Communications 2017: What are the Experts Saying?

Convergence Corner

Communications 2017: What are the Experts Saying?

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  January 16, 2017

This is always the time of year when analysts, editors, and vendors alike take out their crystal balls and opine about the great changes the coming year has in store for us. The great news for INTERNET TELEPHONY readers is the first chance to hear and talk about these prognostications comes shortly after the new year in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., at ITEXPO 2017, held Feb. 8-10.

ITEXPO 2017 is highlighted by keynotes from IBM (News - Alert), VMware, Onvoy, and Vertical Communications, with a special address by Jeff Pulver, topped off by a cloud communications keynote panel featuring 8x8, RingCentral, and BroadSoft (and look for at least one more exciting keynote to be added just after the New Year).

If that’s not enough, this year’s agenda combines the new and exciting with the hottest business communications and technology essentials for companies looking to stay or get ahead in 2017, delivered by many of the industry’s great analysts and business leaders, each of whom has his or her own thoughts on what’s to come.

Without letting the entire cat out of the bag, I spoke to several of our moderators on their thoughts, and there are certainly some important trends looming, including fragmentation in the UC market, where traditional vendors find themselves competing more and more with cloud-based UC providers that continue to chew up market share. Inevitably, that will lead to both continued consolidation as well as forced innovation from traditional vendors.

“Collaboration offerings have shifted from being telephony-centric to a mix of being mobile-centric and messaging-centric,” said Jon Arnold (News - Alert), principal at J. Arnold & Associates. “This is giving rise to outliers like Slack, Facebook, and Twilio; to counter, we’ll be seeing more moves from the likes of Google and Microsoft, along with enhanced workstream offerings from Cisco, Avaya, Unify (News - Alert), ShoreTel, etc.”

Much of what is happening in the industry today stems from the unprecedented attention on customer experience and engagement, as customers in both business and consumer markets have lost nearly all tolerance for subpar service.

“Many businesses continue to struggle with customer service, which is a real challenge given the growing number of channels through which people want to connect today, and the high hurdle of finding and retaining customer service representatives who have the desire and skillsets to provide great experiences,” explained INTERNET TELEPHONY’s Executive Editor Paula Bernier. “The good news is that many businesses do seem to have improved the customer experience they’re delivering and are becoming more savvy about how they engage with their customers and prospects.”

Speaking of poor customer service, there is perhaps no set of providers more notorious for inadequate service, coupled with exorbitant costs, than cable operators, who are facing an onslaught from cloud-driven OTT providers that are able to provide competing service offerings at a fraction of historical costs of cable.

“Cable cord cutting will finally happen as it has become easier to rely on apps and streaming options over traditional offers,” noted TMC (News - Alert) Editor Stefania Viscusi. “We’ll finally see TV viewing take on a whole new shape and traditional providers will need to adapt if they want to keep consumers loyal.”

Of course, there’s a huge monkey wrench in this, as Crossfire Media CEO Carl Ford (News - Alert) pointed out: “The Trump Administration and the Republican Congress will look to get a simplified Telecom Act passed and remove net neutrality.”

This, of course, will make it harder for many of these OTT providers to keep costs at current levels. TMC CEO Rich Tehrani puts it even more succinctly: “Goodbye, net neutrality — we hardly knew you.”

Speaking of the president-elect, the 2016 election served to highlight an issue that has been brewing for years, which is that social media, while having become a key element to the same customer service businesses struggle to provide, has become saturated with unintelligent and often false information. Frankly, unless you’re getting your news from a reliable source, it’s often hard to know what to believe.

Doug Mohney, regular contributor to TMCnet, commented that, “Social media is due for a correction, as the emergence of ‘sour media’ and fake news has people rethinking how they interact with others, unfriending people with whom they disagree.”

As with any news source, social media is going to see a drop in usage as users rebel against the notion that it’s OK to hide behind a screen name. This holds for both business and consumer markets.

What all of this means is the tech industry is ripe for confusion. Cloud will continue to grow, driving more innovation with it, but businesses and consumers alike are unlikely to go all-in on cloud. Instead, there will be a reduction in cloud use on a per business or per user basis, as decision makers test and evaluate what makes sense and what doesn’t.

The bottom line is that, as much as the industry is sure to grow, there will be confusion that needs to be resolved and questions that have to be answered (and I haven’t even mentioned security, which, in light of both rogue and state-sponsored attacks has everyone a bit uneasy about their digital well being).

This has been just a sneak peek at some of the comments from ITEXPO’s team of moderators – stay tuned for many more predictions from them. But, you can be certain that all of these topics and many more will be at the heart of discussions at ITEXPO 2017, from WebRTC and customer engagement, to managed services and 5G, and everything in between that impacts end users, businesses, and service providers. I hope to see you all there, and if you have thoughts on what we’ll see in the coming year, feel free to drop me a note with your thoughts.

Edited by Alicia Young