As we draw closer to Sept. 27-29, when all of us communications pros will descend upon the Gaylord Palms resort in Orlando, Fla., for Enterprise Connect 2021, I’m getting more and more people asking me, “are you attending?” and “is the show worth going to?” Besides the obvious reason — I need to be there because I’m a speaker — the event is absolutely worth attending this year. I’ll even go as far as to say this is the most important Enterprise Connect in the past decade and anyone interested in the future of work shouldn’t miss it.
The pandemic changed our world in many ways, both negatively and positively. COVID-19 was bad for IT industries such as PCs, servers, and storage, but it was great for communications — particularly cloud-based services. It created a wave of innovation that likely would’ve taken years to happen, but as the expression goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and the vendor community responded. Now that the world seems to be settling down, it’s time for decision-makers to step back, take stock of where their companies are, and understand how to move forward.
Doing that might be easier said than done as the communications industry has gone through a tremendous upheaval. Several market transitions are underway, as will surely be evidenced at EC21. Here are five key themes I’ll be expecting to permeate the event:
- Hybrid work — I suspect every keynoter and every vendor on the expo floor will be talking about hybrid work. This has become such a hot topic that Cisco recently dedicated an entire event to it. People are going to go back to the office, but what will that look like? The one thing I can tell you is, IT pros must be prepared for everyone to be in the office, no one in the office, and every combination in between. Technology enabled us all to work from home and it will be technology that enables us to work seamlessly in a hybrid model. No doubt, a plethora of new devices, room systems, software features, and other enabling technology will be on display at EC.
- The evolution of cloud — Today’s cloud isn’t the same as it was a few years ago. Everyone wants to leverage the cloud, but the question is, what kind of cloud? If you follow trends in the application space, most cloud services are moving to a distributed cloud model where “cloud” becomes more of a logical term versus a physical one, to describe an environment comprising public and private clouds — and soon— edge locations. The communications industry will certainly head this way. We’re still pretty early in this cycle so not all vendors have a detailed strategy for how to transition to this model, but I know many are thinking about this. As you’re meeting with vendors, this is an area I would explore with them.
- AI infusion for collaboration — The biggest change to communications over the past 18 months has been the integration of AI into products. At the last live Enterprise Connect, we talked about AI surpassed usable features. Today, a veritable cornucopia of AI capabilities is available. Some vendors, such as Cisco and Amazon Web Services are largely building their own. Others, like Avaya, rely on best-of-breed partners, such as Nvidia and Google. Then there are companies like RingCentral and Zoom that seem to be using a mix of the two. None of these strategies is better than the others, per se. Instead, it comes down to which supplier has the capabilities you need.
- The rise of the composable platform — The UC and contact center industries have talked about the shift to a composable platform for decades, but it’s been more vision than reality. Over the past year, many vendors have embraced the concept, although not all of them use the term. If you follow the general application space, you know that a composable platform is defined as the delivery of software capabilities via a packaged application and application building blocks, which include APIs and a low-code/no-code interface. Vonage was the first communications vendor to really push this vision. For instance, — its Nexmo communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) cloud is the primary solution and its meeting, contact center, and other products are examples of what you can build on top of it. Avaya also recently adopted this strategy as part of its OneCloud architecture, as did 8x8 with its XCaaS offering. Zoom and Cisco have both put up significant funds to inspire developers to create third-party apps that ride on top of their platforms and Talkdesk recently announced a low-code/no-code interface with its Builder product (see related No Jitter article). I’m sure the word “platform” will be tossed around as much as “cloud” but not all are true platforms. The ones that are will enable businesses to create communications experiences any way they want to consume them.
- Contact center everywhere — This trend has been brewing for several years, and it looks like it’s ready to hit that hockey stick inflection point because of the cloud. Historically, contact center agents used seats that resided in a physical location. The cloud decoupled the capabilities from the location and enabled businesses to give contact center seats to a wide range of other user types, including salespeople, field service workers, and anyone else that needs customer information. This shift has greatly expanded the total addressable market of contact center to two to three times what it was a few years ago. This strategy requires new features, interfaces, and a custom version of the product, like Talkdesk’s recent announcement of Healthcare and Financial Services Clouds.
Enterprise Connect has always been an important show for the hardcore communications buyer but it has evolved into something much broader. With the pandemic, the slow evolution characterizing the communications industry has ended. Enterprises have ramped up their demands for flexible, adaptable solutions to serve a hybrid work model, and vendors have kicked into high gear to deliver what they need. EC21 should reflect this, and be the most memorable Enterprise Connect in recent memory.