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Communications Assets: All Sweated Out or All Shook Up?

Me and my colleagues Beth Schultz and Michelle Burbick have been deep into Enterprise Connect Orlando 2017 program planning for several weeks now, and though we're a long way from having the full agenda put together, the outlines are starting to take shape. For example, as Beth recently wrote, we're adding a track on Next-Gen Messaging & Team Collaboration to address the interest in applications like Slack, Cisco Spark, Unify Circuit, Atlassian HipChat, RingCentral Glip, and all the rest. This track is also where we'll begin to help attendees understand how public over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps like Facebook Messenger may need to be incorporated into enterprise communications, particularly as regards the contact center. In addition to this added track, we've got lots of other new developments we'll be rolling out in the coming weeks.

In doing our program planning, we talk to our No Jitter contributors, past Enterprise Connect speakers, and other community members -- as many smart folks as we can get on the phone in the middle of July and August. One recurring theme we've heard from our contacts is that, as important as the technology is, the challenges their enterprise clients face go beyond the pure technology. More than any time in recent memory, the tougher issues facing enterprise communications decision-makers these days seem to revolve around how you select, deploy, and gain value from the technology.

It makes sense that this would be the case: We're clearly in a time of transition, but no one's quite sure what we're transitioning to. The industry knew that digital systems would follow analog, and that IP would follow TDM. The main thing we know about the current transition is that software is replacing hardware -- but in many ways, that's the conundrum: Almost by definition, software can be just about anything. With the cloud, "your" software doesn't even have to be run on your premises, by you. And with application programming interfaces (APIs), software can be attached to other software in limitless combinations, running from the cloud, on prem, or a combination.

And since the solutions are all over the map, so, it appears, are the enterprises. As UC consultant Dave Stein wrote in a recent No Jitter post, for example, there's the cohort that's acting upon a fairly limited but crystal-clear mandate to update today's (or yesterday's) functionality, without much attempt to set a course for the next generation. It seems that after several years of "sweating the assets," many of the assets are finally getting sweated out.

Among enterprises that are looking further ahead, video and Web conferencing continue to be an important component of the path forward, according to many of the folks we've been talking to. Certainly these are key elements making collaboration one of the bright spots in Cisco's overall corporate picture these days. And contact centers, fodder for an increasingly well-attended track at Enterprise Connect, continue to play the role of staging ground for next-gen technology -- whether it's the expedited move toward the cloud in this market, the keen interest in integrating analytics, or the quicker moves toward incorporating communications media beyond voice.

The fact is that, from a technology perspective, communications is no longer the sleepy backwater of IT, the hardware-bound, siloed, limited-function-but-rock-solid big iron of the past. The future is, if not here now, at least knocking on the door. As just two examples, Interactive Intelligence demoed virtual reality interfaces for the contact center at its Interactions conference earlier this summer, and Cisco announced an integration of its cloud-based collaboration solution with IBM's Watson for artificial intelligence (AI).

So now more than ever, enterprise communications decision-makers need to stay current on technology trends even as they make smart buy decisions and craft effective deployment and management strategies for the near term. To paraphrase Casey Kasem, we're going to have to keep our feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars.

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