What will unified communications look like five years from now? Someone threw that question at me the other day, which prompted me to give it some real consideration. In this business, it’s hard to predict with accuracy even a year out, particularly if you’re talking real specifics. But based on what’s happening in the industry and the pace of change, I came up with half a dozen general predictions that I feel confident enough to toss out for your consideration. So here’s my view of the World of UC in 2014:
1. It won’t be called UC anymore. We’ll all take for granted the convergence of networks, mobility, and applications into one solution that operates seamlessly and with generally the same user experience. We’ll just think of it as “collaboration,” and that’s what we do.
2. Enterprises will do far more “single-provider” partnering when it comes to mobile devices and handsets. With mobile integration the norm, businesses will no longer see a need for … or value in … splitting their purchases among multiple carriers. The reasons for this belief are many, but it all comes down to user behavior and experience. Because carriers will likely always strive to differentiate themselves, the experience is likely to be different. When you integrate mobility within the UC environment, disparate employee experiences is not what you want.
3. We’ll lose our sense of distance and differentiation in terms of our communications. We will communicate virtually anytime from anywhere. The lines that delineate our local, long distance, wireless, and international calling will vanish. Communications, all of which will have converged, will be free flowing, enabling us to move seamlessly from one mode of communications (voice) to another (text, collaborative conferencing or work sharing, etc.). We kind of already do this today, but it is the user performing their “swivel chair” function to bring everything together. I expect that systems and solutions will get a lot better at that, eliminating the need for a user to be the glue in UC. (Or alternatively, Google is already thinking this way with “Google Wave”…and I think they have some interesting ideas; though time will tell if an enterprise can really buy such a solution.)
4. Enterprises won’t be buying and focusing on all the separate elements that make up communications today, such as a server, a PBX, a gateway, or a wireless device. It’s not a question of the boxes coming together, but that as far as enterprises are concerned, the boxes won’t even be there to begin with. The solutions will be integrated, carrier-provided, and based on simple architecture to address all the problems. Sure, there will likely be some kind of small box on the premise, but that box is likely to be for routing to the network…not the experience (VAAS: Voice as a Service…anyone?).
5. Service providers will be leaders in strong customer service. Let’s face it, except for the airlines, it seems as if carriers are perceived as having among the worst customer service. Frankly, that will change. Carriers will have to be good, since their role will have expanded so much. Those that aren’t good at customer service will have failed or be failing. The network – and we’re not talking Internet-based communications here, but a secure and highly reliable carrier-provided global network – must be absolutely dependable, and the carrier will have to be highly responsive to each enterprise customer’s changing needs.
6. We’re still going to talk. Voice is not going away. There are many cool things that people will do in terms of collaborative work and seamless communication that will be attributed to UC within five years, but rest assured they will still make voice calls. In fact, we will always make voice calls…it is still the most efficient way to do things. Whether we believe it or not, in short, voice, will still be the “killer” app driving UC.
For end users, this will mean they won’t have to make choices as to what is the best way to communicate. The optimal mode of communications will be part of the model. If you’re speaking on your wireless device, and the person at the other end is available via text, then that is how they will receive your communication. Users won’t have to choose among separate e-mail accounts or communications devices; they’ll just communicate. What could be easier?
So what do you think of my attempt to see the future…? Too limiting? Right on? Comments are certainly welcome.