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Keeping Up With the Times … and the Tech


An arrow saying old way and another saying new way
Image: Tierney -
There was a time in technology — not that long ago really — when you could know everything you needed to know in your field or line of work. Whether it was phone systems, PCs, routers, servers, or pretty much any other piece of hardware, you developed deep expertise in the technology over time. Then everything turned into software, and you no longer had the expertise or tools to keep doing that.
Software is far more interoperable than hardware, and before long, everything could be connected to everything else. This evolution was slow at first, but as other enabling technologies came along — especially cloud — interconnectedness has only gone faster and farther.
When I started as an analyst 20 years ago, my world was VoIP, mainly media gateways. In about two years, I gained a solid understanding of that space, and just as it seemed like this knowledge base would suffice for a while, along came other technologies that eventually gave rise to UC.
Just as UC was looking to settle into a stable space, along comes Slack and team messaging. Now, UC becomes one piece of a larger collaboration space, and not long after, contact center was getting folded in. The pandemic adds yet another layer, and all these technologies must do some retrofitting to support remote working. Where this goes next is anybody’s guess.
Any long-time analyst will be nodding along with me here, as this is the nature of our work. Outside of the big firms that have specialists for every conceivable technology, most of us don’t have the luxury of standing pat with what we know. My domain expertise in VoIP media gateways has zero value now, and if that had defined my comfort zone, I would have been out of the game about 18 years ago.
Without any conferences to travel to, I thought things would slow down
Many of us were probably thinking that conferences would slow down, as the impact of COVID-19 was so sudden but also so uncertain. In some ways, this was a welcome break from the constant travel; it would be easier to focus on work now, and we could do things at a more relaxed — more human — pace. Of course, that hasn’t happened, and ironically, it’s because of the very industry we work in.
The pandemic has been a perfect storm of opportunity for the communications and collaboration space, as these technologies make remote working possible. In that context, I need to dial back my rant here about the hamster wheel cycle of technology change — without this constant innovation, the tools wouldn’t be able to handle the contactless economy that we’ve adopted.
This brings me to unintended consequences. Before COVID-19, nobody thought virtual events were a good idea, and they could never replace the in-person events that are the lifeblood of our industry. The latter remains true, but things sure have changed in a few short months. For all kinds of reasons, virtual events can be quickly staged and scaled to support global audiences. We really don’t have much choice — otherwise the industry would go dark — and virtual events are now about as routine as webinars or conference calls.
History repeats itself, and the rapid normalization of virtual events is a familiar script. VoIP is actually a very typical example, and most readers should recall that back in 1995, it was considered a hobby technology that would never be good enough for anything other than cheap long-distance calling. Today, the incumbents can’t move away fast enough from PSTN, and VoIP is pretty much the de facto standard for enterprise telephony. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
"You may ask yourself, where does that highway go to?"
Here we are in 2020, and the Talking Heads recorded Once in a Lifetime 40 years ago. That sure is a long time ago, and while I think the state of popular music has largely declined since then, technology has only gotten better. The challenge we all face is saturation, where technology is evolving faster than our human ability to keep pace.
That’s certainly been my view, especially during the pandemic. In planning for this post, I discovered that since my last No Jitter post, I was involved in 20 different industry activities, including webinars, speaking gigs, published work for clients, briefings, and virtual events. Domain-wise, this covers collaboration, contact center/CX, AI, 5G, broadband infrastructure, IoT, CPaaS, and no doubt others I just can’t recall at the moment.
There’s that number 20 again — perhaps a pattern emerging here? Seems random to me, but I’ll bet if you run a deep learning algorithm, something might turn up. Maybe along the lines of me using a DNA testing kit and discovering some common genes with David Byrne. That would be cool, but I’m not holding my breath. Deep learning is also cool, but that’s another concentric circle I haven’t yet added to my knowledge base. Inevitably, I’ll have to do that, so maybe check back with me in say, five months — y’know, 20 weeks.
"Here comes the twister"
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to be this engaged — never been busier — and I hear the same from most people in this space. Outside of our bubble, though, things aren’t so great, and it’s much more than the economic impact of COVID-19. I don’t think my experience is that unique; I’m sure it’s similar for other analysts and consultants, not to mention technology buyers, vendors, service providers, and of course, end users.
Everyone and every vendor is on some kind of journey to optimize performance, reduce costs, automate workflows, improve outcomes, and to connect or integrate whatever you have to other things. As an analyst, I can only stay on top of so many things, and these days you can fall hopelessly behind on a technology after a few short months. My world was much simpler when the focus was tracking port shipments for media gateways, and that kept me plenty busy. I know – 20/20 hindsight – oh, that number again!
The rest of my 2020 doesn’t look any different than the last six weeks and those 20 different activities. Strangely, the pandemic has made our work harder, with more virtual events to track, and more concentric rings to build out our domain expertise. I’ve certainly absorbed a lot of information over those 20 activities, but it’s wider than deep, so it’s hard to tell how much I’m actually learning. Are you feeling that way too? So, what’s with the twister? We all have limits, and when you see the next twister coming — and there will be more with the next waves of technology — you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

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This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.