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Communications 2023: 4 Industry Trends to Keep an Eye On

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Business communications
Image: Panther Media GmbH - stock.adobe.com
The end of the year is near, and that means it’s time to deck the halls, jingle some bells, and start counting down the days until the start of the new year. For those in communications tech, it’s time to think about the year ahead and look back at one of the most tumultuous years ever for the industry.
 
When I look back at 2022, I’m reminded of Mark Antony’s monologue in Julius Caesar when he exclaimed, “Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!” as businesses experimented with hybrid work and mostly failed. We found that return-to-office mandates don’t work, and a strategy adjustment will come in 2023.
 
Then, we have turbulence in the capital markets. At the beginning of the year, Zoom stock was at $184 per share, RingCentral at $192, and Five9 at $140. Today, those companies now sit roughly around $66, $33, and $65, respectively. Even the “big guys” felt the heat, as Amazon, Microsoft, and Meta all took a hit on stock price and also had to do massive layoffs. Many industry watchers are now asking: What will 2023 be like?
 
I’m predicting the year ahead to be one of modest recovery. We won’t see those lofty stock prices anytime soon, but we will see several trends (detailed below) that will change the industry, create challenges for IT leaders, and create greater economic value.
 
1. Suites dominate buying patterns and could disrupt Microsoft
Through the pandemic, businesses scrambled to adopt tools for remote workers. It’s common to find businesses with one vendor for messaging, another for calling, a third for video, and so on. In almost every conversation I’ve had with IT leaders, they want to move to a suite versus best-of-breed model. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as suites have won over time in other markets (office productivity, CRM, etc.).
 
This puts Microsoft Teams in an interesting Schrödinger’s cat position, where it is advantaged and disadvantaged. Its strength is tied to its greater Microsoft products, so it will get a look from almost all companies. However, as companies explore Microsoft's suite, they might realize that none of their communications capabilities are best of breed. From my experience, Cisco and Zoom have better video, RingCentral and 8x8 have better voice, and Slack is a superior messaging tool. On top of that, Microsoft really doesn’t have a contact center service (though it has the Digital Contact Center Platform). It will be interesting to see how resilient Microsoft’s good-enough approach is and whether it can be the one app to rule them all.
 
2. The rise of platforms
The term platform is one of the most overused in communications. Every unified communications (UC) and contact center vendor tells me they are a platform and use their breadth of capabilities to support the statement. So which ones are platforms? In my opinion, none of them are right now, although most are headed in the right direction. A platform isn’t a bundle of products; that’s a suite (see above). A platform is a set of capabilities for others to create economic value on. Apple’s iOS, Windows, Salesforce, and Oracle are all platforms, and it can be seen by the massive ecosystems that surround them.
 
Much of the platform talk from UC and contact center vendors has been marketing speak more than anything. Behind the scenes though, most of them have been building APIs, SDKs, and low-code/no-code tools to fuel their march towards building an ecosystem. 2023 won’t be the year that we see much in the way of public announcements, but it will be the year vendors are intensely focused on attracting developers, ISVs, systems integrators, and others to create bespoke experiences. The measure of success will ultimately be the size of the ecosystem, but we won’t know the winners for several years, although we should see some leading indicators this year. As I noted above, suites will win short-term battles, but make no mistake, platforms will win the war.
 
3. More use of AI across the meeting lifecycle
The use of AI in communications is common today. Almost all vendors have background noise removal, virtual backgrounds, video touch-ups, transcriptions, and other features that make the in-meeting experience better. But a meeting is more than turning on my video and talking to people on the other end. Meetings have a lifecycle, and we do things before, during, and after them. This includes sending meeting minutes, reviewing past content, summarizing to-dos, and following up on action items. These are typically things most of us do poorly.
 
Oh sure, we all know someone who’s on top of this stuff and has a clean inbox, but these people are few and far between. Here is where AI can add tremendous value. For example, meeting minutes can summarize a meeting versus having to look through a transcript. Another useful feature would be to parse the meeting for action items and automatically assign them to people. A good way to think about it is that many executives have a personal assistant that continually preps them and whispers in their ear, but most workers do not. AI can give this capability to all of us, and you should expect more in this area in 2023.
 
4. Contact centers pivot back to people
Over the past several years, many businesses have been pushing intensely to bring chat and virtual agents into contact centers. This has some obvious cost benefits, and in theory, can improve the customer experience, as people get answers faster. The reality is virtual agents and chatbots are great but can’t be used for everything. Complex interactions or ones that elicit emotions, such as talking about health and money, require real people that show empathy. When virtual channels are used here, it can have disastrous results. In 2023, expect to see brands swing the pendulum back to AI-assisted agents, instead of trying to replace them. We will still see a net reduction in agents, but customers will still need (and want) to talk to a human agent.

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