After the absolute dumpster fire that was 2020, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2021. The highest hopes, of course, are for the pandemic to near an end.
When it comes to technologies keeping organizations connected and operational around the world through these dark times, we could also see some exciting developments this year.
Unified communication and collaboration is on the rise, and in 2021, it’s about to get a lot more integrated, intelligent and immersive. Here’s what to watch for in UC&C this year.
The shift to cloud-based UC continued in the third quarter of 2020, with the latest IDC figures showing the global market for hosted voice/UCaaS grew by 23.3 per cent year-over-year. UCaaS market growth will continue in 2021, according to Elka Popova, VP of global market research at Frost and Sullivan. She expects the biggest UCaaS trends this year to be “demand for video-first user experiences and collaboration-centric” features.
Irwin Lazar agrees videoconferencing will take centre stage in 2021.
“Video will be ubiquitous where it really hasn’t been in the past,” Lazar, president and principal analyst at Metrigy, told expertIP (via a videoconferencing app, of course) from his Virginia base just outside Washington, D.C.
Lazar says many companies will install or upgrade videoconferencing systems in anticipation of their WFH employees returning to the office at least part-time during 2021. He believes enterprises are looking for video solutions that are more robust, integrated and intelligent than the consumer apps they hastily deployed when the pandemic began.
“You’ll continue to see a lot of efforts to improve the video experience, with AI to compensate for poor lighting, virtual backgrounds and things like noise cancellation, auto framing and auto tracking people (on camera),” he says.
Lazar says employers are also trying to boost employee engagement by making video meetings more interesting and immersive. One example he cited is Mmhmm, a new app that uses backdrops, graphics, slides and photos to immerse the presenter inside their virtual presentation, much like a weather forecaster interacts with on-screen elements during a TV newscast.
Lazar also expects to see more videoconferencing hardware hit the market this year, specifically offering higher-quality video and audio at a more affordable price point for WFH employees. That includes fully integrated webcams, cameras, headsets, speakers and microphones designed for home-based users.
Video and analytics will likely play a big role in the new focus on employee experience (EX), as companies look for ways to prevent WFH burnout in 2021, ranging from virtual happy hours to wellness classes.
“It’s about making sure people are engaged and part of a team, that they’re being noticed, not just sitting at home and never talking to anybody,” said Lazar.
The new EX-oriented approach will fuel better UCaaS integration with workflows as well. “The focus in 2021 is harmonization, to figure out which platform is the right one for us, and get everyone in the company on it and integrate it with what we already have,” Lazar explains.
Does big UCaaS uptake mean on-premise UC&C is dead? Not yet. “We’re seeing a pretty strong shift away from phone systems to meeting platforms,” says Lazar, whose own research from mid-2020 found:
- 68 per cent of companies are accelerating their move to cloud
- 44 per cent are seeing a decline in their phone system utilization
- 28 per cent are removing or re-evaluating their desktop phone systems
“Are people ripping out what’s left of their phones? That’s not 100 per cent happening yet,” he says.
Communication and collaboration are moving to cloud, but the sun hasn’t completely set on traditional UC&C. The most recent data from IDC seem to bear that out, with the global market for UC&C growing 46.7 per cent in Q3 2020 year-over-year to reach almost $5.8 billion in revenue. That topped the global growth rate for hosted voice/UCaaS, which (as we noted earlier) increased by 23.3 per cent YOY to hit nearly $4.3 billion in revenue.
Besides improving the quality of video and audio in virtual meetings, AI will also be used to automate many aspects of online meetings. “The biggest area right now that vendors are investing in is virtual meeting assistants to capture meeting notes … so things like taking notes and scheduling follow-up meetings can be automated,” says Lazar.
Other AI enhancements Lazar expects to see more of this year? Real-time language translation and background noise reduction “to get rid of the dog barking, kids coming in — all the stuff you never had to worry about before in meetings.”
When Lazar’s Metrigy colleague Robin Gareiss recently polled enterprises about 37 different UC&C features, AI topped their wish list; 64 per cent said they’d pay a premium for predictive analytics to spot and forecast communication performance problems.
“It’s kind of good news and bad news [on the SIP front],” says Lazar. “The fact people are moving onto meeting platforms is not great news for SIP — it means fewer phone calls. The good news for SIP is contact centre calling is going up. So even if you’re reducing SIP for enterprise phone systems, you could be increasing SIP to support your contact centre.”
On No Jitter, Eric Krapf cites Omdia projections that the number of businesses using SIP will rise from 67 per cent to 80 per cent by 2022. But if remote work is the new normal, why will SIP grow? As Krapf points out, some UCaaS providers are bundling SIP services into their offerings, giving current SIP users no reason to ditch their existing SIP capabilities in order to adopt UCaaS.
At a time when businesses need technology — more than ever — to unite their remote workers and help them collaborate, UC&C is set to have quite a year in 2021.
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