Enterprise Communications: A Look Back, a Look Ahead: Page 2 of 2
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Technology: AI Becomes Real
Turning to the technology front, 2017 saw the rise of the bots, natural language processing (NLP), and virtual assistants -- all under the artificial intelligence (AI) umbrella. Chat bots have become mainstream, primarily because of their use in the contact center. The big issue in 2018 will be ensuring that companies implement bots in such a way that they help, rather than hinder, the customer experience. Just as we've seen with interactive voice response (IVR), if a useful technology is poorly deployed, it may result in customer dissatisfaction and resentment. Companies will need to work hard in 2018 to ensure they don't just use bots to triage or augment the agent, but to assist agents so that they can improve the customer experience.
While bot use began expanding this year to enterprise applications for improved meeting and collaboration experiences and collaboration, actual deployments have been limited. Among interesting products introduced in 2017 were the Cisco Spark Assistant with AI capabilities, and IBM Watson Workspace Essentials, a team collaboration solution with the built-in power of Watson. Salesforce continued to make progress with its AI product Einstein, introducing the myEinstein services platform. Amazon Alexa and Lex are making their way into the enterprise business market, as AWS launched Alexa for Business, and Lex has been integrated with Genesys PureCloud to help businesses build and maintain conversational IVR flows.
If 2017 has been the year of AI announcements, 2018 will be the year of early innovator deployments and additional business use cases. I expect to see more use cases for AI and bots that go beyond just setting up and scheduling meetings, to improving business workflows. For example, a meeting bot will be able to search for and present contextually relevant information for a particular meeting based on the topic discussed, attendees, and keywords mentioned during the meeting.
Collaboration: APIs, Integration, Devices
A key trend in 2017 has been the use of communications platform as a service, or CPaaS, and APIs to integrate communication capabilities into business applications. As UC becomes subsumed as part of business applications such as Salesforce and Zendesk, the nature of the way we communicate will change. We saw the beginning of this in 2017, and will see 2018 as the year of real-world deployments, led by team collaboration vendors. 2017 has been the year many team collaboration (also known as workstream messaging, team chat, team messaging, and so on) vendors focused on integrating their collaboration and UC capabilities.
As voice continues to lose its dominance, expect to see team collaboration become the primary user interface in 2018. We've seen Cisco try to unite its Spark and UC capabilities, while RingCentral has done a good job of tying in Glip with RIngCentral Office, and Unify's Circuit has refined its integrations with OpenScape. I expect to see other team collaboration applications, such as Atlassian HipChat and Stride, Workplace by Facebook, and Slack add more UC and calling capabilities (most likely through WebRTC) in 2018.
Case in point, Microsoft announced that Teams will evolve as the primary client for intelligent communications in Office 365, replacing the current Skype for Business client over time. As my colleague Kevin Kieller pointed out in the UCStrategies Year in Review podcast, Microsoft "blew up Skype Online and replaced it with Teams, which is a completely new product that will take its place." As he noted, "this further demonstrates the shift away from voice communications to other modes such as text."
My belief is that Teams will eventually become the central point of business communications and collaboration for Microsoft users, but not in the short term. Telephony calling features and capabilities won't be available until the second half of 2018, which will have significant impact on the market as businesses decide whether to wait or switch. I expect to see some of the UC and UCaaS vendors take advantage of Microsoft's transition to Teams, and as many enterprises hold off on planning as they wait for Skype for Business changes, this can be an opportunity for other vendors to swoop in.
Turning to collaboration devices, 2017 has seen a rise in larger formats, providing more immersive experiences. Team productivity has been enhanced with the introduction or refinement of conference room devices, or digital canvases, with products such as Cisco Spark Board, Google Jamboard, inFocus MondoPad, Oblong Mezzanine, and Nureva Span. These large-format boards and digital canvasses make it easier for teams to share, view, create, and manipulate content during meetings and with remote workers. The next step will be adding virtual or augmented reality to the meeting experience. We've seen demos in 2017 from companies like Cisco, Microsoft, and others, but won't see many real deployments until the latter part of 2018.
Unified Communications Become Business Communications
Looking forward to 2018, perhaps the biggest news in the industry will be the transition of UCStrategies to BCStrategies (OK, not really the biggest news). The UCStrategies team has recognized the changes taking place in the industry as UC becomes just one part of the overall business communications space; we believe that tthe term "unified communications" is too limiting, and that business communications is more all-encompassing. Please visit our new website, www.bcstrategies.com.
Get all the latest in enterprise communications at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Advance Rate or get a free Expo Plus pass.