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I travelled to Orlando for Enterprise Connect, the global go-to event for Unified Communications, which has 4 days of presentations and keynote speeches from all the industry's major players, as well as an exhibition hall featuring over 200 vendors. Enterprise Connect is the place to find out what innovations we can expect in collaboration technologies by 2020. Here are 5 things that caught my techie eye:
UC is dead! At least that's the way it felt walking around the show floor. There were very few phones on display and little talk of call routing, etc. For all the bluster that the on-premise market is shrinking, it still accounts for over 80% of all collaboration sales today. Even the most optimistic forecasts for cloud solutions suggest they won't have reached 50% market share by 2021—and many analysts are pushing that date out to 2025. Even for Microsoft, the majority of their E5/Plus CAL licensing is used to deploy Skype for Business On-Premises; this is the reason there will be a further release of SfB.
Among end-users, the majority view was that most customers, even in the US, are still on-premises and a move to cloud is a roadmap for the future rather than a solid project for this year or even next year.
The big news here is that everything is moving away from traditional call-flow based solutions to a more modular focus. Twilio is one vendor which is leading the charge, but it's about plugging in different communication sources, data sources and business processes, from all sorts of different vendors, and then manipulating the call flow based on these inputs. This effectively allows for things to become very dynamic and vendor-neutral: you take video from vendor A, voice from vendor B, webchat from vendor C, and use all of that to decide who and how to route the call—and then tomorrow you make a change and do it a different way. AI also comes into play, as automating the answer to simple questions can massively reduce costs.
For the moment, this is only a play for the really big companies, but you can see how—once the tech is smoothed out—this will make CC for the SMB dramatically simpler to implement, manage and maintain.
In the short to medium term, a lot of this is moving to the cloud, and it is hard to see a future for on-premise CC except as help-desk solutions—the uptime requirements are simply too high unless you already have a large network and associated infrastructure.
It finally has a name (although I still prefer Enterprise Messaging). This was a topic of conversation with every vendor. The two big vendors in this space were obviously Cisco and Microsoft, but Slack, who created Team Collaboration, also showed up for the first time, as did Unify. Every cloud vendor had some sort of play here. It is a young product space and customers are trying to work out what they want, just as much as vendors are working out what they can make/sell. In fact, there was an air of caution; vendors were keen to mention at the end of their demos that Slack customers could still make phone calls.
The biggest general announcements in this area came from Cisco and Microsoft. Jon Rosenberg (CTO of Collaboration at Cisco) said that, for the moment, he doesn't see any sort of interoperability for these solutions, as no-one's prepared to do this, and the MS product manager confirmed that they aren't investing any R&D budget on interoperability.
Compliance was a subject that was continually brought up. The overall consensus seemed to be that the thought of using MS Compliance Manager, if you're going to use Teams, isn't that positive, as they already have compliance solutions embedded throughout their business. At the same time, Cisco don't yet offer compliance integrations.
Buzzwords everywhere! Bots, voice recognition, digital assistants, facial recognition, context aware services...
Alexa for Business was the big demo but Cisco and Polycom both demonstrated facial recognition. Every vendor with a messaging solution had a bot to show off and contact centre demos were littered with examples of how AI might work. There was lots of talk, with working examples still in progress.
Ideation devices are those that are (or contain) an interactive whiteboard. It's not just a local device but one that can share content with another device over the network. Lots of vendors had devices like this but, as the analysts said, unless you include collaboration features (like the Spark Board or Surface Hub), there's not always a use case.
Here's a ten-word summary for each of the key players:
It feels like an exciting moment for UC and Collaboration. Right now—for all the talk of cloud, Collaboration, video, and AI—the traditional phone system is still very much alive and kicking. However, if you're looking to benefit from new technologies and developments to achieve business efficiencies, enable distributed working, or improve customer interaction, there's a huge amount out there. It may take 12 to 18 months but the wave is about to break.
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