The future of Unified Communications: smarter collaboration equipped to handle the shifting digital landscape

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The past ten years has seen an incredible evolution in business communication technology. In the infancy of Unified Communications (UC), reports detailed how a platform which integrated phone, video and email systems would revolutionise workspaces, allowing workers to interact effectively from any location, in real-time. However, unlike some other tech buzzwords, UC has fulfilled expectations. As new technology products enter the market promising various performance benefits, companies can feel compelled to purchase multiple systems which are costly and over complicated. A single, streamlined UC platform offers businesses an efficient way to maximise employee productivity and drive performance growth.

 The success of UC lies in its ability to constantly evolve with, and harness, the latest technology trends. Breakthroughs in speech recognition, cloud software and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have all transformed collaboration tools, meaning it is now possible for employees to communicate not only across different rooms, but even countries and time zones. The capabilities of UC are far beyond that of simple messaging via emailing and calling systems; these tools now enhance the working process itself. The introduction of Intelligent Communications marks a seminal point in the journey of collaborative working. The launch of Microsoft Teams last September embodies the Intelligent Communications strategy: a set of cohesive tools which enrich the entire working cycle. Teams integrates Skype for Business and allows users to instant message, video chat, share documents and files, join meetings and plan agendas, all from one hub. In March, Teams announced its upcoming features such as cloud recording, mobile meeting sharing and Cortana voice interactions. Such advancements are made possible by incorporating AI technologies, which have been steadily gaining momentum in enterprise services.

The trajectory of UC speaks of a deeper, underlying shift in the way work and technology combine. The ability to stay connected has become an essential requirement in our global society. A 2017 report by Deloitte indicated that over 50 per cent of UK workers surveyed used their smartphones for at least one business related activity. Furthermore, 19 per cent of those individuals admitted to using their smartphones for business purposes outside of work. The statistics reflect how reliant the majority of UK employees are on their personal devices, and the extent to which mobile technology has progressed. With this in mind, UC platforms are increasingly available as smartphone-friendly apps which support the dynamic lifestyles of modern workers.

With some of the world’s most influential global tech companies debuting their professional collaboration platforms, it is clear that the future of UC is all about expansion. The recent Enterprise Connect 2018 Conference and Expo in Florida outlined some of the upcoming trends in UC and enterprise collaborations. The event welcomed notable guest speakers including Facebook, Google, and Amazon. While Facebook discussed its Workplace platform, Amazon Web Services delivered a speech on its Alexa for Business Service. The latter employs Amazon’s voicebot as a personal assistant for workers, enrolling users who can then voice- manage calendars, start meetings and program specific skills into the device. Such innovations confirm that UC remains a lucrative sector amongst the technology giants who recognise a need for these products with end-users. In a consumer-centric world, enterprise collaboration cannot be separated from the requirements and demands of the individual user.

Setting priorities

UC platforms today also need to consider the new realm of cyber security. Many high-profile organisations have fallen victim to malicious hackers in recent years, however the issue of cyber security Is increasingly affecting businesses of all sizes and industries. A 2017 Government survey on Cyber Security Breaches in the UK revealed that almost 50 per cent of all UK businesses had experienced at least one cyber security breach or attack in the previous 12 months. UC is built upon digital and instantly accessible applications, often incorporating a cloud-based system, which makes them even more vulnerable to security breaches. The use of personal devices in the workplace and staff logging into their company databases from remote locations further increases the risk of viruses.

The priority now for UC providers is creating a platform which fully encrypts and protects a business’s information without compromising the agility and accessibility for employees. The majority of UC platforms already incorporate data security and spam filtering tools to ensure the shared networks are secure. However, the conversation now must centre around how cloud infrastructures can be fortified against rapidly evolving cyber threats. The good news is that technology is a dynamic industry; if cyber-attacks can evolve then so can cloud-based collaboration tools. Many of the biggest UC providers are already creating tools which heighten security and use AI-powered devices to anticipate threats before they can cause harm. Microsoft Enterprise Mobility +Security (EM+S) is one such example, designed to assist companies with high volumes of remote workers using their own devices. It delivers comprehensive identity, mobile management and security from a single cloud-based solution, harnessing machine learning and behavioural analytics to identify suspicious behaviour.

Private and hybrid cloud solutions are the next stage in sophisticated cloud computing services. Businesses can use a private, on-site infrastructure to host their collaborative applications which gives businesses more control, making them better equipped to combat security breaches. The cloud solution can further be personalised to suit the specific needs of the company, resulting in a flexible platform which augments business performance. Organisations therefore have a fully accessible UC platform which supports communication and productive working. The advances in mobile technology and cloud platforms means that businesses do not have to be powerless against cybercrime.

The future of collaboration tools is set to be the ultimate in smart working, delivering collaboration and productivity unhindered by physical or geographical limitations. At the same time the threat of cyber-attacks has created fresh concerns for UC providers. The latest developments in collaborative tools and cloud platforms do demonstrate, however, that this technology is able to adapt. With the new hybrid cloud platforms and UC creators devising more cutting-edge threat analysis and identification methods, business can be prepared for the new digital landscape. Unified Communications was originally hailed as a facilitator for flexible working. Now organisations can operate an agile workforce which assimilates intelligent tools into everyday business processes.

John Brett, Nexus Open Systems
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