Prior to the pandemic, UC&C was a nice to have. In 2020, it became essential, driven by cloud migration and digital transformation to support remote workforces. And in 2021, it became part of our everyday work life. Now there’s no turning back—unified communications and collaboration is a critical component of hybrid workforces in 2022.
But we’re moving beyond online meetings and evolving toward unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) and communications-platform-as-a-service (CPaaS). There are many challenges ahead—hybrid workforces are still in their infancy, and the proliferation of communication platforms and tools can overload and overwhelm users.
While we can’t predict what the next year will bring—or even if we’ll start to see the ‘end’ of the pandemic—we have some thoughts on where the market for UC&C is heading.
Cloud, cloud and more cloud
We’ll start to see increased consolidation of tools, which should ease the burden on users to toggle between multiple platforms and tools. But UC&C will also evolve, adapting to the requirements of hybrid workforces and distributed workforces.
Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve moved many of our workflows and workloads to the cloud, and the same is happening with UC&C. More companies will continue to move from on-premise UC to UCaaS; indeed, the UCaaS market is expected to be worth $70 billion by 2028, according to market analyst firm Fortune Business Insights.
AI to improve the user experience
Video will continue to evolve as the preferred form of business communications, which is already happening—from one-on-one meetings to livestreamed conferences. We’ve already seen huge leaps in videoconferencing capabilities over the course of the pandemic, such as the ability to share documents, and to record, transcribe and even translate live video meetings.
This trend will only continue in the coming year, particularly as we see advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence that will improve the user experience (such as providing captions or allowing employees to sit in the same virtual space). We’ll also increasingly use short video messages instead of text or audio to communicate.
The rise of immersive collaboration
People are getting bored with typical video meetings. According to Cisco’s Hybrid Work Index, only 48 per cent of participants are likely to speak during a video meeting (and that’s significant, considering Cisco estimates 61 million video meetings take place globally each month).
As a result, we’ll continue to see augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality make moves in this space. ABI Research forecasts the market for immersive collaboration solutions to exceed US$400 million by 2025, fuelling the development of new extended reality solutions. And IDC’s 2021 U.S. Commercial Augmented Reality Survey forecasts features such as ‘see-what-I-see’ videoconferencing and real-time knowledge capture and transfer.
IT vendors are already making strides in this space. Take Cisco’s Webex Hologram, expected to launch this year, which will bring AR capabilities to Webex and allow users to interact with 3D images of meeting attendees and objects, such as product prototypes. And this year Microsoft plans to roll out Mesh and integrate mixed-reality capabilities into Teams, allowing users to work together as avatars in virtual meeting rooms—replicating an in-office experience.
Tackling meeting fatigue
Immersive collaboration is one way to tackle meeting fatigue and help boost employee well-being, which has suffered greatly during the pandemic. For the UC&C market to thrive, employees need better experiences. How many times have you been on a video call recently where at least one participant didn’t bother to turn on their video?
That’s why the virtual spaces where we communicate will get smarter, and virtual assistants (driven by AI) will provide analytics and insights on meetings to boost engagement. AI will also help to improve voice and video quality, as well as the quality of transcription and translation.
Cisco has revamped its People Insights feature, for example, to foster employee engagement and help manage their workload (it can analyze how often users turn off their cameras during meetings, among other things). And Microsoft’s new employee experience platform in Teams, called Viva, could also help by using analytics to measure employee engagement and schedule breaks and/or non-meeting work time.
Security to remain a top priority
Underpinning all of these trends is security, privacy and compliance. In 2022, UC&C vendors “will continue to build upon trust and security messaging as differentiators while specialty collaboration security and data protection vendors emerge within this market landscape,” according to 2022 predictions from ESG research.
Last year we started to see a shift to hybrid workplaces and return-to-office programs, though some of those have been temporarily reversed. Other workplaces weren’t quite ready to make the move. But for those that have been waiting, 2022 is the year to start moving ahead with pilots so when things change (yet again), you’ll be ready for it.