For years businesses relied on plain old telephone service (POTS) managed through a PSTN for all their communication needs. Inside most offices, you’d find a closet where PBX equipment was connecting employees to a central phone, as well as extensions. What the conventional phone system lacked in flexibility, it made up for in reliability. As time passed, we discovered email as a must-have work tool and later Voice Over-IP communication. VoIP phones put voice and data traffic over the same connection, providing reliable worldwide connectivity for less cost.
In today’s digital era, where more people are mobile and working remotely, business communication continues to evolve in new and exciting ways. Unified Communications (UC), for example, integrates all the communication forms and devices into a central hub, allowing for dialogue and other workflows to all exist and be available on the same platform. UC enables voice, email, instant messaging, video conferencing, social and immersive digital communication, keeping conversations flowing freely to support collaboration, innovation, and productivity wherever and whenever work gets done.
Where do we go from here?
2018 marked an inflection point for UC solutions – tipping the scales in favor of the popular cloud-based delivery models. Nemertes reports that 67% of organizations now have at least part of their UCC applications in the cloud, while nearly one-third are all cloud. (Source: Nemertes). Cloud deployment models may vary from hosted options to a hybrid deployment, or UC delivered as-a-service. As cloud-based UC pushes legacy phone systems to the fringes, what’s next? Let’s take a closer look.
- Collaboration tools are now a must – Although collaboration tools started as ‘extra’ offerings for UC platforms, team collaboration tools and capabilities are now a major priority for savvy UC customers. Team collaboration capabilities are moving to become the centerpiece of users’ UC experience. UC vendors are looking at ways to better integrate workflows and external apps into team collaboration apps to drive efficiencies in the way people work. In making these moves, they’re hoping for team collaboration functionality to become a real hub for internal and external collaboration across the enterprise.
- Integrations reshape workflows – UC and collaboration tools will continue to reshape workflows across the enterprise with tie-ins to other business processes and apps. A growing trend is for UC vendors to offer APIs that let customers integrate easy-to-use collaboration features into current apps so users don’t have to get out of an application to initiate a chat session or make a call. Or collaboration capabilities are being ‘baked in’ to new customized applications to improve communication and reporting, for example. Another example is integrating UC apps into CRM applications to minimize data entry and improve record sharing and note-taking.
- Video makes its mark – The proliferation of consumer video applications, such as Facebook, have pushed video collaboration applications into the workplace, and not just in boardrooms either. Teams are using video applications in smaller, less formal meetings to mimic real in-person conversations. Video meetings and impromptu calls will continue to become commonplace for collaborating with remote team members, partners, and customers.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) makes its debut – Another technology that will have a big impact on UC and collaboration capabilities in AI. AI-infused features may cancel out distracting noises during voice or video calls, or the tools may automatically capture meeting notes and transcripts to optimize meeting performance and free up team members for other tasks.
According to analysts, the benefits of new unified communication and collaboration tools will continue to draw in new users and spur continued innovation in the industry. MarketsandMarkets predicts that UCaaS adoption is set to double by 2021, particularly among small to mid-sized businesses. (Source: MarketsandMarkets). As new UCC applications evolve, organizations will be able to customize collaboration experiences, more easily make and receive video calls, and use APIs to tie into other critical business apps. The hope is also that AI-powered tools within UCC platforms will also make collaborating in the workplace a more natural and productive experience, whether teams are global, mobile – or both.