Business communications has changed a lot in recent years. In other ways, however, it hasn’t changed much at all. But more change is coming, at a more rapid pace, and that could really change the way people do business and get their work done.
Cloud-Based Business Communications
One change that’s already afoot is the migration of business voice and unified communications solutions to the cloud.
More companies are migrating from premises-based to cloud-based business communications solutions – or at least to UC solutions that leverage a combination of the two (what we call hybrid solutions). The cloud, of course, allows customers to pay as they go and focus on their core competencies as opposed to managing voice and unified communications gear.
Global Market Insights says the overall UC market is poised to reach $96 billion by 2023. And it notes the expected proliferation of hosted products in this category.
Meanwhile, a 2015 BroadSoft survey indicates UC’s cloud market share will increase six fold by 2020, when it’s expected to reach 41 percent. The company adds that cloud-based UC is poised to grow by more than seven times in the mid-market arena. (Although Peter Radizeski in the article that follows argues that unified communications as a service hasn’t taken off.)
And more than 70 percent of respondents to a recent survey conducted by IntelliCom and TMCnet indicated they are now actively using public cloud-based UC services to some degree. Meanwhile, 26 percent said they are using them broadly across their organization.
Compared to a similar survey a year prior, IntelliCom’s Frank Stinson said that these new survey results indicate broad public cloud deployments have expanded significantly while exclusively premises-based solutions are eroding.
That helps explain why so many UC solutions suppliers have introduced unified communications as a service offerings. It’s why some companies are delivering UC solutions exclusively on a cloud basis. And it’s why some companies in the UCaaS space have seen strong growth and been able to attract new funding.
Key Market Players
BT, RingCentral, 8x8 (News - Alert), West, and Fuze are the unified communications as a service leaders, according to last year’s Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as a Service, Worldwide.
Speaking of Fuze, the company in February closed $104 million in new funding, bringing its total funding to $304 million. And last year the company added 449 new customers.
Gartner put Microsoft, Google, Verizon, AT&T, and NTT Communications (Arkadin) in the UCaaS challengers quadrant. Interoute, ShoreTel, and Star2Star are considered niche UCaaS players. And Gartner considers Mitel, Orange Business Services (News - Alert), and Vonage as the UCaaS industry’s visionaries.
Meanwhile, IHS Markit in January 2017 named BroadSoft the global UCaaS platform leader, with 38 percent of the total worldwide UCaaS seats running on its platform. Many of the large service providers rely on the BroadSoft platform to power their UC services.
It should also be noted that Gartner’s 2016 Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications lists Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel (News - Alert), and Avaya – all of which recently have considerably upped their UCaaS games – as the leaders. Gartner shows NEC, ALE, and Huawei as the overall UC challengers. It considers ShoreTel and Interactive Intelligence nice players. And lists Unify as the sole visionary.
The New Guys
Of course there is a large pool of other small, medium, and large communications and/or collaboration players.
There are newcomers like HipChat and Slack that deliver team collaboration apps.
You have your platform-as-a-service outfits like Twilio that enable companies to build their own UC solutions.
And then there are companies like Vidyo and Zoom that specialize in things like business video communications.
In addition to the rise of the cloud and UCaaS services, mobile first has become another overarching trend in the business communications arena in recent years.
The idea here, as you’re probably already aware, is that workers are increasingly using their mobile phones for business. And they want to be able to use those cell phones to do business whether they’re in the office, working from home, traveling, or engaging in leisure activities.
Meanwhile, businesses want to be able to extend the capabilities of their UC solutions to provide employees with experiences on their mobile devices that mirror those of their deskphones. Those organizations also want to better control those communications experiences.
As business communications become mobile first, expect to see messaging become the starting points for more interactions.
As discussed in the team collaboration article in this supplement, messaging is core to the strategies of business communications newcomers like Facebook and Slack. It’s also moving into integrated communications suites from other providers. And, given the fact that millennials – which make up the biggest part of our workforce – are most comfortable with asynchronous communications, the role of messaging in business communications is only expected to grow.
“For millennials and younger, messaging has become the key communication experience,” notes a March Forbes story by Baldwin Cunningham. “It’s fast, direct, visual, and allows for multiple conversations to happen in parallel. If one needs any evidence of how important messaging services are, one need look no further than Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s $19 billion dollar acquisition of WhatsApp, a direct competitor to its own messenger service.”
And a September Econsultancy.com blog by Blake Cahill talks about how IM is now used both for personal and professional services, and how it’s an entry point for Facebook Messenger to get into the chatbot arena.
Speaking of chatbots, they are also expected to have a major impact on how we manage our personal and professional lives, and in how businesses interact with their customers.
Indeed, chatbots could potentially help people with a range of things – including reminding them of their meetings, presenting them news based on specified criteria, and much more. They automate processes, and can be smart and poll users about what they want, and then can come back to them with those things.
Advances in artificial intelligence and deep learning are opening the door to conversational interfaces, he added. Soon, he said, virtually every business will have a conversational interface; bots like Alexa will go beyond listening and responding to develop an active voice; and chatbots will take over in droves, eliminating the need for apps.
“I’ve always believed that voice is the killer app,” said the VoIP pioneer.
The More Things Change…
But while chatbots are the new frontier, there’s a lot more messaging these days, and business communications is already migrating to the cloud, email remains the leading form of business communication, according to The Radicati Group Inc. And the research outfit expects the worldwide use of email to continue to grow.
There were more than 2.6 billion email users worldwide last year, according to the firm. And that is expected to top 3 billion by the end of 2020, when nearly half of the world is expected to be on email.
It should also be noted that although unified communications suites are available and plentiful, the reality is that many customers still use siloed communications solutions to meet their needs. In the article that follows, Peter Radizeski offers his advice on how the industry might get that to change.
Edited by Alicia Young