Cloud Communications 2020: The Future of UCaaS
CommsTrader asked the leading vendors to share their thoughts on the future of cloud communications
The arrival of the Cloud has brought about the most significant changes the UC industry has seen over the past decade. With cloud migration still by no means universal among UK businesses and /unified-communications/ucaas adoption rates growing year on year, the indications are that the pace of change will not be slowing up any time soon.
To wrap up our Technology Track series on cloud communications, we asked representatives from Fuze, Unify, RingCentral, Natterbox, Cisco, IPCortex and TelcoSwitch to tell us what they thought the shape of things to come was in UCaaS.
One key trend all of our vendors agree on is that the popularity of team collaboration platforms is only going to increase over the next few years. This in turn will drive UCaaS solutions which offer better interoperability and integrations with other software platforms.
Kris Wood, EMEA vice president at Fuze, explained: “In the next few years, collaboration tools will really come into their own. True collaboration happens when employees can easily and effectively exchange information and ideas, regardless of where they are and the technology they are using.”
“Employees want to be able to focus on the job in hand, not struggle with the tools they are using. But effective collaboration requires flexibility. UCaaS platforms with open APIs and connectors can quickly accommodate innovative collaboration technologies as they emerge, while ensuring seamless integration with other essential enterprise applications, adapting to the way employees want to work.”
Kris added that a significant driver behind this trend is changing expectations from end users in the workplace, whose experience of consumer technology has raised the possibility of being able to communicate, and therefore work, from anywhere.
Unify’s VP for Circuit marketing, Philipp Bohn picked up on this, adding: “We don’t think that applications or technology will drive adoption, it is changing user behaviour and new work models that are creating the need for, and with that the adoption of, cloud communication and collaboration.”
“We are seeing shifts towards a highly mobile workforce seeking better work-life balance, flexible work environments like co-working spaces and less hierarchical, process-driven organisations moving towards more agile, ad-hoc models.
“To support this transformation and ensure efficient collaboration, we need to bring all relevant use cases (voice, video, screen sharing, team chat, communities, file sharing) into one tool with one easy-to-use interface. Collaboration and digital business workflows also need to be tightly integrated, meaning any state-of-the-art collaboration platform needs to offer APIs to integrate with workflow apps like task management, file sharing, CRM, etc.”
Rob Pickering, CEO at IPCortex, agreed that changing habits and experiences with consumer technology were playing a key role in shaping expectations and demands in the workplace. He sees specific technological innovations emerging to meet these demands.
“Business communications technology has been learning lessons from mainstream consumer apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp which provide an efficient, rich, varied and partly asynchronous way to communicate,” he said.
“The problem for UC is, as with consumer apps, that most of these tools operate in silos with limited interoperability – a far cry from the universal reach of the telephone. As a result, a new approach is emerging: real time, open, web-based applications that embed comms tools within them, delivered via the Internet as a service.
“This approach – called contextual communications – doesn’t just allow businesses to engage with colleagues and customers in the way they want to communicate, while removing barriers, but it makes communication more efficient by being task-based and informed by relevant transactional and trend based data.
“The key technology that makes this feasible is Web Real Time Communication, or WebRTC. This is a disruptive technology that enables real-time communication over peer-to-peer connections via a common set of protocols. We’ve been developing apps using WebRTC for Chrome and Firefox for the last five years, and now Apple has announced it will support WebRTC on Safari from Autumn 2017. This effectively means that WebRTC is now supported in all modern browsers and is becoming even more ubiquitous, and so contextual communication – which delivers most benefit when engaging with customers, who could be using any device, anywhere – becomes even easier to deploy.”
Sahil Rekhi, EMEA managing director at RingCentral, also believes that imitating consumer platforms will play a key role in shaping the next wave of /unified-communications/ucaas technology, and also expects new innovations like AI to come into play.
“Video and AI will become more mainstream in the future,” he said. “End users are seeking a Facetime-like simplified video experience for business use, telepresence rooms are old school. Automation is another buzz word in the market alongside AI.”
“Building a communication system that gives customers the flexibility to adapt the system to more efficient workflows across multiple applications will be key for future growth.
