Friday, 5 December 2014

Unified Communication Trends 2014 (From Feb 2014)

User Centricity is more than just devices – it’s about the way people work.  Connectedness, type of work and devices are key determinants of what individuals need to consume. Globalisation and the availability of mobile technology are influencing the way people think about communication.

The proliferation of mobile devices and consumer applications is driving organisations to provide support for the ways in which their employees want to work. Bring Your Own Device has been a concept in circulation for a number of years and variations of this approach are starting to develop. One such approach is Choose Your Own Device where employees select a mobile device from a range of devices. This enables them to obtain a device that suits them on a business and personal level. Another variation on this is Earn Your Own device meaning that after a period the employee actually acquires ownership of the kit. Globalisation and the availability of mobile technology are influencing the way people think about communication.

The BYOD approach comes with challenges including security, applications and data segregation. Few employees now operate separate personal and work devices and the single device in use is often an aggregation point for business/personal applications, social media and mixed files including photos and music. The expectation is that employees can utilise their device as a one-stop-shop for Unified Communications. Containerisation is a concept that has been introduced by a number of vendors, enabling mobile devices to assume personas based on use. Corporate data and applications can be segregated from their personal counterparts and presented in differing workspaces. Vmware’s recent acquisition of AirWatch at US$1.54 billion and the Citrix acquisition of Framehawk indicate the expected growth in this area. AirWatch is one of the top players in the Mobile Device Management and Mobile security arena. Framehawk allows mobilisation and isolation or corporate applications and data.

Business applications are being driven toward the same ease of use and simplicity of their personal counterparts. Applications such as are available regardless of platform, they present feature rich and intuitive interfaces that are readily adopted by users. The groundswell for these applications is based on the rapid development that can be seen in cloud-based services. The move to cloud-based services permits quick deployment, decreased learning curves and demand based consumption. The formula that allows these applications to become increasingly popular is evident in the advancement of browser capabilities, web protocols, increasing bandwidth and the massive growth of service infrastructures such as Amazon, Google and Cloud services such as Evernote and Dropbox have grown from consumer-only offerings to a range of business and team oriented products. Dropbox alone is now valued at US$10 billon. 

Hosted and cloud services enable organisations to embrace user-centric identities. Identities associated with users will be consumed on any device the user decides to wield. Whilst capabilities may vary depending upon device specifications; voice, video, messaging will be available pervasively. The phone (at the most basic level) being perceived something tangible will be replaced with a Unified Communications identity that you access through your choice of device. We’ve already seen this shift with other traditional products such as finance packages becoming cloud services and television becoming a customised on-demand service.

Unified Communications convergence
Big data may sound like an unusual bedfellow for Unified Communication however the trend toward gathering data from business phone systems to improve productivity and collaboration is upon us. Data gathered from call records can turn into actionable intelligence that companies will use to reveal patterns that expose relationships and behaviors. For example, this type of data can tell a company if they have sufficient staff to manage the number of calls coming into the contact center and optimal calling periods to ensure efficiency. Customer contact and service contributes to defining business success and will increasingly become a differentiator in the future.

Video is starting to become an integral part of Unified Communications offerings. Integrated offerings are becoming main-stream and this is most true with the cloud delivered services. Fully featured on-premise implementations of phone systems can be costly and the introduction of video increases the price-tag significantly. Cloud providers are now starting to now offer utility-based environments that either provide monolithic UC stacks or modular UC capabilities. Cisco is one of several vendors leading the way with open architectures allowing integration with other systems and flexible range of endpoints.

One of the other apparent changes in Unified Collaboration solutions is the transition from voicemail to messaging. A messaging identity can be accessed through multiple devices and move with the user. Voicemail has been historically been tied to a single platform and inherits the restrictions of the host system. Telecommunications providers are beginning to fill the gap with independent and integrated voicemail solutions. Voice to text services are maturing and become readily available to consumers. Text messaging has long been the common denominator for Telecommunications providers and consumers around the world. The trend away from the Short Message Service to feature rich and integrated services is well underway. Open protocols such as XMPP are allowing federation between the new messaging systems.

Unified Communications as a Service
On-premise PBX systems are no longer the norm. The nature of communications and the expectations of today’s worker are shifting. The traditional desk phone, user workstation and standard environment don’t provide the flexibility required by the modern employee. The path to providing the new age services isn’t linear. The majority of businesses have an existing investment in communications infrastructure. Rapid advances in features and functionality see new versions appearing more frequently, often making the hardware platform obsolete or requiring costly upgrades. Continually upgrading or swapping out hardware and software can constitute considerable investment for many organisations and isn’t always a viable option.

Organisations will continue to embrace a gradual approach to Unified Communications through the adoption and integration of on-premise and hosted/cloud services. This hybrid approach provides an economical way for organisations to introduce capabilities and make progress toward a fully hosted model. It is predicted that the on-premise PBX will cease to exist in a few years. On-premise PBX systems providing special features will be the last to be migrated but will succumb to the pull of cloud in due course.

Organisations that are able to fully migrate to cloud will redefine how they collaborate. Video will become a larger part of integrated unified communications offerings, which will include instant messaging, mobility, presence and collaboration capabilities. This will provide workers a dynamic set of features with which to collaborate on sales calls, meetings and conferences. The key aspects of cloud; utility, on-demand and ubiquitous access will provide agility and financial predictability. 

With the depth of features available profile-based use becomes increasingly important. Not all workers are created equal, feature requirements vary with roles, business units and an individual’s technical prowess. The adoption of cloud UC services is predicted to be initially viewed as an upgrade rather than a paradigm shift. As adoption and understanding grows so will the extent to which the cloud UC services are utilised. Profiled use will allow businesses to group users by feature requirements such as mobile-only, desk bound, home-based or advanced video and video conferencing. Groups of users will be administered not by a third party but by delegated administrators throughout the business. Individual organisational units will control the service characteristics through an online portal. Workers will have deputised access to profile components allowing them to customise their UC experience. Self-help capabilities are slated to improve the efficacy of service consumption and productivity.

The acquisition of Skype by Microsoft and growing integration into their Unified Communications product Lync is evidence of the consumer adoption of cloud UC and deep penetration into the enterprise. Skype carries more international minutes than any other Telecommunications company. Cisco has started to penetrate the consumer market with free peer-to-peer video and voice services that tie in with their enterprise offerings. This integration further blurs the lines between consumer and enterprise but at the same time brings them closer and opens up huge collaboration opportunities.

The underlying themes for the Unified Communication trends are easily identifiable as mobility, cloud and flexibility. The former two are most obvious. The drive for flexibility is being driven through multiple avenues. 

Consumers have never had such a range of devices, applications or services available to them. They are becoming accustomed to the experience of consuming what they want, when they want it and how they want it. The resulting expectations are being reflected in the services that organisations are beginning to provide for their employees.

The desk-phone will be replaced by a Unified Communications identity. This identity will span and consume multiple services from cloud-based offerings. With the growing adoption of Open Authentication standards and cloud aggregation services, deep integration and a seamless experience will become the standard. The individual’s UC environment will be flexible and based upon the individual's requirements at that time.

Cloud delivered Unified Communications will become the norm with barriers to entry becoming progressively lower. Legacy PSTN access methods and technologies will decline with the uptake of cloud UC. UC services will feature video as standard; voicemail use will wane as direct collaboration methods and presence become pervasive. This functionality will continue to move up the stack over time providing further integration, functionality and flexibility to users.

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