2020 was a landmark year for businesses, consumers and technology on a global scale like never before.

As we all become accustomed to the new world we are living in, we take a look at the monumental shift that happened to Unified Communications, how this may continue to evolve and the key challenges that CIOs now face.

The CIO challenge

As we look ahead to a future in which a hybrid model of working becomes more likely in the long-term, organisations will need to sit down, strategise, and build their systems and processes from the ground up.

CIOs will need to analyse solutions for best use, as well as affordability and look at what has been working for them and what hasn’t, as well as what their teams and customers actually need.

Our predictions for the top UC trends of 2021

Streamlining of Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)

Amid the chaos of COVID-19 organisations were forced to accelerate their adoption of cloud-based UC platforms, with little time to conduct thorough evaluations or plan cohesive strategies. IT managers bought apps, signed up for solutions and spun up functionality on an ad hoc basis, often reactively rather than with any defined plan in mind. There was no time to think about how applications would work together, where things would fit best, and which integrations could help save time.

The panic buying of 2020 is thankfully now over and organisations are starting to think more holistically about how they provision and streamline software and processes. We’re likely to see the proliferation of single apps being replaced by integrated suites as businesses seek not only to save money, but to reduce management complexity and simplify systems and technology for the remote workforce. Voice and telephony services, messaging and team collaboration tools have paved the way for increased remote-working productivity, and 2021 is likely to see these tools being fine-tuned to provide seamless interaction and time savings.

Email and telephony continue to feature strongly in business communications, but video meetings have enjoyed an incredible surge in popularity over the past 12 months. We can expect organisations of all sizes to shepherd teams further into collaborative environments like Microsoft 365 and G-Suite, while ensuring all integrated tools and applications are working seamlessly to boost productivity and cut costs.

Increased presence for AI

AI proved to be something of a revelation to many businesses during 2020. As contact centres were closed and customer-handling agents were sent home, many organisations dipped their toes tentatively into the realms of cloud-based contact centres. Once the initial panic had worn off, organisations came to appreciate the enhanced flexibility, increased agility, and deeper analytics they had gained. Integration across telephone, email, instant messaging, and social media led to increased agent productivity and enhanced customer experience, and AI became a viable tool for business. Perhaps that’s because the implementation of AI is aligned both with the goals of increasing productivity and improving collaboration, and with the quest for enhanced CX.

AI-based analytics have not only enabled customer care teams to refine and target their responses to ensure a seamless customer experience across multiple touchpoints, IT managers have come to appreciate the predictive analytics that alert them to potential outages across the communication network. This level of business continuity insight, not to mention the time, cost and productivity savings,has according to a recent study by Nemertes, led to 64% of IT managers declaring they would pay a premium for this type of AI-based predictive analytics.

From an employee perspective, AI continues to bring a host of benefits to the virtual meeting room, and this number will grow over the next 12 months. Aside from improving the experience through audio and video enhancements, AI will further equip teams with capabilities for automation, including note-taking and scheduled follow-ups. We also expect to see enhancements like real-time language translation and the ability to reduce background noise, which is essential when employees are working at home, often alongside barking dogs, and noisy children.

With its customer-centric benefits, enhancements for teams and inherent cost savings, we can expect AI to proliferate further into 2021 and beyond.

SIP Trunking

While there’s no denying that video meeting platforms will continue to be the primary driver for workforce collaboration, there’s good news for SIP Trunking too – contact centre calling has been on the increase over the past 12 months. So even if IT managers don’t need SIP to support their enterprise systems, any business with a high volume of incoming and outgoing contact centre calls will likely consider increasing provision to ensure the lines are kept open.

Another factor that’s helping drive up the prevalence of SIP Trunking is the widespread adoption of unified- communications –as a service (UCaaS). Many of the bigger UCaaS providers are bundling SIP services into their offerings in a bid to provide a complete solution. According to projections from Omdia, this trend will help boost an increase in the number of businesses using SIP from 67% to 80% by 2022.

Furthermore, while cost has been a traditional benefit of SIP Trunking over legacy telecoms hardware and systems, increasingly it is the flexibility, financial stability and reliability that are seen as critical consideration factors for enterprise decision-makers. Many UCaaS solutions don’t include SIP features like priority routing and intrusion detection, and others will not automatically include APIs for phone number provisioning, SMS/MMS inbound and outbound services or virtual phone numbers for establishing local presence in remote markets.

It’s perhaps little wonder that 89% of the companies surveyed by Nemertes continue using SIP Trunking despite having adopted cloud-based collaboration solutions.

Enhanced collaboration integrations

Of all the cloud-based tools that took off in 2020, it is collaboration solutions like Microsoft Teams, Google G-Suite and Zoom that have proliferated the most. These previously little-known platforms have not only kept IT managers working busily in the background, they have also permeated the public consciousness and entered the lexicon of the national workforce. Every office worker across every industry now carries out their daily duties in the collaboration spaces brought niftily into the ‘home office’ by the biggest tech players on the planet.

Amid this burgeoning uptake, we can expect further integrations and new features being added on an almost-weekly basis. Organisations are looking for video solutions especially that are more robust, integrated and intelligent than the consumer apps they hastily deployed when the pandemic began, and the big players are looking to capitalise on this. They’re even teaming up to improve their collective offering, with a Microsoft Teams and Zoom integration allowing for interaction with partners who are not using Teams.

Other recent productivity and brainstorming integrations to Teams include apps like Cacoo, Freehand and MeisterTask. The Mural notification bot integration ensures team members know exactly what’s going on, on every project, at all times. And the inspired Givitas integration gives Teams users access to guidance and advice from specialists from around the world, helping boost productivity by ensuring quick solutions to complex problems.

The possibilities for app integrations within these vital collaborative workspaces are virtually endless, and they can help build a powerful landscape without causing fragmentation or further IT headaches into 2021.

Focus on EX as well as CX

Unified communications have generally been about ensuring the quality of the customer experience, but this year we can expect to see more of a focus on the employee. Throughout 2020, it was all about getting teams set up with the capabilities to perform their roles remotely. Now that IT managers have conquered that particular challenge and workers have adapted to the new way of doing business, we can expect the focus to be on employee engagement and wellbeing.

Communication and collaboration tools will be refined to more effectively recreate the qualities of those much-missed in-person interactions. Workers are missing the banter of the office. They’re missing the coffee-break brainstorming and the chance to vent their frustrations over the water cooler. And they’re almost certainly suffering with video-meeting fatigue.

UC solutions offer a number of easy and instant touchpoints and features that can help employees feel more connected to each other and more engaged with the business. Virtual hangouts and instant messaging; online team spaces with message boards and comment facilities – these all enable teams to share immediately and bounce ideas back and forth in real time, thereby increasing satisfaction and employee engagement.

More than this, people want to know they have done a good job, and UC solutions come into their own in the feedback sphere. While project management and workflow are handled seamlessly through UC solutions, platforms that are built for regular check-ins and conversations mean feedback can be given instantaneously and any issues ironed out quickly.

A solid UC strategy is very much at the centre of successful employee engagement as we head deeper into 2021. Used well, it will open up different and wide-ranging possibilities for individual employees and teams, as well as the wider business.

To find out more about M247’s range of Unified Communications solutions, get in touch today.

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