Unified communication is now a product to be bought more than a plan to be built. It’s a highly adaptable, interoperable set of products that can be customized with a range of additional services from third-party providers, but that now come packaged in a single, digital, box.
What each enterprise does with its unified communications product will be unique to them. The focus for vendors, however, clearly remains on capturing an entire company with a single solution and then giving the IT and business leaders within it the freedom to tailor their workflows, video requirements, and allied services to suit their internal and customer service goals.
Video conferencing, live streams, on-demand video, and live video-enabled customer service will be at the forefront of these single solution initiatives. There’s no more effective form of communication currently available, and many users will come to define their unified communications demands by the adaptability and versatility of visual communication.
What is the future of unified communications? It is the power to build niche communications around the demands of digital customers and virtual teams.
Unified by Communication
Unified communication is the Holy Grail of modern IT and business management. It is the quest to capture an ever-expanding range of communications tools in a single platform that can be accessed by every employee, across every device. It attempts to unify the equipment, software, and cloud services that provide email, voice, video, and messaging across an organization with a consistent user interface.
The goal is to improve workplace efficiency, better connect mobile and disparately located employees, and provide a universal user experience. Ultimately, it allows employees to communicate with a minimum of fuss, removing barriers such as conflicting platforms or password-protected channels.
In its truest form, unified communications informs all the underlying connections that make fluid communication possible. It is the VoIP connections, hosted services, control and management of channels, and the integration of business applications. Leading providers like Cisco, Avaya, Mitel, and Microsoft offer hosted unified tools that give enterprises the scalability and agility to create their own unique solutions with the low financial risk of subscription arrangements.
Four key trends are emerging that will shape how enterprises employ these unified solutions into the future.
What Is the Future of Unified Communications?
- UCaaS from the cloud
- Shared UC resources
- Citizen Development
- Video as a Common Language
The first trend represents a shift from on-premises to cloud-hosted services, a move that could redefine what unified communications means.
1. UCaaS from the Cloud
Peak industry body Gartner has traditionally restricted the definition of a unified communications provider to one that can provide on-premises enterprise UC capabilities. That understanding is being challenged on the ground, however. According to research conducted by Nemertes, 67 percent of organizations now have at least part of their unified communications in the cloud, and almost a third are totally hosted off-site. That supports Gartner’s own findings that cloud services are growing at three times the rate of overall IT services.
We’ve outlined the business advantages of cloud services such as cloud-based video calling, but as a bottom-line argument, it is far easier and more cost-effective to leave the maintenance, server administration, and service upgrade management to an external source.
As such, it is only reasonable to expect that more and more enterprises will choose to push their infrastructure needs into the cloud and take their chances with recurring subscription costs.
2. Shared UC Cloud Resources
Building on the concept of Unified Communications as a Service, it’s also likely we’ll experience an increase in the number of enterprises willing to share their cloud space. Nemertes has predicted that such multi-tenant arrangements, wherein companies share space on public servers in return for access to common services, will offer greater efficiencies for vendors and better agreements for users. There are increased security risks associated with housing data side-by-side, but the reduced costs will be passed on to consumers, making UC more accessible.
3. Citizen Developers
While unified communications aims to deliver a single platform for all communication channels, there’s no product that can cater to every need that arises for a business. One possible solution is the citizen developer. The term refers to an individual or team that is able to customize their UC platform with low-code applications that require little technical knowledge.
We’ve seen commercial examples of this in DIY video portal products that allow users to easily add live video conferencing to their own websites. While the idea extends beyond video formats to include all kinds of allied business solutions, it can be particularly useful for linking internal or customer-facing teams by video, especially when the UC provider doesn’t have a competitive native video function.
4. Video As a Common Language
Visual elements are an ever-increasing presence in both internal and customer experience. Video conferencing is now employed by the majority of U.S. enterprises and watching video accounts for one-third of all online activity.
UC vendors are already providing advanced cloud solutions that cater to increased live streams, video on demand, and high-quality video conferencing–Microsoft’s Azure Media Services, for example, is solely focused on making it easier to produce, protect, and distribute visual media content.
The future of unified communications will see an even greater emphasis on video communication, leading UC providers to focus on delivering more efficient, high-quality, and native video solutions. Microsoft Teams and Cisco’s WebEx have demonstrated the value of incorporating video solutions within a wider unified communications package. In the future, we may judge all UC products on their capacity to seamlessly integrate face-to-face communication with on-demand services and corporate video messaging.