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Looking Back at 2020’s Biggest UC Tech Predictions

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At the crossroads of 2020 and 2021
Image: 1STunningART - stock.adobe.com
In my first No Jitter article of 2020, I reviewed some of the biggest predictions for the coming year. Now that it’s Dec., I thought it would be interesting to look back and see how I did.
 
Clearly, 2020 has been a year that none of us could have predicted, which provides a unique context for reflection. Most trends and developments this year were driven by Covid-19 rather than any planning, strategy, or insight from analysts and vendors who came up with the predictions that I last assessed almost a year ago.
 
And a word of warning, I’m sharing my perspective as a consultant that works with clients in the real world, and I make no claims that this is backed by data. The following analysis is my UK-centric view of the world, so feel free to disagree and challenge me.
 
1. 5G Will Take Off in a Big Way
Did it? Not for me as a consumer or for most of my enterprise clients as users. Some work I recently did involve comparing coverage maps with usage in the same geography. There is a significant discrepancy. Even when there is good coverage in urban areas, the utilization is tiny. I suspect this is due to relatively few users having 5G devices and the lack of any killer applications. To be fair, the prediction was that the 2020s would be the decade when 5G took off, so there’s still plenty of time. And maybe, the launch of the 5G iPhone will be a major catalyst.
 
2. Explosion in Devices and Wearables
I’m seeing some progress in this space. In terms of wearables, it’s about the consumer space. There is a proliferation of smartwatch/fitness band style devices, and more of these have direct cloud connectivity rather than being dependent upon tethering to phones. This seems to be driven by health and fitness — the capability of wrist-worn devices is mind-blowing. I was also impressed with the range of tracker devices available when I researched this recently (less impressed by their capability, but that’s for another day). Additionally, this year has seen an increased interest in the use of smartphones to replace deskphones in the enterprise. I’m working on several projects where a smartphone client will be the only device provided for many users.
 
3. The Tipping Point for Cloud UC
It’ll be interesting to see the statistics when they become available, but this one might just have been correct. I noted at the start of the year that most SMEs already preferred the cloud, but enterprises were much slower. Clearly, Covid-19 has emphasized the benefits of true cloud models. Many of my clients have struggled to get their real-time communications to work effectively over VPNs. The commercial models remain challenging for large campus-based organizations, but I now have financial controllers keen to make the figures work rather than being hard to persuade. While the cloud is now king, for the true UC element, telephony is dragging its heels. The industry has more to do to make a compelling financial case for large enterprises to move to pure cloud for UC and telephony.
 
4. A Video Focus
In Jan., I noted that I hadn’t seen any specific predictions about video for 2020 after more than a decade of the industry pushing video hard. Yet 2020 has been the year that video has truly come into the workplace. I’ll claim one victory and one loss for my video observations. The ability to participate in video-meetings from the desktop has become a standard practice this year. But it has taken Covid-19 and WFH to make this happen. Zoom, Microsoft (with Teams), and others couldn’t possibly have foreseen the rate of uptake for their services this year. And to be fair, the cloud models have largely delivered. Could any of us have imagined being able to work as effectively from home just a few years ago? My second observation was way off the mark — equipping small collaboration and meeting spaces for video in the workplace. Covid-19 has put a stop to that — at least for the moment. However, I still believe this type of space will have a major role in the new post-Covid-19 workplace. So let’s push that one back to 2021 for the moment!
 
5. Contact Center: A Move to the Cloud, Channel Shift, Increased use of AI
I know the picture is mixed, but if there is one sector that has failed to deliver this year, it has been contact centers. I’m not blaming the technology per se. Contact centers have used the excuse that they have to work at reduced capacity due to Covid-19, which demonstrates that many did not pivot to cloud-based technologies soon enough. Surely, an industry based largely upon answering the phone should have been able to cope better. Like UC, this emphasized the benefit of cloud architectures, and I’m seeing several clients wanting to secure a best-of-breed cloud contact center solution irrespective of their underlying telephony and UC solutions. As for channel shift and AI? They don’t seem to have been able to fill the void that has arisen this year. I think customers will embrace AI when they deliver a level of customer service that can’t be achieved from a real-time voice call — and not simply because it enables organizations to avoid taking calls to reduce costs.
 
My summary for the year — progress has been driven by events rather than the industry’s wishful thinking. That’s always the case to some extent, but Covid-19 has made 2020 a real year of change. Let’s hope 2021 can be a little more normal!

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"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

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