No longer for just the largest enterprises, unified communications has now penetrated its way into education, small and medium businesses, hospitality and other industries. With the proliferation of Internet and bandwidth coupled with powerful free applications, such as Skype and Google Hangouts, which allow for real-time communication, the bar for paid unified communication services is set pretty high. It is without question that competing with “free” is an uphill battle, but the need for security, flexibility and unique business requirements keeps the enterprise UC market growing rapidly.
Though now the leaders in the UC space must continue to push the envelope for what they deliver to their clients. Both those who have systems and are seeking more and those that are looking at hanging up their old PBX or Key System are seeking to move into a next-generation unified communication solution.
However, when it comes to pushing the envelope, what does that mean? More than anything it means being ahead of the curve. It means building tools and applications to extend your UC service beyond the traditional voice, video, instant message and presence that comprise UC today. It means spotting the trends and implementing them into your suite of products. With technology evolving swiftly, the trends can seem to come and go quickly, but right now there are five that are shaping the unified communications space. This includes Web Real-time collaboration (WRTC), mobility, bring your own device (BYOD), hosted (cloud UC) and social integration.
Here is a rundown of these game-changing technologies.
1. Web Real-time Collaboration (WRTC): The ability to move from a call to a collaboration session has never been truly ubiquitous. Services like WebEx and GoToMeeting have existed for some time and their service capabilities have continued to expand, but that real-time collaboration required the creation of a meeting, an email to the invitees and a login to the service, making extra steps for collaboration to take place. Now this is all starting to change. UC providers are building the capabilities for group chats in a desktop client to launch a Web collaboration meeting or a screen share right out of the client giving instantaneous capabilities to collaborate. This tool will allow companies to collaborate and move faster than ever before seamlessly within their UC environment.
2. Mobility: Being connected anytime anywhere is increasingly becoming the goal for any communication. While a smartphone more or less provides this ability, the requirement to be fully connected to the office requires more than a disparate device on a wireless network. What it comes down to is the ability to use the widely available broadband to reach back to home baseand whether you are riding the train to work or you are on a beach in Fiji,as long as you have Internet you are fully connected. Perhaps the most mature UC platforms, starting with applications that ride on the mobile device, such as Jabber from Cisco or UC-One from Broadsoft, companies are giving the mobile device instant connection to the contacts, communication tools and services that would be available from the office when logged in.
3. BYOD: This may be one of the most discussed trends in workplace technology let alone unified communications. The ability for users to integrate their personal tools into the work environment is an exciting yet controversial subject as IT leaders and staff face offover the ups and downs of BYOD. The bottom line is that the IT’s battle will likely prove futile as CEOs are among those seeking to bring their iPad to the office. For UC providers the trend is making this service useful and accessible as the individual choices to use the capability is not within their control. The one thing that is for sure is that this trend is going to continue to evolve and you will see more and more personal devices enter the workplace each and every day.
4. Hosted (Cloud): Cloud was long seen as a less secure and less reliable to go about information technologies. With equipment hosted elsewhere, the lack of control for many IT leaders was unacceptable, but with top down pushes for cost cutting and the growth of cloud as a viable business model, there is a growing consensus among IT that it is here to stay. For UC, the cloud now offers everything on-site solutions could offer and more. For instance, scalability with cloud is rarely an issue as the only requirement on the user side is bandwidth and QOS on the switch. Those are items you would really need whether on or off-site so the cost becomes a non-factor. The great thing about cloud for UC is that upgrades and growth are often included and don’t require much in the way of technical resources on the user side. The provider takes care of those things so organizations can focus on what they do rather than technology.
5. Social Integration: Of the five trends, this is the one that still has the longest way to go. But organizations are more intertwined with their social media than ever before. Early on the distraction of social media at work was seen as a reason to keep an arms-length between employees and social sites. However, with end users and brands pervasive on social media websites, organizations can no longer just close out social usage from their communications. In fact they need to be integrated more than ever. Right now we are seeing social integration in customer relationship management (CRM). With UC plugins for CRM apps becoming more widely available the next logical step is to allow instant communication through UC applications to social media websites. This is a trend to watch out for and the company that leads the way here may see a rapid growth in adoption since social media communication is widely used through organizations of all sizes.
With these five UC trends, we will continue to see growth in both adoption and expansion of use within current and new unified communication deployments. And the growth will no longer be limited to just large enterprises, but the expansion will be into businesses and organizations of all shapes and sizes.