5 Trends Fundamentally Reshaping UC&C
Unified communications and collaboration is rapidly transforming; IT leaders need to get out ahead of these changes to stay relevant.
Managing enterprise communications and collaboration has followed a predictable approach: Define the requirements and pick a solution. Over time, upgrade as necessary. And, every so often, depending on market changes, new entrants, or new capabilities, determine if the time is right to shift to a new vendor. More recently, the primary decision for IT leaders has focused on if, when, and how to shift to cloud. All of these approaches have been applicable across the full suite of communications and collaboration applications including voice, video, conferencing, messaging, document management, and even contact center.
Not so anymore. Thanks to five strategic and technological shifts, the way organizations think about unified communications and collaboration is poised for a fundamental change, one that tosses the old approach on the scrap heap of history, alongside a pile of TDM phones, standard-definition videoconferencing systems, and TAPI-based application integrations. IT leaders must get out in front of these changes to stay relevant within their organizations, and to demonstrate the business value of their investments.
- Digital Transformation and the Rise of the Digital Workplace -- In a recent No Jitter post, my colleague Robin Gareiss defined the basics of the digital workplace and discussed how emerging vendors are creating the next generation of portals that consolidate access to various collaboration tools. And, perhaps most importantly, as she described, digital workplaces enable individuals to customize their experiences, optimizing them for their roles or tasks. At its heart, the digital workplace enables people to access the tools they need to do their jobs, from wherever they are, via any device. Even more fundamentally, digital workplace begins the shift from thinking of UC and collaboration as stand-alone applications to ones that are tightly integrated with workflows and business processes. In this new paradigm, collaboration applications must support business processes, especially the digitizing of these processes. This means integration with message flows, events, tasks, and projects to ensure that collaboration exists within the context of business workflows. UC platforms, delivered via cloud or on premises, sit in the background while features are integrated into digital workspaces and underlying applications.
- In-App Collaboration -- For most, collaborating around a document, report, or screen requires using a separate application. For example, if I want to ask a coworker about a sales report in our CRM, I'd likely "alt-tab" to my instant messaging or team chat application to communicate. In the new collaboration and communications environment, I would reach out to my coworker directly from within the CRM, potentially even sharing my screen via a simple click. In-app collaboration like this already is available in cloud office suites from Google, Microsoft, and others. Many UC and UCaaS providers offer integrations with Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, SAP, and other applications, while apps like Salesforce feature their own internal messaging capabilities as well. Thanks to an increasingly available array of APIs, as well as APIs as a service from communications platform-as-a-service providers like Cisco, Genband, Nexmo, Twilio, Vidyo, and others, the ability to add communications to applications and workflows is virtually unlimited.
- Team Chat Becomes Digital Workplace Operating Systems -- Team chat/collaboration vendors like Flock, Slack, and Symphony increasingly describe their platforms as "operating systems," enabling them to become the digital workplace hub in which workers interact not only with each other, but also with the applications they use to do their jobs. This is the opposite approach of what I previously described regarding in-app collaboration, but it provides another option for the intersection of workflows and UC&C and is especially well suited to those needing to communicate and collaborate across a wide array of business applications.
- The Cloud and Agile Communications -- Nemertes has noted in much of our recent research that the primary motivator for shifting to UCaaS isn't reducing cost, rather it's improving agility, specifically the speed at which organizations can take advantage of emerging communications capabilities to better support mobile workers, previously described application integrations, or future capabilities based on machine learning (listen to the latest No Jitter On Air episode, with my colleague Robin, for more on the move to the cloud). As futurist Ray Kurzweil wrote in "The Age of Intelligent Machines," not only is technology continuing to advance, but the rate of technology advance is continuing to accelerate. Those who do not embrace the cloud run the risk of being the have-nots in the digital transformation age as the long upgrade cycles associated with on-premises platforms cannot keep up with the agility enabled via the cloud.
- Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Cognitive Computing -- Machine learning, AI, and cognitive computing offer the opportunity for applications to learn from past behavior as well as from external data sources. While in their early stages, these technologies offer real-world potential for organizations to increase the speed of workflows, enable employees to make better decisions, and even enable delivery of new and innovative services, especially in engineering or science-intensive industries. Already we're seeing tremendous interest in using intelligent bots to eliminate repetitive tasks or to provide an improved experience to customers. We're at the cusp of tremendous advances in these areas, with increasing opportunities for IT leaders to forge the way in delivering business value from emerging technologies.
At the end of the day most IT leaders in the UC&C space are still focusing the bulk of their time on operations, looking for ways to increase user adoption, reduce operational costs, and provide an improved end-user experience. However, IT leaders should ensure that the emerging trends I've described are on their radar, and they should be actively looking for ways they can leverage these trends to optimize internal processes or drive new revenue streams.
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