In the tech world, unified communications (UC) has now evolved into a “legacy” category as virtually every enterprise has begun to evolve their infrastructure to embrace the added collaboration, security and productivity benefits offered by UC. But 2017 will introduce new friends, threats, and unknowns, which will cause a stir among the established enterprise market. While going all-in on UC in the cloud continues to be a more protracted process, the emergence of webchat apps and bots have welcomed new integration opportunities that we expect will help to actually boost end-user adoption. Continuing to feel the burn of the consumerization of IT, UC will face a big distractor in 2017: the smartphone. No longer a personal communication device, employee smartphones have infiltrated the enterprise and show no signs of slowing. In this new year, IT will work harder to achieve robust operational health, leading to increased end-user adoption and satisfaction. Barring this key adjustment UC may continue to languish versus both smartphones and legacy systems.
Here are Unify Square’s predictions for 2017:
Unified communications in the cloud is not the answer to everything
Although UC cloud deployments will continue to grow at pace – UC market revenue will reach $13 billion and total 74 million seats by 2020 (according to IHS Markit) – there will continue to be a lingering disconnect between cloud hype and enterprise reality. Over the next three to five years, enterprise IT will relinquish the two common schools of UC thought — headache or hosted — rather, the market norm will increasingly focus on the ‘pragmatic hybrid cloud’ for UC deployments, mixing cloud and on-premises installations. In fact, IDG research shows an increase (from 30% to 54%) of enterprises looking to implement hybrid UC. In spite of the well-documented ‘cloud craze’ benefits of UC in the cloud (such as scalable OpEx models or server upgrade and patching avoidance), there are four (4) key catalysts driving the hybrid cloud popularity:
- Core UC deployment hurdles: Three of the most common UC rollout hurdles for enterprises (VIP Escalations, poor WiFi and bad end-user audio devices) are identical no matter if the system is hosted in the cloud or on-prem. IT will focus first on ‘solving’ these issues before venturing further into the cloud.
- Systems maturity & complexity: UC systems on-prem are only now getting their sea-legs, while their cloud cousins are still learning to wade in the deep end of the pool. Given the complexity of UC, IT is looking for a slightly longer break-in period. Additionally, as cloud UC matures, its features and customization opportunities will grow to match current on-prem functionality, making it an easy decision for organizations to linger a bit longer in hybrid mode.
- Potential security & compliance issues: A slew of data sovereignty guidelines, compliance rules and privacy concerns make it important for IT to tread carefully as they relinquish direct control over their communications.
- System visibility: A recent survey by Unify Square uncovered over two-thirds of IT teams don’t leverage any support software or services to help monitor and oversee UC deployments, cloud or on-prem. This lack of visibility makes IT uneasy, which is why a recent IDG study shows that 40% of organizations have migrated one or more applications back from the cloud. It may also partially explain the demise of Cisco’s InterCloud cloud computing offering, which will officially cease operating on March 31st.
Smartphones will emerge as the most significant disruptor to the future growth of UC
A smartphone is no longer just a phone – it offers email, texting, presence, collaboration, voice, multi-party calling, video…sounds a lot like a UC system. Unlike a UC system, though, there is no infrastructure for IT to manage, no arguments about what headset or desktop phone a user gets, etc. If you consider the ubiquity of the smartphone, the growing preponderance of smartphone apps, combined with the lack of IT focus on end-user satisfaction for UC systems, enterprises are starting to give much more serious consideration to organization-wide smartphone deployments as the new “UC platform.” Sure, there are security and MDM (mobile device management) issues…but those already exist today and are being worked and budgeted for by IT.
When one also considers the following data points, the market appears to be signaling an urgent need for a much more symbiotic relationship between the smartphone and UC:
- At least three-quarters of the U.S. workforce will be mobile by 2020, according to IDC
- Over two-thirds of respondents to a Wainhouse research paper had initiated an audio or web conference from a mobile device
- T-Mobile is beta testing a new service (whose success is still to be determined) to allow its phones and network to begin to act much more like a VoIP service
- 70% of UC system end-users claim IT has never checked in with them on their satisfaction and 24% of users turn to alternative communication applications on their smartphones when they encounter a block technical issue on the enterprise UC system
Webchat apps (e.g. Slack) will morph from UC rival to symbiotic companion and adoption accelerator
According to a Nemertes Research study, the use and popularity of webchat apps, like Slack and HipChat, has experienced unprecedented growth, from 2% in 2015 to 33% in 2016. What began as a trickle effect has turned into chatter that these services will become the UC Killer. In response, a torrent of new workstream messaging solutions have been released by most of the major communications software providers, including Microsoft with Teams, Cisco with Spark, Broadsoft with TeamOne, etc.
