The unified communications (UC) market made huge strides in 2017, with UC deployments powering the digital transformation initiatives within many modern enterprises, and radically improving the way that business professionals communicate. So what new innovations and developments can we expect for the coming year? Here are eight trends that will define the UC market in 2018.
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1. Digital transformation will reach the moment of truth.
After years of investing in digital transformation initiatives, companies will finally have to demonstrate a concrete ROI in 2018. Organizations that have rushed ahead with projects that are not delivering ROI, or worse, are resulting in a poor customer experience, will gain public notoriety and suffer damage to their brand. The pressure will be on IT teams to ensure that UC services that underpin new digital initiatives are delivered over reliable network infrastructure, built to cope with the higher demands of cloud-based services and capable of delivering an exceptional customer experience.
2. Adoption of UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS) will accelerate, but most enterprises will opt for a hybrid model.
Organizations have discovered that moving to the cloud does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Over the next several years, the hybrid approach will remain popular, transitioning some systems to the cloud while continuing to run others on their on-premises infrastructure. Hybrid provides organizations with the flexibility to move gradually to the cloud, one application at a time, and at a pace that best suits the business. Hybrid UC solutions also take advantage of the on-premises infrastructure companies have already invested in and allow them to successfully marry that infrastructure with cloud services.
3. Many early adopters will discover that UCaaS can actually add cost and complexity.
Despite the promise of improved service, moving to the cloud can mean adding even more vendors—and layering on another level of complexity and cost. Companies will gain flexibility from UCaaS but it's not a silver bullet; there will be challenges. For example, employees working from home will want to use their preferred devices and expect a similar experience to what they have in the office. So, what happens if they have a bad user experience? UC teams will be expected to troubleshoot and resolve, fast. In this multi-vendor environment, it becomes increasingly hard. The truth is that you need the proper expertise to support a cloud deployment, just like an on-premises environment. Smart organizations will budget for increased costs and manage complexity by ensuring that they have vendor-independent UC management tools, which provide visibility across the entire hybrid UC ecosystem to find the root cause of issues fast.
4. Voice and video communications will increasingly be one-to-many, rather than one-to-one.
Research shows that conference calls now represent up to 40 percent of all voice traffic in the enterprise. That means employees are increasingly communicating through group collaboration solutions, and that trend will gain even more momentum in 2018, especially as the enterprise continues its rapid adoption of team messaging and collaboration solutions such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco Spark and Slack.
5. Companies will embrace browser-based and in-app communications.
Businesses can enhance customer interactions and increase productivity in 2018 by embedding real-time multimedia communications capabilities directly into a web browser or mobile application. Take, for example, a commercial bank. Many banks are mainly communicating with their customers solely through their app, think about it: when was the last time you needed to go into your local bank branch? Most customer interactions take place online, via a web browser or mobile app. The ability to use that app to engage with consumers in new and different ways, whether through online chat or video conference, can help businesses stay connected with customers.
6. Artificial intelligence will greatly improve the customer experience.
Consumers are increasingly connecting with AI assistants like Siri, Cortana and Alexa in their daily lives. So it's only a matter of time before these kinds of bots will be accepted in a business environment. AI is already dramatically changing call centers. It's making call centers more efficient with bots that can quickly answer the questions most commonly asked by customers. AI is even helping to predict customer behavior, providing advice to customer service reps on how best to solve a particular issue. In 2018, we will see even greater acceptance of bots as a legitimate alternative to human interaction for customer service.
7. Managed Service Providers will be more important than ever.
MSPs are uniquely positioned to give support and advice to companies that are driving toward digital transformation. Most organizations today are not on a single UC platform. They're on disparate platforms from any number of different vendors. To succeed, they need to seamlessly monitor, manage and optimize this multivendor environment. MSPs know how to integrate all the moving parts—the hardware, software, network components, gateways, phones, headsets—to get the most out of these systems. Should organizations want a customized cloud service, MSPs can offer more flexibility than a vendor. The MSP can focus on managing the complexity, freeing the customer to focus on reaping the benefits.
8. Call Recording Compliance will take center stage.
In today's heavily regulated business environment, financial institutions must comply with a variety of laws and requirements to remain insured and avoid costly—and embarrassing—penalties. Banks, for instance, are required to record every one of their transactions as proof that they actually did what the customer requested and have not broken any laws. But if a recording is inaudible or corrupted in any way, that's the same as the call never being recorded in the first place. To avoid these sorts of nightmare scenarios, financial institutions will rely more heavily on Call Recording Assurance solutions in 2018. In Europe, this reliance is triggered by MiFID II enforcement from January 3, 2018. This technology monitors voice quality and checks that all calls that are required to be recorded for legislation and regulatory purposes actually are recorded and that the resulting media file contains audible content.
As Niels Bohr—the Nobel Prize-winning physicist—once said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.” Still, there can be no doubt that the UC market will continue to experience rapid growth and reshape the modern workplace in the coming year.