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Five predictions for communication and collaboration in 2018

In the new year, watch for team collaboration tools to become the primary user interface. And one UC vendor might mark the end of life for its on-premises platform.

At the end of each year, I look forward and try to predict the top unified communications and collaboration trends...

for the coming year. Looking back at a few of my 2017 UC predictions, I envisioned enterprises consolidating onto one vendor, cloud adoption ramping up and immersive collaboration systems modernizing meeting spaces.

With that in mind, let's look into the communication and collaboration crystal ball again and see what's likely in 2018.

1. Team collaboration becomes the norm. Last year, I predicted team chat would replace the UC client. We saw that happen, as vendors such as RingCentral and StarLeaf centered their UC clients around team collaboration. Microsoft, too, announced it was shifting Skype for Business in Office 365 to Microsoft Teams.

Team collaboration is shifting from "just another application" to the primary user interface for engaging with internal and external individuals and groups. These products support text, voice and video, and provide a common place to access related files, tasks and project plans. Expect this shift to accelerate in 2018 and beyond.

2. Major UC vendors mark end of life for on-premises platforms. We've shifted to a cloud-first world, with new features introduced in the cloud first, and then later -- if at all -- to on-premises users. With UC-as-a-service providers embracing microservices and Agile application development concepts, such as continuous delivery, the speed of delivering new features is shortened to days, hours or even minutes.

On-premises customers, on the other hand, cannot keep up if they find upgrades to be burdensome. The cost of supporting on-premises platforms could greatly exceed cloud, as well, meaning UC providers have growing justification for pushing their customers into cloud.

I expect we'll see at least one major UC vendor announce it will end feature updates for its on-premises users. The vendor would only provide maintenance releases that fix bugs and security holes, essentially marking its on-premises platform as end of life.

3. AI and voice assistants available from every leading UC vendor. In 2017, we saw tremendous hype around applying AI to improve communication and collaboration, but real-world products are still scarce. Expect to see vendors like Cisco and Microsoft use their AI investments to bring real-world capabilities to their UC platforms. More than likely, this will be done via feature enhancements, rather than separate offerings, because the willingness of enterprises to pay extra for AI is not yet proven.

We've shifted to a cloud-first world, with new features introduced in the cloud first, and then later -- if at all -- to on-premises users.

In addition, the recent spate of announcements from Amazon and Cisco shows voice-assistant interfaces will arrive quickly in 2018 and replace the pressing of buttons or starting of apps to initiate meetings. Maybe, before the end of 2018, entering a PIN to join a call will seem as archaic as dialing a number on a rotary phone.

4. Attention grows for UC security concerns. Nemertes Research has found only slight concern for UC security among chief information security officers (CISOs). But that began to change in 2017, as CISOs become more aware of data loss, man-in-the-middle attacks, denial-of-service attacks and other potential threats aimed at enterprise communications. This is especially true as embedded communications, softphones and WebRTC extend enterprise communication and collaboration to virtually anywhere.

As a result, expect interest in UC security services -- such as session border controllers, UC-aware firewalls and AI-assisted behavioral threat analytics -- to continue to grow as organizations take a proactive approach to thwart these threats.

5. Integration challenges grow. UC is quickly evolving from a stand-alone communication and collaboration app to a platform. That platform provides a set of extensible features that can be embedded into business process apps or integrated with workflows, enabling apps to push data into team workspaces. As the number of collaboration apps grows -- with many companies using more than one team collaboration app -- these integration challenges will grow.

I'm hearing concerns from companies in mixed Cisco and Microsoft environments. Those organizations are wondering how they will integrate their Office apps into Spark, or their Cisco voice and video platforms into Microsoft Teams.

Expect to see more focus on team collaboration integration, as well as growing demand for apps like 8x8's Sameroom to enable cross-team collaboration app integration.

In 2017, UC continued to shift to the cloud, morph into team collaboration, and provide a platform for application integration and customization. The trends I predict for 2018 continue in some of these paths. They highlight some challenges and anticipate a short-term future in which voice control and AI become staples of enterprise collaboration.

This was last published in December 2017

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