What can you do with UC&C? As the name suggests, unified communication and collaboration allows you to make calls. Collaborate. Do a little video conferencing. Catch some bad guys.
What? Yes. Really. NEC’s NeoFace Watch combines video cameras, facial recognition software and the Internet of Things (IoT) to spot known or suspected criminals, terrorists and other undesirable folks, even in huge crowds. Used by various police departments and border patrol services, it was also deployed by security forces at the 2016 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
Although this isn’t your typical UC&C application, NEC added NeoFace Watch to its Univerge UC&C solution about a year ago.
“NEC is able to leverage existing IP cameras — they’re in hotels, schools, businesses and lobbies — and take that video and do biometric analysis on it,” explains Robert Arnold, a principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan, during an interview from his Atlanta office.
“They can do things like identify people that are missing or identify people that are unwanted, like somebody who’s been expelled from a campus,” he says. With UC&C, a message alert can then be sent via IM, SMS, email or social media.
NEC has also integrated a similar application into its UC&C solution called NeoFace Welcome. Using the same type of facial recognition, it operates like a virtual receptionist. In a retail store, for example, it can recognize registered or returning shoppers and trigger personalized greetings and ads. In a hotel, it recognizes a VIP or returning guest so managers can offer personalized service when they check in.
Facial recognition and IoT are, pardon the pun, part of the changing new face of UC&C. As the technology matures beyond voice, messaging and conferencing capabilities, vendors are adding fresh new technologies to the mix.
“UC&C integration into workflows, automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things promises to enhance business outcomes, unlock next-level value and produce greater return on investment,” Arnold writes in Frost & Sullivan’s latest Global UCC Industry Outlook.
Here are some of Arnold’s other insights on the latest UC&C trends.
The rise of cloud
The global user base for UCaaS (UC-as-a-Service) has surpassed 43 million, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of the UC market. Arnold expects the number of net new UCaaS users to see a CAGR of 23 per cent for the period between 2016 (the starting year of Frost & Sullivan’s ongoing research forecast) and 2023.
UC&C is leveraging AI in customer service applications like chat or in productivity tools for team collaboration. “If you start a conversation or do a search, it will bring up all the information about that conversation you had, with whom, when, and any action items on it,” says Arnold. “So it really becomes more of a personal assistant. The main goal is that you spend less time searching and more time producing.”
Software Defined Networks
Enterprises are increasingly looking to software defined networks to optimize UC&C performance.
“SDN is getting a lot of attention,” says Arnold. “You can run applications more efficiently and prioritize certain traffic or locations over others so you know that (a specific) call gets through. You can leverage SDN to ensure there’s enough bandwidth available for, say, video communications. You can also leverage SDN to improve your business continuity so the network will know where the points of failure or congestion are, to reroute traffic.”
Although Arnold says SDN is more prevalent for now “on the network side than from the communications perspective,” he adds that SDN is “enhancing the network to enable and support real time communications” for UC&C.
Competition is pretty fierce out there among UC&C vendors. In response, vendors are not only feeling the heat on pricing but offering UC&C clients more customization, integration and flexibility.
“Pricing is definitely an issue but (vendors) are really trying to differentiate on what they can provide and how,” says Arnold. “These (UC&C) tools are business tools so they really need to be something that works with your business processes and workflows.”
With demands for AI, IoT, SDN and cloud, vendors are being asked to do a lot more with the UC&C they provide. As the market gets more competitive, however, customers are in a position to seek UC&C that is smart, mobile and tailored to their individual needs.
For more on trends and innovation in UC, read our Q&A with Allstream’s Robert Hamer.