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Who Wins in the Wild West of UC?

Nowadays, it’s difficult to imagine life without a smartphone. You might even be on yours right now reading this. And, based on the latest market share data, there’s a good chance (70% to be exact) your device was manufactured by one of two vendors: Apple or Samsung.
But it wasn’t that long ago when those in the market for a new cell phone would go to their carrier’s store only to be faced with a wide array of choices from a hodgepodge of manufacturers: BlackBerry, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sony... the list goes on. Some were familiar names, others were lesser-known entrants to the market, but all were vying to dominate the land and strike gold.
When the iPhone first hit the market more than 10 years ago, it disrupted the industry by reimagining the user experience -- offering technology that was intuitive and easy to use. Its success was built upon the simple notion that technology doesn’t have to be complicated. Slowly, consumers and business people traded in their QWERTY keyboards for touch screens -- and the rest is history.
When I think about the unified communications space today, I see a lot of similarities with the mobile phone landscape of the early 2000s. The market is constantly expanding, with new entrants joining the market everywhere you look. There are the more established players like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex; disruptors (hello, Zoom) and newcomers (even Amazon is looking to get in on the action with Chime).
All of the vendors offer unique features, functionalities, and approaches. And they’ve all got their eye on the crown.
Who Will Win the UC Showdown? And How Will They Get There?
For end users today, the UC space is a wild, wild west. How do you choose one over the other? What are the criteria for your decision when it seems that not one single solution checks all your boxes?
At the end of the day, end users want a consistent user experience that’s compatible with all of their systems -- from the desk to boardroom -- and delivers an experience where the technology itself does not interfere with your intended use of it.
Ultimately, the vendor that wins will be determined by user preference and adoption. If I had to place my money on the vendor to rule them all, I’d bet on the one that:
  • Puts Users Front and Center: As the cellphone market of the early aughts evolved, Blackberry -- once a front runner -- lost sight of what was important to customers and didn’t adapt accordingly. The company was quickly outpaced by newcomers like Apple and Samsung. With the UC space quickly progressing, it’s critical that vendors stay on top of the features and functionalities that customers want. At the end of the day, a vendor can offer innovative, new technology, but if it doesn’t solve customer needs there isn’t much point.
  • Doesn’t Create Additional Barriers: Collaboration is key in the modern workforce. What’s even more important is deploying technology that enables collaboration, not tech that hinders it. Businesses need the ability to deploy software and hardware that work seamlessly with other technology, regardless of the make or model. For example, if an ad agency that uses video conferencing system X is trying to share a new ad campaign with its client who uses video conferencing system Y, they want a seamless experience -- not one that creates additional struggles or prevents materials from being shared. Vendors that are attuned to this need and work to create a user-centric experience, regardless of the platform being used, are the ones that will climb to the top.
  • Embrace the Shift Away from Email: This may seem drastic, but it’s an idea Microsoft is already pushing with additions and integrations to Microsoft Teams and Office platforms. Society’s shift away from email won’t take place overnight, but the UC providers that embrace the idea and build technology around the notion that email is a generational gap in technology will see success down the road.
Of course, other factors will play a role in the development of the UC space. Mergers and acquisitions may cause some of the smaller players to disappear, with others coming together to form powerhouses. We’re also bound to see a few startups that we haven’t even heard of yet (or maybe don’t even exist yet!) quickly rise through the ranks and become new champions of the field. Think about how Slack managed to make a cultural shift in thinking about team collaboration or how Zoom uses the phrase, “it just works.”
Ultimately, there will be a pivotal point in the UC industry when we will enter the next phase of workplace collaboration technology. That day will see you no longer using email for your communications, and your entire collaboration or workflow will involve a single pane of glass. This means that employees might not even need to launch a program but will be able to use multiple devices to show anything they need and to facilitate their entire workday.
Right now, there are many different programs, and IT departments are tasked with trying to connect them all into a seamless workflow. The workplace of the future, powered by UC, will see them all come together -- just like how the iPhone brought together your camera, phone, Internet access, and email. That will be the point we will look back on as the pivotal moment in UC and the new modern workplace.