“Faster decision making across the business is also coming out as a key driver for business change and this ecosystem as a service will be a key ask in the future.”
Marcus Gallo, marketing lead for Cisco Spark and Cisco Spark Hybrid Services, believes greater alignment between physical and virtual spaces for communication and collaboration will take place as VR and the Internet of Things (IoT) take off.
“Let’s take whiteboarding as an example,” he said. “Sometimes you need to do more than just talk. You may need to sketch out your ideas (ideation). Cisco Spark includes a digital whiteboard available on any device. By choosing this option you can get creative and draw out your ideas.”
“We also have the Cisco Spark Board that is perfect for physical meeting rooms. This is the industry’s first native multiparty whiteboarding experience that works in both physical and virtual environments.
“Once you are done your work is saved to a Cisco Spark space offering an integrated and comprehensive life-cycle approach to teamwork. Now imagine how virtual reality (VR) and IoT will further extend the experience.”
Ian Moyse, UK sales director at Natterbox, argues that helping clients to improve customer service is another key opportunity for UCaaS. “The increased demand, focus and recognition of the importance of customer experience is going to drive businesses to explore any improvement edge they can gain,” he said.
“Website journeys are continually analysed and tuned for personalised and optimised customer experience, phone journeys are not (but should be!). Cloud telephony can empower these needs quicker, easier and in greater depth than any legacy telephony systems and this is going to quickly disrupt the status quo of many traditional telecoms providers.”
Paul Gibbs, sales director at TelcoSwitch, picked up on the theme of platform consolidation to suggest that integration with CRM systems would become an increasingly important point of difference for end users.
“To me it’s about what integrates with your platform and the benefit that brings to the end user,” he said.
“CRM integration applications are what is driving demand from the end user. They have been consuming the core CRM platform from the cloud for years and paying a per head price. If telephony can integrate and write into these, it allows the end user to benefit hugely for what is a very small percentage of what they are paying already. The end user can drive automated reporting as they do already but they now have stats based on their telephony coming straight out of the platform they wish.”
Ian Moyse added that more joined up business intelligence was just one way that cloud-based solutions could transform contact centre operations. “Cloud telephony is re-writing the rules for contact and call centre capabilities,” he said.
“New platform offerings from cloud providers are delivering more agile, faster developed systems that will continue to push the bar for function, flexibility and integration far beyond what is possible from legacy PBX systems.
“Fully integrating your telephone system with Salesforce, for example, means you can have the customer and agent telephony journey adapting automatically based on customer data. A modern cloud system pulling data from a CRM can do wonderful things to reduce the customers IVR selections based on rules that present the most likely options and personalise the experience.”
Fuze’s Kris Wood agreed, adding that UCaaS also created opportunities for much more flexible and adaptable customer service operations. “In today’s world, a contact centre means more than just rows and rows of contact centre agents,” he said.
“In fact, we find that most of our customers have contact centre needs even if they don’t have a physical contact centre in the truest sense.
“Whether you have a distributed support or sales team or a receptionist directing calls at your company headquarters, you still need the same functionality. It’s also critical that organisations integrate multi-channel into their current offerings to stay ahead of the game, and this is something that can be more easily facilitated by the cloud, without significant upfront capital, additional IT costs or integration headaches.”
Cisco’s Marcus Gallo expanded on the point about cost. “A good point to look at is small to mid-sized companies. Existing customer care solutions are typically too expensive and complex for small customer care teams, which often have limited budgets and little or no access to IT resources.”
“At Cisco we have delivered Cisco Spark Care that solves these problems by offering a cost-effective customer care solution that can typically be set up by users in about fifteen minutes. It enables connected digital experiences by supporting customer care teams that want to deliver contextual, continuous, and capability-rich journeys to external or internal customers. For example, within approximately fifteen minutes after setup, Cisco Spark Care can be embedded on your website to offer chat and call back services. Cisco Spark Care users can view a history of the customer’s previous interactions (leveraging the Cisco Context Service), allowing them to provide faster, more focused service.”
This article is part of the July Series of the Technology Track on Cloud Communications, follow the link to see all published and planned articles.