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Top 5 Picks in a Year of Communications Richness

    An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.

    -- Bill Vaughan

The older I get, the quicker the years seem to go by. I blinked during my freshman English final and all of a sudden I'm a 58-year-old man with three kids, a mortgage, and not nearly enough retirement money in my 401K plan. A decade once felt like forever. Now, it's here and gone before you know it.

With that in mind, it feels like only yesterday that I was writing my 2015 year-in-review article and now I find myself doing the same thing for 2016. Thankfully, even though the days and weeks fly by, they are anything but boring. Changes in existing technologies, brand-new technologies, product announcements, and corporate shuffling occurred nearly nonstop. While I didn't write nearly as many No Jitter articles as I had planned on, it wasn't for a lack of things to write about. On the contrary, I could have easily written 1,500 words a day and never repeated myself.

All this makes picking out the top communications trends of 2016 that much more difficult. It would be easy to sit down and crank out page after page of "highlights," but who would bother to read those? Certainly not me. So, for the reading pleasure of you and me, here are the top five trends that caught my attention and held my interest for longer than an afternoon.

The Internet of Things
Number one on my list is the Internet of Things (IoT). In my humble opinion, these devices, sensors, and appliances are the biggest things to hit the world of communications since IP telephony. I have personally been immersed in bringing IoT data and device control into communications workflows for the greater part of 2016.

Imagine supercharging business processes with real-time data from IoT devices. For example, technicians could be automatically dispatched when equipment fails. Better yet, hospitals could use IoT data to alert doctors and nurses of severe changes in a patient's health. Disasters could be averted as IoT sensors warn emergency crews of gas leaks or other potentially dangerous conditions. The list of use cases goes on and on.

Like with any new technology, a number of hurdles must be overcome. Top of mind is the challenge of security. You may have heard that an attack on IoT baby monitors was partly responsible for temporarily bringing Netflix and other popular sites to their knees. As more and more of these devices become part of our daily lives, we must understand the security risks they pose. We must develop comprehensive procedures that describe how to place and configure IoT devices in ways that allow us to reap the benefits while not opening the door to malicious behaviors.

The Rise of the API
Communications vendors have been exposing aspects of their systems to developers for years. In another life, I programmed to Nortel's Meridian Link and Application Module Link interfaces. They were powerful protocols, but at the same time, they were difficult to use and extremely proprietary.

With the adoption of Web services, 2016 has seen an explosion in the growth in communications APIs from companies like Twilio, Nexmo (now Vonage), and Zang. Now merely exposing features and functionality is not enough; vendors realize that programmers want to use standard development tools for their applications. Additionally, coders want to develop to the same interfaces vendors use to create their own products. This is the case with Cisco Spark and Avaya Breeze.

In addition to providing cutting-edge technology for geeks like me, Twilio's IPO showed us that Wall Street sees the value in communications APIs and communications platform as a service. While the stock price is pretty much back to where it started, it has been something of a rollercoaster ride for many technology stocks in 2016.

Unified Communications as a Service
Companies such as RingCentral, 8x8, and Interactive Intelligence (now Genesys) have been blazing the trail with unified communications and contact centers in the cloud. Offering everything from SIP trunks to endpoint registration, these UCaaS solutions may one day eliminate the need for large and expensive on-premises equipment.

What's Next for Avaya?
As a champion of Avaya, I am feeling more than anxious about the "impending" restructuring/bankruptcy announcement that hung over most of 2016, and still awaits. The company's technology is strong (I for one am a huge fan of Breeze, Oceana, and Zang), but as many know, Avaya carries a tremendous amount of debt. While I am not a financial guy (nor do I play one on TV), the numbers sound big to me. I find it hard to believe that Avaya can carry on as it has been without jettisoning something(s) to become a leaner and meaner communications machine.

So, until something concrete comes out of Avaya, we will be left in wondering mode.

What Happened to WebRTC?
2016 began with just about everyone talking about WebRTC and how it is going to change the world. While I still feel strongly about the technology and the concept of embedding real-time communications into Web browsers, WebRTC seems to have stalled in terms of adoption. While some companies are doing exciting things with WebRTC (take a look at SwitchRTC), the technology has a long way to go before it is the ubiquitous solution we've all been promised.

My hope is that 2017 is the year that WebRTC finally lives behind every click-to-call link, but I am not about to hold my breath on that.

Mischief Managed
Well, there you have it. While your top five for 2016 might differ from mine, I think we can all agree that it was an exciting year and 2017 is shaping up to be just as exhilarating. I expect IoT to really take off and Avaya will finally clue us in to what's next for the Big Red. I also expect that there will be exciting developments all around the industry that very few of us could possibly predict here in January. Stay tuned for more fun and games... coming at you faster than ever before.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

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