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5 predictions for unified communications and collaboration tools in 2017

The unified communications and collaboration technology industry (again) underwent rapid growth in 2016. And according to a Global Market Insights forecast, the market is only growing –with projections to reach $96 billion by 2023. There’s no denying that UC technology is shaping the modern workplace, and as organisations adjust to the tools available, they’ll rely on UC more than ever to elevate workplace collaboration to the next level in 2017. 

Organisations mad dash to the Cloud has paved the way for emerging persistent collaboration like Cisco Spark, Slack, and Microsoft Teams. These UC newcomers are challenging business leaders and IT teams to rethink the way they collaborate across different platforms while achieving ROI through adoption. With the mobile workforce projected to comprise nearly three-quarters of our country’s employees by 2020, it’s essential to consider the modern worker’s preferences when crafting UC strategies in 2017 and beyond. 

Organisations should consider the following trends in unified communications and collaboration as they head into 2017: 

1. The year of vendor commitment 

In 2017, we’ll see more organisations use one primary vendor for their UC needs. According to Nemertes Research, more than 40 per cent of enterprises are planning to converge their UC apps around a single vendor, with the majority selecting either Cisco or Microsoft. Aiming to create a better user experience and guarantee smoother deployments, large organisations will look to consolidate vendors. Small businesses, on the other hand, aren’t ready for consolidation just yet – they’ll likely take advantage of disruptive providers in the new year. 

2. Increased interoperability 

As the recently announced partnership between Cisco and Microsoft illustrates, interoperability will be a big focus in the collaboration industry through 2017. By connecting Cisco’s collaboration solutions with Skype for Business, organisations will reap the benefits of simpler, more streamlined unified communications. This type of interoperability allows collaboration to take place outside of an organisation’s ecosystem while providing the ideal mix of cross-pollination for external communication. As interoperability steals the spotlight in 2017, organisations that successfully deploy interoperable and integrated UC solutions will experience greater adoption among users. Improved interoperability allows businesses to make smarter, more scalable UC investments while removing burdensome communication silos.  

3. Persistent collaboration shows its true colours 

Team chat has taken the workplace by storm, and apps like HipChat, Microsoft Teams and Slack have enabled organisations’ consistent communication – both internal and external. This form of instant messaging has allowed work teams to interact more frequently and to keep a pulse on projects in real-time. But will these emerging platforms truly replace traditional UC tools in 2017 or forever remain boutique solutions? This year, there will be more clarity on how these tools will be capable of displacing traditional technologies – if at all – or if they’ll continued to be used in isolation. 

4. Video moves beyond conferencing 

Video content like YouTube and Vimeo has proven to be ubiquitous for business use, but enterprise-grade video conferencing has yet to become a true workplace staple. For instance, West's Unified Communications Services report on the state of video conferencing found that 54 per cent of employees regularly participate in video conferences through free, consumer-grade technology with 70 per cent using tools like Skype or FaceTime. Organisations will continue to push for video conferencing adoption in 2017, but they’ll also work on making video an integral component to accelerating digital transformation. From virtual training and onboarding to video town halls, video will be huge for UC in the next year.  

5. Increased reliance on personas to distribute UC tools 

The use of personas – identifying which employees need which tools based on job responsibility – will be a focal point in companies’ UC plans in 2017. In the past, companies have (sometimes inaccurately) deployed certain tools to employees based solely on their job title rather than taking a hard look at their day-to-day tasks. This year, more organisations will move away from this practice by looking at what tools employees need as opposed to blindly distributing technology across the organisation. IT departments will come to the realisation that there isn’t a single solution for every employee, regardless of shared job title. By listening to their users and assessing which tools are needed to carry out their responsibilities, organisations can ensure they’re purchasing and assigning the right technology. 

Though we’ll have to wait to see what 2017 brings to determine if these predictions ring true, we do know emerging technology has led to a significant shift in the way people want to work. As employees continuously seek the option to work remotely, UC will play an increasingly critical role in fostering seamless collaboration in the new year. By committing to a single vendor, focusing on personas, leveraging video content and ensuring interoperability, organisations can facilitate the growth of the UC market while empowering a more productive and collaborative workforce. 

Rob Bellmar, EVP of Business Operations, West Unified Communications Services
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa