2019 has just begun, so it’s time we looked back over 2018 and took stock of the major stories in the Unified Communications (UC) industry. What effects did they have and what might they mean for the future?
1. The March to the Cloud Continues
More and more companies are migrating parts of their communications systems (if not all of them) into the Cloud. For many industries, the argument for migration to cloud solutions is a strong one: reduced costs, easily forecastable subscription expenditures, reduced hardware space and IT management requirements, and stronger security through the hosting company.
Helped by a Strong Push from Microsoft
In many ways Microsoft is leading the charge, applying strong pressure to existing and new customers to implement their Office 365 cloud-based communications systems over on-premises alternatives.
The first step happened in 2017, when they announced Microsoft Exchange was dropping SBC support, a critical bridge between Exchange and on-site PBXs. However, the other shoe dropped this year, when they announced that Exchange Server 2019 was dropping Unified Messaging entirely and that Skype for Business 2019 would be the last version. All moves in support of their Office 365 initiatives.
But It’s Still Not for Everyone…Yet
These announcements have left many organizations scrambling for a new solution for their Unified Communications needs. While many will transfer their operations away from on-site hardware, others have good reason to hang back.
- The Microsoft Cloud voice solutions for phone calls, voicemail, automated attendant, etc. are currently less advanced than what they’re used to getting from on-premises solutions.
- While the cloud may be cheaper to get into than on-premises solutions for new businesses, many organizations have already invested heavily in their on-site infrastructure. In the short term it’s much cheaper for them to utilize the hardware they’ve already paid for while it’s still viable.
- Some businesses simply aren’t comfortable storing their data in the cloud for internal security and/or regulatory reasons. It’s worth remembering that unified communications can contain PHI under HIPAA, and personal data under GDPR, with strict rules around how they are stored.
Because of these complications, many organizations are choosing interoperable UC solutions that allow them to either integrate existing local hardware to the cloud in hybrid deployments, or stay on-premises with a bridge to easily move to a hybrid or full-cloud setup in future.
If you’re concerned you might be affected by Microsoft’s announcements concerning their unified communications direction, check out our full guide to the what and when, as well as how you can best react.
2. Changing How We Communicate
As the cliché says, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Big upcoming changes in communications technology were trumpeted, but we also got a wakeup call that while innovation is necessary and exciting, in the end the needs of customers dictate what drives investment.
The Bots are Coming
AI, Deep Machine Learning, and Bots are the communications buzzwords of 2018 that will likely start having a major impact on the market in 2019. Many of the industry’s major solutions providers are openly developing technologies harnessing these powerful concepts that they say will increase productivity and drop staff costs.
Personal assistant technology is starting to evolve past following voice commands to interpreting your needs and even calling in restaurant reservations for you. In some cases, these are intuitive extensions of IVR technology into more complex functions and easier use, but other developments are breaking entirely new ground.
Bots and AI are being designed to solve complicated voice communications security issues. We’ve all been getting more and more unwanted robo calls these days, and companies are looking at a wide variety of methods for blocking them. Crowdsourced number blacklists are perhaps the easiest, but with the widespread use of number spoofing they don’t stop everything. At least one company is actually implementing a way to deflect them by running your calls through a gatekeeper call screening bot.
Anomaly detection algorithms are starting to enter UC systems as digital guard dogs, not watching for viruses or blocking ports like traditional digital security, but instead watching the voice system for abnormal use patterns that might indicate fraud.
Remembering We’re Not All at Desks
While XMedius has put considerable development resources into mobility features like smart call forwarding, a system-connected mobile application, and more, much of the industry has focused on office-based communications.
Most UC systems are built with desk-based knowledge workers in mind. Programmers, marketers, support teams, sales, managers, etc. People who may work remotely, but they’re typically either in one place or the other.
A remarkable study released by Emergence Capitol has reminded us all that 2.7 billion working humans don’t sit behind a desk. That’s approximately 80% of the global workforce. This is fertile ground for communications startups looking to innovate solutions to these workers’ unique problems and reap the massive potential rewards.
It will be exciting to see how the UC solutions of the future will evolve to better harness mobile & wearable devices while preserving security in the era of wireless networking, Internet of Things (IoT), and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) workforces.
In the Meantime, The Old Ways of Reaching Out Persist
Microsoft has published survey data that indicates companies interact with their customers in the following ways:
In Person, Phone, E-Mail: 79%
Chat & Messaging Apps: 9%
Social Media: 5%
It’s easy to lose sight of this in the era of Slack and other rising chat stars. Certainly they’re exciting, but the numbers show that when it comes to interacting with the public, phone calls, email and good old face time are still the most common methods compared to everything else.
Mike Elgan’s article at Computerworld makes a compelling argument: the reason why voicemail and texting are still so strong is their universality. Today’s proprietary solutions are all written with an eye towards locking customers into their specific community. Slack doesn’t want you cheating on it with Skype or Teams.
However, the phone system works for just about everyone. You can still pick up a phone and call someone almost anywhere in the world in seconds, regardless of who made their phone hardware and who their provider is. Standards, laws, and powerful economic forces are at work in the market to keep this remarkable global-interoperability possible.
Being able to reach out to anyone, anywhere, anytime is the dream of UC, and people are starting to realize, not unlike Dorothy with her ruby slippers, that we’ve carried it with us all the time. That certainly doesn’t mean that it can’t be unseated by new technologies, but from a global perspective we’re not there yet.
“Mind-share leader Slack has only 3 million active paid users. Some 6 billion people have access to SMS. That means 99.5% of the people who have SMS are not paid users of Slack.” – Mike Elgan
Of course, the reasons that had us all migrating from the phone to email are still very real, which is why Unified Messaging is so powerful – it gives you the tremendous reach of telephony, with the “there when & where you want it” power of email.
It’ll be interesting to see how AI, machine learning, voice recognition and IVR solutions advance to bring the promise of new chat bot technology to the power of the telephone.
3. The UC Industry is Getting More Concentrated
Mergers and acquisitions continued to be a big part of the industry’s story in 2018, with many big names getting even bigger.
The ConvergeOne Convergence
In 2018 ConvergeOne continued its acquisition spree, grabbing both Advantel Networks and Arrow Electronics’ Systems Integration. Those who’d predicted this was part of a value-building strategy prior to going private again were proven right when the company announced that they’d agreed to be acquired by investment firm CVC Capital Partners.
Polycom & Plantronics
Earlier in the year Polycom acquired Obihai Technology Inc, a company producing analog telephone adaptors that allowed them to cross the gap to VoIP connections. Then they were in turn purchased by Plantronics, forming a single entity handling both software and hardware aspects of the communication & collaboration business.
Other Noteworthy Mergers & Acquisitions in 2018
- Cisco acquired Broadsoft
- Slack acquired Hipchat and Stride from Atlassian
- West Corp. acquired PhoneTree
- Vonage Acquired NewVoiceMedia
Get Ready for 2019
Ready to bring new solutions to your communications systems that will help you prepare for the future? Find out what XMedius can do for you.