2015 is sure to be an exciting year for Unified Communications and Collaboration, with new ideas and technologies entering the ever-changing mix.
From the beginning, the concept has always been in flux: UCC was first discussed in the 1980s but really didn’t get traction until the 1990s. Then, players such as Microsoft, Lotus, AT&T, and others started developing their own interpretations. Some focused on integrating voice mail and email on office phones, cell phones, and PCs. Others added features to “find” the person you wanted to contact. Speech-control capabilities were also tried. In short, it was a time of throwing ideas against the wall to see what stuck.
We are still in that mode today, with the definition of UCC continuing to be fluid. While various companies define it differently, UCC has always depended on technological innovation, with each new communications technology eventually finding its way into the mix.
Today, UCC is generally defined as a set of products that provide a consistent user interface and user experience over different devices and media types – with users communicating via voice, video, instant messaging, and presence. Six new ideas and technologies have entered the mix – or gained prominence recently, including Web Real-time Collaboration (WebRTC), mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), cloud UC, social integration, and increasing customization via APIs and SDKs. Here’s a look at these current trends.
Web Real-time Collaboration (WebRTC): The concept of real-time collaboration has been around in various forms for more than a decade. In the 1990s, the idea of unified messaging centered on bringing voice mail and e-mail together on cell phones, office phones, and on office desktop PCs. It has come a long way since then. Today, the components of real-time collaboration can include Instant Messaging, chat, presence, ad hoc audio and video conferencing, document sharing, web collaboration, and more. Now, WebRTC is making collaboration more streamlined and easier to use. New refinements include device awareness, search tools, geo location presence, integration with SalesForce, Google and other apps, and a consistent user experience across multiple devices. For example, UCC providers are introducing group chat capabilities that let users launch a web meeting or a screen share directly from the browser. Voilà! Instant collaboration!
Mobility: With a workforce that’s scattered around the world and constantly on the move, today’s global enterprises need fast, reliable, and flexible mobile communications. That has been an elusive goal for many. In fact, a recent Forrester Research study found that half of the workers polled have projects delayed because a key decision-maker can't be reached. While every employee has a smart phone and is assumed to be connected and in touch, all the time, everywhere, being fully connected to the office on a mobile device has been elusive – a broadband connection has usually been required. Now, with the most mature UC platforms, providers are enabling mobile devices to instantly connect to contacts, communication tools, and services that have traditionally required being in the office and logged in.
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): It’s now the new normal. In fact, Gartner predicts 50% of enterprises will have BYOD policies by 2017. The reasons are many. BYOD increases employee productivity, satisfaction, and engagement in the workplace and after hours. It also saves the company money and lessens stress on IT since employees are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their own devices. Along with the benefits come network integration security concerns. UCC providers are solving this problem and making the integration transition simple and secure. Mobility and BYOD are definitely here to stay, so expect many more advances in this area in the coming months.
Cloud UCC: UCC via the cloud is a growing trend that offers more than onsite solutions. It helps enterprises become more streamlined and competitive by reducing costs, increasing flexibility, and boosting efficiency and productivity. Little or no up-front capital investment is needed and no IT training or administration is required. Services can be quickly and easily scaled, upgrades are transparent, and there’s no need for expensive technical resources for users. It frees companies to focus on growing their businesses instead of managing technology.
Social: More and more, a company's online presence is becoming defined by the quality of its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. This makes social sites valuable tools for communicating with customers and prospects, providing product information, increasing company and brand awareness, tracking market trends, and more. As a result, UCC plug-ins for CRM applications are becoming more widely available. The next step will be to allow instant communication through UCC applications to social media websites. This will allow interactive communications campaigns to be launched, managed, and tracked on social media, engaging customers and prospects, building brand awareness, and generating market information. "Social media tools have rapidly moved from being the preferred communication method of millennials to the standard by which enterprise workers and customers can quickly and freely connect," said Mark Straton, Siemens Enterprise Communications Group's senior vice president of marketing, voice and application solutions.
UCC APIs and SDKs, IT and business managers are under constant pressure to improve productivity and profitability. A large component of that challenge is developing and deploying UCC solutions that engage employees and allow them to innovate and serve customers better. Since every enterprise is different, many find that off-the-shelf solutions don’t fit the specific needs of their business. That’s why more enterprises are using APIs and SDKs from providers such as Microsoft, Cisco, Unify, Alcatel Lucent, and others to develop their own UCC solutions. This way, they’re able to bring multiple communications capabilities into a consistent architecture and enable employees to communicate, collaborate, and innovate in a safe, secure, compliant, and reliable environment with peers, partners, and customers. Expect to see more enterprises of all sizes move in this direction going forward.
Looking ahead, the need for – and the use of – UCC will continue to grow. More enterprises will start UCC initiatives, while those already using UCC will expand its usage within the enterprise. The technology will grow beyond large enterprises and become widely adopted in medium and small organizations. Of course new ideas in UCC are likely to surface in 2015. But that’s a topic for another time. Be sure to check out our UCC Hub for updates!