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UC Forecast: 7 Trends that Will Drive the Market in 2017
The unified communications market will leap forward in the coming year, as an array of innovative technologies radically changes the way business professionals communicate. Here are seven trends that will define the UC market in 2017.
1. Many organizations will initially struggle to adopt cloud UC. Why? Because the installed IT architecture at most companies was never intended for voice, video, or collaboration. It was built for data exchange and data processing. But fully functioning UC requires a fundamentally new and different technology infrastructure. Consider video. Organizations are already working overtime to integrate voice communications into their IT infrastructures. Well, take that challenge and multiply by a factor of 100 -- that's the hurdle that video presents. Another major stumbling block is what I call the "pilot trap." It's common to conduct a cloud UC pilot with, say, 100 users to see how it goes. Often such pilots are a complete success. Then, when the system goes live and the company adds another 5,000 users, existing IT infrastructures buckle under the strain of the added traffic. Organizations must invest in a UC network readiness assessment and address issues before they affect users.
2. Automation will become mandatory for managed services providers (MSPs) to achieve ROI. We've reached a point in technology where the level of complexity is hard to handle for many companies. UC systems often sit on top of a very complex digital ecosystem -- an ecosystem in which problems can come from 1,000 possible directions and are virtually impossible to anticipate, detect, or fix manually. This means MSPs, which continue to rely on human labor in offshore locations to manage their UC offerings, will not survive. The traditional labor arbitrage model is dying, quickly. Complexity has grown to a point that is too difficult to manage the old way and is a core driver of automation. MSPs need automation to ensure their systems are healthy and ready for action. And, if something does go awry, they need an "expert" system that can automatically look across the entire digital ecosystem, find the problem, and fix it in real time, before any damage is done. The MSPs that survive and thrive will be the ones that acknowledge that labor arbitrage is a broken model and transition to technology and automation arbitrage instead.
3. Slack, Google, Atlassian, Facebook, and others will become real players in the UC market. These companies are ramping up their enterprise applications around voice, video, and collaboration. In fact, WebRTC applications that can conduct real-time, peer-to-peer voice and video communications through a browser, without the need for plug-ins, will multiply exponentially in the enterprise. It's a question of convenience for users -- they want it -- and existing providers will either have to offer it or die. People have grown accustomed to using easy video applications like Skype and Facetime in their personal lives and they are now demanding the same ease of use and functionality from their UC apps at work.
4. UC-enabled apps will dramatically improve the customer experience. Let's say a consumer is using a banking app and she notices something strange on her statement. If that app is UC-enabled, the customer can use the click-to-call feature within the app to contact the bank directly and all the relevant information will automatically transfer to the customer service rep in the contact center. Consumers are quickly becoming accustomed to this convenience and will soon want it all the time. UC will become an embedded part of applications, not a separate application.
5. The demise of the single-vendor UC strategy will drive demand for interoperability management. Companies are constantly struggling with their changing business environments. They wake up one day and all of a sudden they need a new technology solution from a new vendor. To remain competitive, they simply can't rely on a single UC vendor. Moreover, users want choice; they will use whatever is convenient and just like BYOD, the enterprise will be forced to adapt. This means that the need for interoperability will remain and grow. Because most organizations will be on disparate platforms from any number of different UC vendors, they will need a holistic solution that can seamlessly monitor, manage, and optimize their multivendor UC environment from the application down to the network layer devices.
6. Digital assistants and bots will enter the UC market. Bots are computer programs that act a lot like humans, simulating conversation with users in a chat window or on a voice call. They can perform a number of different automated tasks. They can help users schedule meetings, manage their finances, or find good sports bars in unfamiliar cities. They can also help ensure the successful use of UC tools. This sort of bot could be an automated attendant that watches the interactions on all your UC systems and provides instructions to users. For instance, a digital assistant could alert a user who is working in an airport Wi-Fi zone that the signal is not robust enough to support simultaneous use of video conferencing and Web chat. Frustration averted.
7. Compliance will be king. Today's interactions with customers are increasingly digital. And, for compliance reasons, many companies need to keep records of those interactions, whether they occur over voice, video, or via the Web. Storage and management of traditional digital data is comparatively easy when compared to the challenges that come with storing voice and video. These both require exponentially more storage as well as management. As more and more interactions occur through voice and video, compliance will require they be stored, and are searchable and retrievable. So how do you store all that data? How can you be assured of retrieval so that it can be analyzed if required? Organizations will need to sharpen their focuses on compliance as they embrace UC tools and communicate with more of their customers digitally.
These are my seven UC predictions for 2017. Sure, one or two of them may turn out to be off the mark. But here's a prediction I guarantee will be true: It will be a very exciting year for the UC market.