About in Enterprise Communications

Gone are days of one-at-a-time transitions such as analog to digital or digital to IP. The world of enterprise communications is experiencing simultaneous tech disruptions across multiple solution stacks. Someday we might look back and laugh at this, but today it's causing a lot of stress.

Remember when there were just a few industry leaders playing Innovation Leap-Frog? I still recall the excitement of the automated attendant. Those were fun times

Today, we're experiencing (at least) six simultaneous transformational revolutions. The stakes are high because while there's general agreement that communications and collaboration are critical, it isn't clear which of these revolutions offers the best path for the future.

Let's take a look at six forces wreaking havoc on our strategies, budgets, and careers.

  1. UC to UCaaS: The transition to cloud services continues to build momentum across IT. Leading UCaaS providers are consistently reporting double-digit growth, while sales of premises-based systems decline. The result: Several cloud-only providers are booming, while premises-based vendors consolidate and reposition. However, do not mistake this for the end of the premises-based model. Large enterprises are still cautious about cloud services. Plus, compelling use cases for premises-based solutions, such as for cruise ships, will exist for the foreseeable future. That said, the fit, benefits, and economics of cloud-delivered services will continue to improve. IT decision-makers need to evaluate when to make the shift and how the move might impact features, compliance, security, and budgets.
  2. Voice Optional: UC evolved from voice. It extends voice with optional modalities such as instant messaging, unified messaging, click-to-dial, mobile clients, and video. Microsoft was the first major UC vendor to position telephony as an option, rather than the main event. Today, numerous solutions offer enterprise communications without voice or with only limited support for voice. Many organizations, including Amazon and Google, seem to do just fine without publicly listed numbers. The trend extends beyond businesses, as consumers increasingly choose non-voice options for communications when available. We are living in the first modern period in which voice can be an optional component of enterprise communications.
  3. Workstream Messaging vs. UC: Without a doubt, messaging is on the upswing -- at the cost of other forms of communications. Although messaging apps are very popular with consumers, their role within the broader enterprise communications strategy is still evolving. Team aspects of messaging apps are stronger than traditional UC instant messaging, and messaging apps also work across organizational boundaries. IT leaders must evaluate if, how, and where messaging applications fit, determine how to fund them and measure their effectiveness, and ensure the conversations and other content are secure.

    Another consideration is scope. A business can implement messaging solutions independent of, in conjunction with, or as a replacement for existing UC solutions for UC, conferencing, and video. Messaging apps in the enterprise appear to be inevitable, so IT decision-makers must address the trend sooner rather than later in order to minimize adoption of consumer apps.

  4. Mobile-Centric: While enterprise telephony has gone through several recent iterations, so has its trusty mobile sidekick. Now businesses are asking if they really need two solutions. Mobile carriers had previously ignored basic business features, but have started to embrace them. They're taking two broad approaches: One is to add PBX features to the wireless phone, and the other is to combine wired and wireless services with a single number service. Enterprise IT teams need to evaluate if these coverage and feature-sets are suitable, consider mobile device management solutions, and determine how they will address specialized applications such as contact centers.
  5. Local to Global: Enterprise communications has always had a local component for equipment and services. Organizations have leveraged these local elements in many ways, including for toll-bypass and disaster-recovery readiness. Obtaining global services for enterprise communications -- not just a single provider, but a consistent set of features and capabilities for all offices around the globe -- is now possible. Enterprise IT groups now have the option of centralizing real-time communications just as they have centralized CRM, email, and other applications. A centralized model can offer significant savings and consistency, but organizational support for centralization can fade quickly if users perceive the upgrade as a downgrade.
  6. Channel: Radical change is occurring in how enterprise technology gets bought and used. These changes are as disruptive as the technology shifts described above. As communications technologies shift from standalone products to inter-related services, the attributes of successful channel partners have also changed. Researching, evaluating, and even procuring solutions has never been easier -- as long as you know where to look and what to ask, and those are harder than ever. Fortunately, many channel partners have retooled for such services. Many IT decision-makers must relearn how to work with the channel, as expectations are often narrowly focused on price and fulfillment. The right partners can add a lot of value before the sale, as well as make significant contributions in terms of implementation, integration, and adoption.

All told, tremendous change is occurring in enterprise communications. The solutions themselves are arguably getting simpler and more intuitive to use than ever before, so the need for training is diminishing. Conversely, the number of choices, including totally new ways to communicate, continues to grow, so the need for education is increasing.

The way we communicate and collaborate is undergoing so much change that a solution's future is as important as its current capabilities. Vendor evaluations must include a vendor's momentum, cadence, and ability to provide upgrades.

The biggest mistake IT decision-makers can make right now is to simply replace existing solutions. With so many components in play, each tech purchase should be introducing, or at least enabling, significant new capability.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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