UC&C gets real with virtual reality

If the thought of meeting with holographic colleagues in a virtual boardroom to collaborate on a project sounds like the stuff of sci-fi movies, that is, in fact, where we’re heading — and the technology isn’t light years away. Get ready for the emerging world of UC&C VR.

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Messaging apps and other tools have evolved enterprise collaboration, and audio, video and web conferencing are now a workplace norm. But that evolution will continue, and the next iteration will include the Internet of Things, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Of course, this isn’t going to happen overnight — after all, many organizations are still in the process of moving to cloud UC — but we’re going to see big changes within the next five to 10 years.

Network pros are already building out their network infrastructure to handle the demands of video and other advanced communications technologies. This will become even more critical as we add IoT, VR and AI into the UC&C mix. So, it’s worth considering how to future-proof your network to handle the likes of UC&C VR.

But will everyone need virtual capabilities in the office? After all, web conferencing may be working just fine. But it can still be difficult to read body language and collaborate using shared information. A recent Future Workforce Study by Penn Schoen Berland (sponsored by Dell and Intel) found that 57 per cent of employees around the world prefer face-to-face conversations with colleagues.

VR has the potential to change the way we collaborate with remote employees, whether they’re working from home or on the other side of the planet.

Not only could you see a holographic image of your colleague, but you could work together within a virtual workspace (or, in a mixed reality environment, where a holographic colleague appears in your real-life boardroom). Whether you’re designing a building or testing out a new product, the possibilities are intriguing.

When UC is combined with the Internet of Things (IoT), this will really start to take off. Ten years from now, realistic-looking holograms will become, well, a reality.

Rowan Trollope, senior vice-president and general manager of Cisco Systems’ IoT and Applications Division, told CRN in an interview that “it’s no longer limited to a screen or a wall or a ‘thing’ — it’s actually like transporting or teleporting people almost like the Holodeck from Star Trek. That’s going to happen and you can already see that beginning with augmented reality. … It’s not great yet, but it will be.”

We’ll also see bots become part of UC&C (Cisco, for example, is already adding bots into its communications technology). These bots will act like virtual assistants and, using predictive technology, could even do things like organize business meetings.

UC&C will also evolve to include artificial intelligence, and that could be a game changer. We’re already seeing the silos of communications technologies (from voice to email, instant messaging, audio/video/web conferencing and presence) merge into ‘workstream’ collaboration.

And newer workstream UC&C tools (like Cisco Spark and Mitel MiTeam) are increasingly “relying on AI to add context to conversations, streamline processes — like scheduling meetings — and add relevant content in a team workspace,” said Jim Burton, CEO of CT Link, in a blog post for No Jitter. Burton recommends making sure your collaboration solutions can integrate with AI platforms.

It will take time for these applications to take root in enterprises — and it will take time to build out the back-end network infrastructure to support them — but UC&C VR is no longer the stuff the sci-fi movies.

Image: iStock

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