In 2020, enterprise communication and collaboration professionals were forced to go above and beyond to implement technologies, tools, and services that helped businesses maintain continuity in the middle of a pandemic. But now what? How do organizations move into a more strategic mode with their technologies, tools, and services? More importantly, which technologies should they consider mastering for the next three years?
These are the questions that kicked off Enterprise Connect’s two-day virtual event, Communications & Collaboration: 2024. In an opening summit led by Beth Schultz, program co-chair for Enterprise Connect and editor in chief of No Jitter a few of the industry’s leading analysts and consultants — Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst, Metrigy; Steve Leaden, president, Leaden Associates; and Marty Parker, principal and co-founder, UniComm Consulting— delivered the answers.
The three panelists shared their perspectives on technology trends that require attention, which hot topics are simply vendor push, and more. This session, “Expert Insights: Your Path to 2024,” is now available on demand. For a recap on conversation takeaways, read on:
Hybrid Work Model – People have shifted over to meetings and chat as their primary way of interacting. Going forward, companies must think about adding tools to their collaboration portfolios not only to give people the ability to perform basic communications remotely, but also to support ideation, workflow, and project and task management, Lazar said. These include whiteboard applications, task and workflow management apps, and social tools for sharing of information, he said. Based on its research of global companies, Metrigy has found that 38 to 40% of companies expect their employees to continue working at home full-time, 38 to 40% to come in periodically, and about 20% to be back in the office either part-time or full-time, Lazar said. Additionally, 26% of businesses are still supporting voice via on-prem systems, and a significant percentage of companies host their video meeting applications on prem as well, for a variety different reasons. Clearly, video meetings and team collaboration have become largely mainstream in the past year, causing a measured decline in phone usage, Lazar added.
Cloud Performance – Citing the pending merger of Salesforce and Slack as an example, Leaden noted how he thinks it’s time for cloud services providers to step up to meet the challenges brought on by the increased intertwining of cloud apps and growing platform complexity. Specifically, he said he would like UCaaS or other platform providers to own all relevant service-level agreements (SLAs) — in other words, not just their own but third-party SLAs, too, as well as any SLAs an enterprise has for its data network. Toward the latter, he explained: “The vendor really has to work with the customer to come up with a set of best practices to make sure that they can meet their own SLAs and marry it back to the network that’s ready on the customer’s end.” Additionally, enterprises should push for proof-of-concept testing to verify that the platform provider can, indeed, monitor SLAs end to end, he said. And, on a related point, Leaden said enterprises should force providers to put “more skin in the game” in their cloud contracts. As shown time and again when major cloud providers suffer regional or national outages, “they’re not meeting that five-nines expectation we’ve all grown up with.”
Videoconferencing and Video Meetings – After talking about video for 25 years, it’s finally made its way into acceptance thanks to COVID-19, and we’re starting to see some interesting applications arise as a result, the panelists agreed. And, as Lazar pointed out, while video performance and quality management has been a pain point for many, and concerns about avoiding video burnout remain, he sees no evidence of video slowing down. Rather, Parker said, the video functionality is becoming commoditized. “You can consume it on Twilio, you can consume it on Amazon Web Services, you can just build it into the workflows, and so we’re going to see that happening… I could go on and on,” he said. In addition to commoditization, video will likely become “more and more asynchronous,” he added. “Security cameras, body cameras, those kinds of things are going to become more and more common, and not just for first responders. We’re going to be doing that a lot, and letting AI and the natural language [processing] software interpret and track it for us, create virtual realities for us, ” he said. So, yes, the video explosion will continue, and not just for meetings, Parker added. Recorded video, too, will play a bigger role in the future, he said. “If you think about the analogy between what email did for telephone calling, you’re going to see that asynchronous recorded video is going to do the same thing to meetings.”
AI – When applied within meetings of the future, AI should improve the overall experience — eliminating background noise, compensating for poor lighting, framing speakers, and so on — as well as give employees the ability to get more out of meetings, Lazar said. To the latter point, he mentioned features like real-time transcription, action item highlights, and auto-scheduling the next meeting. So, to his way of thinking, AI is more supplemental, less revolutionary, for improving the overall experience and efficiencies, he said. Improved experience, be that for customers, patients, users, or agents, is the AI imperative within the contact center, too, Leaden added. Whether voice bot, agent assistance, sentiment analysis, or any other AI application, “three years out, it’ll be about how we can merge these technologies together and provide better analytics back to the customer in order to create better performance,” he said.
Best of Breed – While many cloud providers are trying to pitch their platforms as being best of breed, Parker said he’s not buying it. “You’re either best of breed or you’re whole platform,” he said. “It’s Lego-time out here,” Parker said, referencing the widgets and connectors used to build anything. The enterprise wants to have the best tools for everything, and communications platform-as-a-service increasingly enables them to do that, he added. Twilio, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure are only some competitors further opening up their APIs. The bigger need is consolidation around the communications environment that involves different kinds of applications and embedding points, and the increasing desire to take that team space and make it a hub, Lazar added.
What else in on our panelists minds? For Lazar, enterprise strategy around communications and collaboration security is a watchpoint, he said. “That’s become top of mind for enterprises,” he said. Parker, meantime, said he’s keeping an eye on the continuing change between what work gets done manually by people vs. what happens via software automation, among a wide variety of other trends. Lastly, Leaden advises enterprises to start holding their vendors to a higher standard, as he mentioned above.