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Communications as the Fabric of Business

Enterprise Connect 2021 is in the books, and the fact that it was all-virtual gave me the opportunity to see a lot more of the conference sessions than I usually can manage when we’re in person and there’s so much happening on site. I can’t boil everything down into one takeaway, but one statement did jump out at me when I heard it, and I think it sums up where we’re at as an industry, and where we may be going.
 
In our first general session of the event on Monday, Scott Van Vliet, corporate vice president at Microsoft, said that “communications is going to become the network fabric of business.” Over the course of the session, Scott seemed to talk almost as much about Microsoft Azure as he did about Teams. I don’t want to overstate or overestimate the significance of this, but I do think he was pointing toward something that, ultimately, most of the strategic vendors are also moving to: On both the human and technology level, communications is going to permeate just about every business process in most enterprises over the next several years.
 
On the human level, this relates of course to the concept of “hybrid work,” a term that got a good workout this week at EC21. If workforces are more spread out than ever, and individuals are working in different locations on different days, these folks will have to be more bound to their communications systems than ever, in order to sustain their collaboration with colleagues, partners, and customers. This idea is Pandemic 101, and in the comments sections of our session broadcast pages, I saw more than a few people express frustration that we’re still talking about hybrid work. I understand the impatience, but there’s not much else to do but talk until a critical mass of enterprises are able to open their offices again and start making hybrid work a reality instead of just a topic of conversation.
 
But integration at the deeper technical level is where many of our EC21 speakers believe the industry is going. Call it CPaaS or embedded communications or, lately, low-code/no-code — leading-edge technology providers and enterprise leaders are looking for ways to extend the innovations of the past year into more workflows and business applications. That’s the ambition, anyway.
 
The challenge will be to roll out these capabilities in a way that users will actually adopt. Another recurring theme I heard this week is that the leading platform vendors’ race to one-up each other when it comes to new features, especially around video meetings, is outpacing end users’ ability to keep track of all these new features. I have to think that if the vendors focused on perfecting a few of the most commonly-used features, rather than just adding new ones, they might drive greater user loyalty.
 
Think about background blur/scenes: There’d be a real business benefit to advancing the AI to a point where a user’s image is as crisp and non-blobby as someone who’s using a green screen. Solve for that, and enterprises can have consistent, business-appropriate video images wherever the employee happens to be, which scales to the entire workforce — something green screens clearly don’t.
 
I hope that the virtual Enterprise Connect 2021 whetted everyone’s appetite for the kind of in-depth conversations that the industry will need to have over the next year and beyond as we try to build communications systems that best serve the new realities we face now and will soon move into as workplaces reopen. I also hope that seeing sessions, sponsors, and colleagues online whetted everyone’s appetite for coming together in person, because that’s what we’re going to do next March when we bring Enterprise Connect back to the Gaylord Palms hotel in Orlando, Fla. We’ll be opening registration for the 2022 event soon, and I hope you can join us.

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