2016 proved to be an eventful year for unified communications (UC) and collaboration in the enterprise. Newer entrants like Zoom and Slack, as well as emerging technologies like AI and bots, put the spotlight on this now surprisingly ‘legacy’ technology category creating renewed innovation and growth in the market. Change is good, but it does come with its fair share of challenges. In 2017, IT teams will face the same UC hurdles --- how to successfully deploy and manage these environments, and how to train end users –– due to the lack of visibility into UC environments. However, with accelerated business velocity, investment in these tools will no longer be an afterthought, especially as leadership increasingly continues to rely on the cloud. The addition of AI and bots to the UC equation will only accelerate end-user adoption, sparking overall UC system health improvements. These enhancements are expected to create endless integration opportunities, offering a superior communication and collaboration experience for enterprises and end users alike.
Here are three trends that will greatly influence UC in 2017:
UC in the cloud is not all or nothing
In spite of the growing popularity of UC-as-a-Service, enterprise IT still moves carefully when transitioning UC systems to the cloud. In fact, more than half (54 per cent) of enterprises are looking to implement hybrid UC in 2017 – up from 30 per cent last year, according to an IDG survey. While cloud is still a priority due to operational and long term cost benefits (such as scalable OpEx models or server upgrade and patching avoidance) IT will abandon an all-or-nothing approach to UCaaS. Instead, they will favor hybrid deployments for the next three to five years.
- IT needs to resolve on-prem issues before venturing further in the cloud: Three of the most common hurdles encountered during rollouts include VIP escalations, poor Wi-Fi and bad end-user audio devices. These problems exist no matter the UC configuration. And, when combined with system and application interoperability issues and legacy server infrastructure concerns, aggressive pure cloud migrations will be dialed back until these issues are solved.
- System maturity & complexity: IT is still learning to effectively manage on-prem deployments and wants to avoid venturing too quickly into a new configuration. As cloud features become more sophisticated, there is lower incentive to push forward full cloud deployments until the ROI is more proven and deployment case studies are ubiquitously available.
- Security & compliance issues: Security still remains a top concern—in spite of ongoing improvements—when determining an enterprise’s cloud configuration. Some see cloud services as actually more secure, while other IT professionals fear that a slew of data sovereignty guidelines, compliance rules and privacy concerns still make the cloud too risky. Hybrid environments allow IT to manage the cloud transition at a pace with which they’re comfortable.
- Visibility: A recent IDG study unveiled that 40 per cent of organisations have migrated one or more applications back from the cloud after initial deployment. This ‘reverse migration’ is often due to a lack of visibility and control over the entire UC system, further underpinning the importance of effective system monitoring.
Disappointment lurks if implementing a full PBX replacement without a metrics-based approach
UC system PBX replacements continue apace, but have not yet hit the full Autobahn fast lane. Many enterprises have been able to successfully navigate the complex transition from PBX to UC, but there remain IT teams who linger at the IM and conferencing stages and avoid pulling out into the passing lane to a full voice transformation.
A recent survey found over two-thirds of IT try to manage implementations without any additional software or services to support the overall health of the UC systems, and yet the inability to monitor was cited as one of the top challenges. As pressure mounts to speed deployments and demonstrate ROI, IT is realising the importance of UC-monitoring tools to oversee deployments while simultaneously addressing any technical issues for 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 called out as a key line item on IT budgets. Even so, IT continues to bypass investment and implementation of systematic UC service reviews and KPI monitoring systems. If this trend persists, full PBX replacements may continue to putter along in the slow lane.
AI and bots will transform the UC experience
Among the most hyped emerging technologies of 2016, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and bots will have a positive impact on UC deployment and adoption momentum. For end-users, integrating AI assistants like Apple’s Siri into UC workflows can create even more streamlined collaboration for end-users as the system becomes smarter with each interaction. This can help promote use and adoption of the UC system.
For IT, big data systems can leverage AI to actively filter millions of data points and surface actionable intelligence that IT can use to better tune UC systems. Bots also offer great transformational opportunities for UC. They can be leveraged to link UC systems to corporate apps without waiting for the full adoption and installation of a UC system on each separate desktop. This allows IT to ensure users are already engaging with the UC system before it’s fully deployed. Bots can also allow developers to build or bridge UC systems with popular webchat systems, offering end-users the communication experience they want, while still under the safeguard of an enterprise-grade UC system.
IT professionals who are leaning into these three trends and embracing UC as part of their broader digital transformation initiative will find themselves in the UC driver’s seat in 2017. End users have a low tolerance for interruptions or technical issues, so ensuring that UC can play a leading role in the enterprise digital transformation will require careful focus on simplicity and quality. If correctly executed the long and winding UC road will finally finish its transition from ‘technology milestone’ to end user expectation and enterprise lifestyle.
Scott Gode, chief product marketing officer at Unify Square
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa