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Positioning Yourself for Flexibility Post-Pandemic
The COVID-19 crisis continues to mire businesses in uncertainty, but one thing is clear, and has been since the pandemic declaration and shelter-in-place orders went into effect months ago: Modern, cloud-based communications and collaboration technologies have made a bad situation better.
The question for today, however, is whether the pandemic-spurred trends materializing today around communications and collaboration are with us for the long term — and if so, what the implications are for the enterprise. This seemed a fitting topic for our kickoff session for the Enterprise Connect Digital Conference & Expo, and who better to help us sort out the answer than a few of the industry’s leading analysts and consultants: Jim Burton, founder and CEO of C-T Link and co-founder of the BCStrategies group; Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research; and Melissa Swartz, founder of Swartz Consulting.
These three shared their perspectives on a wide range of topics, from the future cloud model to shifting attitudes toward all-in-one communication platforms, the feasibility of video interoperability, and more. This roundtable session — “Are Today’s Transformations the Model for the Long Term?” — now available on demand. For a recap on salient talking points, read on:
UCaaS & CCaaS — With the cloud’s “inherent architecture” being ideal for the COVID-19 crisis, “people that had thought about cloud or weren’t there yet have really had their minds changed about the importance of being there and what it can do for their businesses,” Swartz said. Yes, Kerravala agreed, “we’ve swung the pendulum all the way the cloud way.” However, that pendulum is going to swing back, he said. Cloud is undoubtedly the long-term direction for all things communication, but large global companies will still prefer to run their own private clouds, so they can control their data and security, Kerravala asserted. And when that pendulum swings back, it’ll sweep away some of the freebie cloud seats deployed for remote work, he added.
CPaaS — During this pandemic, businesses have been fortunate to be able to take advantage of the ability to point and click to integrate communications, an ideal he and his BCStrategies colleagues have long espoused, Burton said. Larger enterprises have started to press for ways to integrate communications capabilities into their back-office processes, and that’s set the scene for impending market disruption, he said. Though he declined to get specific, Burton said major vendors — the likes of Amazon, Cisco, Google, and Microsoft — are getting ready to release CPaaS solutions aimed at meeting enterprise needs. But the significance of CPaaS extends beyond process integration to app integration, too, Kerravala pointed out. “CPaaS growth is going to be one of the big ahas! of the COVID transition,” he said.
All-in-One Communications/Collaboration Platforms — For practical reasons, smaller companies historically have been proponents of having an all-in-one communications platform rather than discrete best-of-breed tools. It’s been a matter of resources, Burton said. But fascinatingly, he added, he’s now starting to hear that large, multinational global companies are putting pressure on their vendors to glue their disparate pieces together into one integrated platform. A lesson learned from COVID is that “you’ve got to have people on the same platform with the same tools” if you expect them to be efficient,” he said. And don’t forget the cost, Kerravala added: “How long are companies going to want to pay for Slack for messaging, Zoom for video, Ring[Central] for audio, and you know, Webex for meetings, right?” What’s more, they’re going to want integration not just at the desktop but within meeting spaces, too, Kerravala noted.
Team Collaboration — While Kerravala said it’s tough to determine whether team collaboration or video meetings makes for the better “anchor app,” Swartz argued that layering capabilities into a team collaboration app with which users are familiar makes it much easier for them to adapt to the new functionality. “I see that as a huge advantage,” she said. Plus, rollouts, support, and security eases IT’s burden, she added. But if your organization has different team collaboration apps in use, don’t expect interoperability any time soon, participants agreed.
UC-Contact Center Integration — Because contact center seats are no longer just about contact center agents but also now about inside sales, field service, marketing — “really anybody with Salesforce.com” — Kerravala said his opinion on the need for such integration has flip-flopped. “I really didn’t think it mattered, but I do think it does now.” Burton and Swartz agreed. “Contact centers don’t work in a walled garden anymore; they need access to other employees to get questions answered and resolve issues. … It’s more of an integrated landscape,” Swartz said.
Video as Primary Interface — Without question, video has supplanted voice as the primary driver for communications, Burton said. “I’m sure everybody [in this roundtable] and everybody watching this go through the same thing… video call after video call after video call. Rarely is it only audio,” Burton said. It circles back to the ease of integration, Kerravala added. Not having to leave a chat in, say Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams, to make a video call is just so easy, he said. “That’s really been game-changing.”
Video Interoperability — This is, and may always be, more of a pipe dream than a reality, participants agreed. While WebRTC might make video interoperability at the browser level, the platforms vendors still need to be willing to talk to each other, Kerravala pointed out. “I think it needs to happen … but some [vendors] want that to happen, and some don’t want that to happen,” he said. The obvious truth is this, Burton said: Vendors have the advantage when they control the platform. For Cisco and Microsoft, interoperability isn’t something they want to do, but something they’re being forced to do from customers, added Burton, noting that he has helped these two vendors on this issue.
AI — “AI is the most exciting thing to happen in communications since [the rebranding of] VoiceCon as Enterprise Connect,” Kerravala quipped. But seriously, he added, “it helps us do the hard stuff much better” — and that’s going to be increasingly important in the post-pandemic world, not only within the contact center where it’s much used today but also in the enterprise and for service management.
To better prepare us to move forward, it’s important to examine how the use of and thinking around communications and collaboration technologies has shifted as a result of COVID-19. But as a parting thought, Swartz implored us to remember this, too: “The next crisis may have nothing to do with this.” So, whatever you do, “positioning yourself for flexibility is huge.”