Unified Communications (UC) shows no signs of slowing down in 2018, as businesses looking to gain competitive advantage through the latest technology trends continue to adopt it. A few key trends will shape this space in the new year, including a continued march towards digital transformation, the rise of hybrid services, emerging applications like streaming video and virtual reality, the use of artificial intelligence, and advanced analytics to get the most out of UC investments.
Trend #1: Digital Transformation Becomes An Imperative
About 90 percent of organizations are currently using cloud technologies in some form or fashion. Now, after years of investing in smaller initiatives, companies are beginning to take a more holistic view of their transformation strategy, driving investments to place the bulk of their mission-critical functions into the cloud. Adoption of cloud-based UC is accelerating as a key part of the roadmap for most companies.
Organizations are looking to empower their distributed workforce with cost-effective, secure solutions that allow workers, partners and customers to communicate over multiple channels (voice, chat, video and so on), across different devices, at any time and anywhere. This fosters widespread organizational digital transformation, lowering overhead and improving business agility and strategic outcomes.
Unsurprisingly, according to IDG’s Enterprise Cloud Computing Survey, 47 percent of companies have already moved their messaging platforms into the cloud, and in 2018, the most popular choices for cloud deployments will continue to be communications platforms. Cloud UC alone is projected to grow by 20 to 25 percent in the next year and beyond.
Trend #2: The Rise Of The Hybrid Model
Even as organizations embrace the cloud, they’ve discovered that this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. An appliance-based strategy is becoming increasingly attractive as businesses look for additional, complementary features to their UC investments.
In a hybrid model, services are delivered via the cloud, with an on-premise, lightweight box enabling quality of service, analytics, built-in security and other functions, such as geo-redundancy for multi-location broadband deployments and SD-WAN capabilities. With a growing focus on both security and SD-WAN in particular, 2018 will see an uptick of interest in appliance-based UC deployments.
Trend #3: AI Supercharges The User Experience
AI is maturing, and users are increasingly connecting with the likes of Apple’s Siri, Google’s Cortana, and Amazon Alexa in their daily lives. These types of digital assistants show great promise for business environments, especially on the UC front.
Eventually, employees can use AI to connect and communicate with each other, with customers and partners, and with their own UC suites and other applications. Imagine being able to simply say, “Alexa, open a chat window with Mark in accounting”—and from there being able to dictate a conversation.
AI engines like IBM Watson, SAP Leonardo and Salesforce Einstein are also being built into software platforms, opening up yet more possibilities for tie-ins to UC functionalities—plenty of which are sure to debut in the coming year.
Trend #4: Data Is King
UC systems generate a lot of information—information about employee collaboration trends, customer service outcomes, omnichannel usage and more—but for that information to be useful and actionable, some level of automated analytics needs to be in place.
Armed with insights from this vast repository of data, businesses can apply them in a number of strategic ways: think marketing automation, enhanced sales outreach and follow-ups, proactive customer service, and more. In 2018, expect to see more automated analysis for UC information at scale.
Trend #5: Emerging Applications
Video is becoming embedded into business communications processes, and 2018 promises to see it become ubiquitous, with video chat and conferencing an ever-present option in UC suites. Hand-in-hand with this will be new types of video usage, such as streaming video for presentations and social outreach (think Facebook Live), and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR).
The latter could represent the future of workplace communication; For example, using a VR/AR headset or even a mobile phone app, a user can see what his or her colleagues or customers are seeing. This could revolutionize customer service and repair calls, boost project collaboration within distributed workforces, better enable supply-chain quality control, and more.
2018 Trends Continuing UC’s Dynamic 2017
These 2018 trends promise to bring important shifts in the UC landscape, even as adoption continues to grow. Companies are looking to stay competitive and relevant in an increasingly mobile, global, technologically complex world, where change is a constant. Just as in 2017, UC platforms will continue to adapt to that change, promising to enable more business opportunities than ever before.