2016 has been a year of acceleration. Widespread adoption of wearable devices, continued growth in virtual and augmented reality technologies, developments in machine learning and AI and an unprecedented spike in cyberattacks.
As we look back on 2016, we can see several exciting changes across unified communications, contact centers and the payments world. We've called on experts from the industry and within IR to give us their thoughts on the year.
Contact Centers Still Missing Basic Tricks
Recognized industry expert in contact centers*, Carolyn Blunt, was concerned about the getting the basics right with contact center staff while bringing on board new technologies:
“There is a lot of interest in AI and machine learning as we look ahead to 2017, and in particular how these can be utilised to support basic customer queries in chat channels. However, a lot of contact centres still need to focus on getting the basics right. Technology has a huge part to play in delivering outstanding customer experiences, having joined up systems and good knowledge management are essential. Let's also not forget the importance of the human though, and the need to train and reward our front line teams and properly develop and invest in our leaders. 2017 will see the good get better and the worst get worse, so investment and board level recognition of the importance of the contact centre are my top tips.”
Travis Polland is the Senior Product Manager at IR and has been working with telecoms and contact centers throughout his career. There were several trends that have been occupying him in 2016; cloud based contact centers, omni-channel finally beginning to take hold after years of being talked about and the quiet emergence of virtual IVRs. However, none of these overshadowed the leap in adoption of computerized human interactions across multiple channels. We'll watch this space in 2017!
The VP of Testing Solutions in IR, Russ Zilles, has over 30 years' leadership experience and as such has an eagle eye for small things that make big differences. The big concern Russ has looking back on 2016 is that contact centers are often still finding out that their systems are down from their customers before they discover the issue internally – something he feels should have been left behind in the last century.
"We all have been in the position of calling a company and some crazy event happens, like being on hold for minutes, then our call is dropped or talking to the agent and the agent cannot hear us, even dialing the company phone number and a different company answers the call."
Will 2017 be the year to eliminate this gaping hole?
Mike Burke, another valued member of the IR team and there's very little about contact center testing Mike doesn't know! As such, it's no surprise that peak traffic hits, systems falling over and Mean Time to Repair are on his radar. One of the biggest upsets he felt was how contact centers are still taking much longer to repair problems that could have been fixed in as little as 15 minutes.
Another theme that cropped was the importance of the voice channel.
"There may be more channels for interaction now than ever before what with social media, chatbots, WebRTC as an enabling technology, mobile apps, etc. but when the digital channels fail the customer, they turn to voice when they are frustrated. Which means voice is extremely important and had better deliver the intended experience."
Machine Learning and Unified Communications
Evan Kirstel is an expert on all things in the B2B Enterprise IT, Telecom and Cloud space and is ranked the number #1 global influencer in unified communications in 2016 by Onalytica.com. Evan, like others we spoke to, had his attention caught by AI and machine learning techniques, in particular, how they are being applied to workplace collaboration and improving work life productivity.
The Growth of Skype for Business
Irwin Lazar is Vice President and Service Director for Nemertes Research, leading research and consulting activities focused on unified communications and collaboration, mobility, contact center, network and performance management and WebRTC. We asked what they thought the biggest movements in Skype for Business had been this year.
“Nemertes saw three major trends in Skype for Business in 2016, and moving into 2017: Growing enterprise plans around Skype for Business: Nearly 43% of companies participating in the Nemertes Research 2016-17 Unified Communications and Collaboration Benchmark are consolidating their UC strategies around a single primary vendor and its ecosystem. Of those, 54% are coalescing around Microsoft Skype for Business as the core of their UC strategy.
Shift to cloud: 75% of companies participating in the Nemertes Research 2016-17 Unified Communications and Collaboration Benchmark are either planning to shift to Skype for Business Cloud PBX within Office 365 while a smaller percentage are evaluating Cloud PSTN options.
The impact of Teams: More than one-third of companies are now using enterprise team chat applications like Cisco Spark, Atlassian Hipchat, and Slack. Microsoft's recent introduction of Teams now affirms the importance of team chat applications within a unified communications and collaboration strategy. Microsoft has not yet defined a long-term strategy for Teams in the context of Skype for Business (e.g. does it replace or augment the SfB client?) but we expect to see further evolution of Teams in 2017 and beyond.”
John Hand is IR's Microsoft Global Alliance Director, bringing us the latest updates from the Microsoft and Skype world. John's pick for his favorite update of the year is the expansion of Skype Translator to mobile and land-line calls. Previously, Skype Translator was only available on Skype-to-Skype calls, but will now be more widely available.
Wong Rustandi is Product Manager at IR and is heavily involved in rolling out Prognosis UC Assessor for Skype for Business. Wong deals with organizations implementing Skype for Business every week, and this year he has been surprised by the speed of deployment in some organizations.
Tokenized Payments Pick up Steam
There was one trend that can't go unmentioned in the payments industry this year: tokenized payments. Craig Porter has been with IR for over a decade, and says the adoption and usage of Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay has increased significantly, with growth expected to continue throughout 2017.
So, that's our short overview of some of the topics that made a dent in unified communications, contact centers, payments and Skype for Business in 2016. We wish you a peaceful holiday season and a prosperous New Year.