“Are today’s transformations the model for the long term?” That was the title of a panel discussion at the latest Enterprise Connect conference, held online (of course) due to the ongoing pandemic. It’s a timely question right now.
COVID-19 has driven incredible changes in enterprise communications and tech trends over the past six months. But will they last? And what can vendors, communication service providers and customers learn from all of it going forward?
Here are some of the highlights from the panel regarding specific technologies that have seen the biggest transformations since the coronavirus outbreak.
Cloud tech trends
451 Research recently reported that 20 per cent of companies have accelerated the migration of their workloads to cloud and 16 per cent are accelerating their adoption of cloud native software development practices due to COVID-19.
For many organizations, cloud has become a panacea for pandemic era work-from-home (WFH) enablement.
“Cloud clearly was a great place to get your workers (productive) remotely. I think people have really had their mind changed about the importance of being there and what it can do for their business,” said panel member Melissa Swartz, founder of Swartz Consulting LLC.
But as her fellow panelist Zeus Kerravala pointed out, “there are different flavours of cloud.”
Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, believes that as the pandemic continues, smaller companies will choose SaaS while large enterprises will opt for a combo of SaaS and more robust private cloud options. Why?
“Large companies want to control their own data and their own security,” he said. In addition, “some SaaS services aren’t available in every country,” he said, calling that a significant roadblock for big enterprises operating in multiple global markets.
Video tech trends
Swartz said video has superseded audio as the dominant format for virtual meetings, and panelist Jim Burton agreed.
“We have video call after video call after video call, and rarely is it only audio. Most of them are video,” said Burton, founder and CEO of C-T Link and BC Strategies.
Swartz then noted that video has even entered the contact centre, recounting how a certain contact centre is now using video as part of its sales and customer support services.
“The company sold blinds and they were actually showing the client ‘Your blinds could look like this.’ So it’s a great application for video,” she said.
Stats from Vonage show video usage in the business services sector (for live workplace video meetings, remote customer service, and legal and real estate purposes) jumped 222 per cent in the one-month period between February and March this year.
ABI Research believes the trend is here to stay. It expects the growth in enterprise video use to “continue to thrive well past the end of our current health crisis.” ABI also suggests video service providers will have to offer more of the following to meet the rising demands of enterprise customers:
- end-to-end video solutions
- efficient encoding
- low-latency streaming
- bandwidth reduction features
- AI and ML (such as facial recognition and scene detection)
- AR and VR (especially for retail, corporate training and marketing)
- real-time, searchable metrics and analytics
- integration with CRM systems (for example, to recommend products to customers via video examples)
Artificial intelligence trends
All three panelists say AI holds enormous promise for enterprise communications. Swartz said it can help contact centre agents “find anomalies” in the earliest parts of the customer journey, before a customer even notices a problem or complains.
Kerravala is also impressed with AI’s potential to help manage contact centres remotely, something that’s obviously taken on increased importance due to physical distancing measures.
“How do contact centres manage (quality assurance) protocols? They either randomly listen to calls or walk around and listen for calls that are not going well. Now, AI can pick up sentiment and the manager doesn’t even have to be in the room. They can manage an entire team of remote agents (off-site). AI can make recommendations to agents,” Kerravala said.
Although Burton is a fan of AI as well, he cautioned it can be “complicated” to deploy.
“I think we all believe AI is here to stay. But we’re very, very early on. It’s not as easy to implement early on. It’s a very challenging process,” he said.
App, platform or CPaaS?
For organizations who’ve embraced videoconferencing and team collaboration in ways they hadn’t before the pandemic, new questions are now cropping up: Should we keep subscribing to all these apps separately? Adopt a complete platform solution? Or develop our own via CPaaS?
In terms of subscribing to separate apps, “there’s a big cost argument,” Burton said. “You’re paying for three or four platforms. I think people do want one integrated experience that will expand past the desktop to meeting rooms and spaces.” Plus, he added, “if you’re all on different platforms, it’s a real pain.”
Notification overload from too many apps can also be a drag for some users. “I used to have one place where I got messages: my inbox. But now I’ve had this corresponding rise in messages from different collaboration apps,” Kerravala said.
It’s enough to make some organizations consider developing their own communications apps via CPaaS, whether the motivation is cost, integration, simplification or security.
“We’re at the very, very beginning of vendors coming up with a whole bunch of CPaaS solutions. What the larger enterprises are looking for is (because) they have a lot of back-office processes they want to integrate these communications into those processes,” Burton said.
Swartz does see CPaaS as an attractive option right now, but mostly for bigger organizations rather than those with fewer resources to take on a more DIY approach.
“At the larger end, the clients are thinking about (CPaaS),” she said. “In the smaller to mid-size range, I think they’ll wait for what vendors come out with. I don’t see them coming up with their own (apps).”
We’ll have more on Enterprise Connect soon. Next up, enterprises from three verticals—finance, education and travel—describe how they’re using communications technology during the pandemic, how (or if) it’s meeting their needs, and what they want from providers now.