Unified Communications - Evolving for the Future

Blair Pleasant, Co-Founder, UC Strategies and Jim Burton, Co-Founder, UC Strategies
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Blair Pleasant, Co-Founder, UC Strategies

In the beginning there was Unified Communications (UC)–and it was good. More of a concept than an actual product, UC solutions help companies improve worker productivity and optimize business processes. Using capabilities such as instant messaging and click-to-call helps workers save time by not having to look up phone numbers and pick up the phone to interact with someone, but it didn’t provide the “bang for the buck” that organizations were expecting. Companies selling UC solutions quickly realized that unified communications was never truly unified, and that communications are still fragmented as we move from one communication channel to another, or from one device to another.

It became clear that the true value proposition was less about unification and more around helping individuals and teams better collaborate. UC soon evolved to UCC (unified communications and collaboration), facilitating real-time collaboration with capabilities such as web-based meetings, screen sharing, and video conferencing, which can be accessed from a computer, smartphone or tablet.More recently, team or workgroup messaging solutions such as Slack, HipChat, Cisco Spark, and others began taking center stage, as evidenced from Slack’s huge valuation.

The benefits were clear. Companies that have implemented UCC solutions have found enhanced employee productivity, improved customer service with higher customer loyalty and retention, faster problem resolution, better communication with partners, suppliers, and customers, shorter product development cycles, and faster time to market.

  Looking to what’s ahead in the near future, get ready for artificial intelligence, and what we see as Cognitive Communications and Collaboration (CCC). 

Evolving to the Next Stage

Companies that have already deployed a UCC solution, are considering deploying a solution, or are up in the air about its true value, now need to be ready for the next stage of evolution – communication-enabled applications (CEA). Taking advantage of application program interfaces (APIs), software developer kits (SDKs), and Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) from companies like Twillio, Plivo, Cisco (Tropo), Genband (Kandy), Vonage Business (Nexmo) CafeX, and Avaya (Zang), businesses today can more easily integrate communication capabilities into applications, business processes, and workflows, such asemail, CRM, social collaboration, and specific vertical applications.  As cloud provider Nextiva’s CIO Josh Lesavoy explains, “Over the past few years, the desire to integrate telecommunication with other types of software applications has moved from a 'nice to have' to a business requirement.” Vonage CEO Alan Masarek, explains that “Productivity verticals will be consumed via APIs as they get built in to improve the underlying business processes and applications.”Jim Burton, Co-Founder, UC Strategies

Here’s an example: You’re working in an order processing application and need to interact with a team member about making an exception for an important customer. From within the application you can see not only all of the people associated with that particular order and project, but also their presence and availability. You can “click-to-call” to have a real-time conversation with team members, initiate a web conference using tools such as screen sharing or document sharing so the team can finalize the order and jump start the project.

An Intelligent Future

Looking to what’s ahead in the near future, get ready for artificial intelligence, and what we see as Cognitive Communications and Collaboration (CCC). This next phase includes intelligent/cognitive services that understand context and can help users gain access to the right information presented in the right place. For example, IBM and Cisco recently announced that they are working together to develop “Intelligent Collaboration,” which combines the cognitive power of IBM Watson with Cisco collaboration solutions including Slack. Watson can analyze the unstructured data in our conversations, content, and workflows, providing insights and expertise to improve the way we work, acting as an intelligent personal assistant with cognitive capabilities. To illustrate, when you’re in an e-meeting, supporting content from your inbox, as well as relevant content such as articles and white papers and background information on meeting participants can be prioritized and delivered to help improve productivity and effectiveness. Imagine how this can be used in critical use cases such as healthcare! In fact, TeleMedCo is leveraging IBM Watson’s software and healthcare cloud and GENBAND’s Kandy platform for real-time communications capabilities to expedite the emergency room process andfree up time for healthcare practitioners by accessing and reviewing patient electronic health records while automatically alerting the doctor and initiating a voice or video consult when needed.

Conclusion

The future of business communications is the integration of the silos of communications and the addition of services that deliver information to help users with the job at hand. How do you prepare for the next stage? First, get ready for cloud communications and start developing your strategy to move to the cloud, whether a private, public, or hybrid cloud. Next, identify your business processes and applications that can be improved and streamlined with communication and collaboration capabilities. Start by identifying the various user groups and use cases in your business, from mobile sales reps to contact center agents to desktop workers, and how best to embed or integrate communications into their applications and workflows. Most importantly, make sure you’re working with a vendor that has the right vision for the future, and a channel partner that can bring you to the next level and understands that the focus of communications is around applications, not hardware and boxes. Find a solution provider that is looking to the future, rather than one that is trying to prolong an outdated business model. Business communications continue to evolve, and in order to most effectively remain competitive, your business must evolve as well, taking advantage of new advancements and technologies that will propel your business to the next level.

We have seen the future, and the future looks good.

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