UC 3.0: The next generation of communications

The evolution of unified communications offers a modular, cloud-based architecture that makes UC more mobile, flexible and scalable—and it uses APIs to bring levels of integration and convergence that we’ve never seen before. Here’s a look at what’s ahead.

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UC 3.0 is the next evolution of unified communications

It’s happened to all of us. Last week, it happened to me: a failure to communicate.

I was supposed to conduct a virtual interview with an expert in London at 4 p.m. U.K. time but ended up missing it because I accidentally booked it in my cloud-based calendar at 4 p.m. Toronto time.

Panicking, I tried to reschedule it for later that same day—but his office’s cloud-based email and calendar system wouldn’t allow it. Then he realized his office doesn’t support the voice and video conferencing app I wanted to use for the interview. When he valiantly tried to use his company’s web-based teleconferencing service for our rescheduled call, it wouldn’t work either.

In desperation, he gave up on his corporate system and quickly installed my preferred conferencing app on his office computer. (Did I witness shadow IT in action? You bet. But I’m not snitching to his bosses.) Although we finally did the interview, I forgot to press record on my end of the conferencing app. (Luckily I always type extremely detailed notes and quotes on my laptop.)

It was stressful and embarrassing and way more complicated than it should have been for both of us—exactly the sort of situation UC 3.0 is designed to avoid.

What is UC 3.0?

The first generation of unified communications bundled features like voice, messaging, video and conferencing in one handy, real-time package. As Rob Scott notes in UC Today, however, even with early UC, “organizations were limited to complex, siloed technology … Then UC 2.0 arrived, bringing with it concepts like convergence and omnichannel communications, where tools began to align.”

This led us to hosted voice, followed by other UC applications combined on a hosted platform. Now we’ve arrived at UC 3.0, which fully embraces a cloud-based ‘as-a-service’ model.

As Scott describes it, these cloud-based services are built “from the ground up” on “microservices architecture.” As a result, Scott says, “(UC) platforms are growing modular, and capabilities that once existed exclusively in their own islands are now appearing in the application stack as native services.”

How 3.0 changes the game

UC 3.0 uses cloud computing

That modular, cloud-based architecture makes UC more mobile, flexible and scalable. It also uses APIs to bring levels of integration and convergence that we’ve never seen before in UC, allowing many UC tools to work with disparate types of hardware, software and apps.

Speaking of hardware, vendors in the 3.0 era are striving to make UC endpoint devices—like headsets, desk phones, video cameras and conferencing consoles—that work seamlessly with various UC applications regardless of software or operating system. They’re also designing hardware for specific use cases and environments: on-the-fly mobile or landlocked desktop, big board room or small huddle room, quiet or noisy setting, short or long wireless range.

UC 3.0 generally includes voice, video and messaging plus collaboration tools (the extra ‘c’ in UCC) like file sharing, screen sharing and screen capture. Other elements are increasingly being added to the UC 3.0 mix, including:

  • AI: Artificial intelligence can automatically schedule, record and transcribe calls and video meetings. In addition, AI can assign tasks to team members or send notifications to meeting attendees. Aragon Research predicts 50 per cent of UCC providers will offer an AI-based digital assistant in their solutions by the end of 2021.
  • IoT: According to a recent Grand View Research report, Internet of Things sensors in a meeting room “can track room use, including the number of attendees and systems used as well as length of the meeting. These insights can help organizations determine the right mix of video and non-video enabled meeting rooms to optimize room spending.”
  • AR: Although Grand View’s research note concludes that augmented reality “is not a pervasive technology” for UCC right now, it points out that AR is being used in a UC context for situations like immersive training or product assembly tutorials.

What’s driving UC 3.0

Grand View aptly pegs the evolution of UC 2.0 into UC 3.0 as “enterprises shifting from document-focused work style to people-focused work style to foster innovation.”

The largest group of people in the U.S. workforce is now made up of millennials. As Andrew Prokop and others have suggested, millennials want individual mobility plus the collaborative ability to ‘share from everywhere’ through tools like social media. In the 2020 workplace, UC 3.0 enables both individual mobility and team collaboration at the same time.

Read more:

The UC evolution: Top trends for 2020
Are you ready for next-gen UC?
How AI will drive innovation in the collaboration space

Where 3.0 is going

Grand View analysts estimate 45 per cent of the UC market was hosted in the cloud in 2018, and they expect that to grow. They believe that trend, in turn, will fuel UC 3.0 adoption among SMEs, since cloud makes UC more affordable and accessible for smaller businesses.

Grand View sees healthcare as another driver of future UC 3.0 growth, as the sector moves to real-time video for patient appointments and adopts collaborative sharing of patient files and clinical data.

I don’t work in healthcare. And I’m not a millennial. But last week, I just wanted to schedule a virtual chat with someone in a different part of the world. We both wanted to talk in different environments (me from my kitchen, he from his London office), on different devices, using different apps and operating systems, while recording it all for accuracy and posterity, and we wanted it to be easy.

With UC 3.0, it probably would have been. I could’ve used an AI assistant that schedules meetings in the correct time zone, for a start.

Images: dem10/iStock; ipopba/iStock

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