Contrary to media hype, the market has it all wrong. Rather than being viewed as a “threat” to UC, these webchat apps will be embraced as the new companion to UC systems, and will perhaps even emerge as a new replacement client for UC systems. This new companion role will help to drive both new deployments and increase adoption and satisfaction of existing deployments. Think back to when UC first emerged on the enterprise scene and experts predicted it would replace email – that didn’t happen and the same will unfold with webchat apps. They will not be the precursor of UC attrition, primarily because of the complexities of voice.
The biggest short-term question from software vendors, enterprise IT, and even the end-users, is how to securely incorporate webchat apps into the enterprise communication mix. The answer is integration. We’ll see a strengthened usage of UC as these webchat apps effectively become the next generation of IM/P and learn how to integrate with and embrace the UC and email platforms.
Bots and AI will help to instantiate UC as a more credible “Conversation-as-a-Platform” concept and change the way UC systems are experienced by users
The use of bots in conjunction with UC systems as a B2B tool (for example, HelpDesk agents, corporate travel arrangements or instant desktop sharing from any app or dynamic social connections to LinkedIn) will simplify UC end-user adoption and smooth the path towards more ubiquitous deployments of UC. For example, leveraging bots offers a way for organizations to link UC systems to other corporate apps without having to wait for the full adoption and installation of a UC system on each desktop. IT can ensure users are already using UC functionality before its fully deployed. This emerging infusion of AI will help to breathe new life into the continued push for increased UC adoption and end-user satisfaction.
In addition to enhancing adoption and making the UC system more dynamic and easy to use, bots will offer these additional benefits:
- Bridging UC systems with persistent chat and webchat systems
- Enabling developers to build their own chatbots that work on Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business without making coding changes
- Creating more aggressive and helpful integration of AI assistants (like Cortana) into the UC workflow
Hundreds of companies are emerging in the Bot space. In fact, some pundits are actually predicting that the number of bots will soon track the number of mobile apps. The initial key categories for focus will be messaging, analytics, discovery, shared services (e.g. payments or security), productivity and customer service. Enterprises will continue to explore cost efficiency and user satisfaction enhancement use cases to enhance internal and external operations.
Organizations proceeding with full PBX replacements without a metrics-based approach will disappoint
UC platform deployments have “leveled off” in their climb up the modality ladder. The ascent from IM/P, and then conferencing was swift, but the complexity of a full PBX replacement has significantly slowed the pace. While there are many examples of enterprises successfully executing the replacement, we still haven’t reached critical mass. To empower IT to proceed with full confidence towards full PBX/voice transformations, UC-monitoring packages for both on-prem and cloud systems will become a fundamental requirement. Without these tools IT will simply be flying blind and unable to quickly and efficiently respond to the needs of its UC end-users. The “Gartner Market Guide for UC Monitoring (2016)” supports this requirement, explicitly stating that UC monitoring (UCM) tools are an essential prerequisite to the success of any VoIP/UC project and therefore need to be budgeted and accounted for.
Despite the proven need, IT continues to sidestep implementation of systematic UC service reviews and KPI monitoring systems. In a recent survey we identified the inability to monitor as one of the top challenges stated by enterprise IT in managing their organization’s UC system. Ironically, given this key need and focus, the survey also showed that over two-thirds of IT simply try to do it alone without any additional software or services support to help monitor and manage their UC systems. In 2017, IT will embrace UC as part of its organization’s broader digital transformation and will finally treat it as such by investing in tools and services. UC continues to evolve well past voice to include full digital transformation, encompassing app and desktop sharing, video, communications and collaboration. Sporadic and manual examinations of an increasingly sophisticated UC system stretching across cloud and on-prem simply aren’t enough — success in 2017 will require a constant stream of insights as the PBX fades away to full UC.