Unified communications can be a complex market for enterprises to navigate, as they wrangle multiple team collaboration apps and evaluate use cases for emerging technologies. Our experts provided a breadth of advice for UC buyers and IT managers to make sense of a changing market and find the right vendors and products for their organizations' communication and collaboration needs.
Our expert tips revealed the trends in unified communications that were top of mind for organizations in 2018 and how these trends will influence the market in the coming year.
1. The Microsoft vs. Cisco debate continues
The ongoing battle between Microsoft and Cisco was a top trend in unified communications, with Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams collaboration platforms headlining the battle. Both vendors are positioning their team tools as the enterprise communications platform of choice, so many organizations have to decide which platform best suits their communications and collaboration needs.
But, for organizations with both Cisco and Microsoft deployments, the question becomes how to make Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams work in harmony. While third-party services are available for interoperability between Skype for Business and Cisco's Jabber or to connect Microsoft and Cisco endpoints, no such service exists for messaging interoperability between the respective Teams platforms. Interoperability may come in the form of developer APIs, but organizations will need to take a wait-and-see approach going into 2019.
2. Preparing for cloud UC today and beyond
The adoption of cloud communications continues to grow, but organizations need to be prepared for the significant changes that come with a cloud migration. While the cloud is viewed as a cost saver, it can come with surprises costs in the form of staff training and end-user adoption programs.
Organizations also need to rethink their network infrastructure when preparing for a cloud migration and consider a number of factors, including endpoints and distributed offices. Organizations have a number of tools at their disposal to make sure their cloud deployment has the right amount of network resources.
Once organizations have settled into their cloud deployment, they need to look to the future and prepare for the next generation of cloud UC. New technologies, including AI and APIs, are making their way to UC-as-a-service platforms, and organizations need to evaluate how the technology fits with their communications roadmap.
3. AI permeates UC services
AI is an emerging trend in unified communications, where machine learning can be used to improve collaboration efficiency by automating workflows and processes.
In particular, organizations may find their meeting rooms could benefit from AI services, from automatic transcription capabilities to voice bots that perform certain actions during a meeting. AI can also improve self-service in the contact center by creating a more natural conversational experience for customers.
AI can offer UC services several benefits, but organizations shouldn't be blinded by the shiny, new AI toy. Organizations should carefully consider any security and privacy implications of AI. They should also consider the use cases that best fit any applications of AI.
4. Designing meeting rooms to improve collaboration
Conference rooms are a growing part of digital transformation initiatives, as organizations look to improve communication and collaboration across the business. Conference rooms need to be equipped with the right technology to support collaboration needs and create more efficient meetings.
Small meeting spaces, such as huddle rooms, need to be designed with employee workflows in mind. Huddle room design should include common collaboration capabilities, including remote collaboration and local screen sharing.
However, amid the huddle room hype, organizations should not ignore large conference rooms. Meeting rooms of all sizes need to support collaboration, as employee demand for video conferencing grows. Be sure to follow best practices to ensure large meeting rooms have the right video system and a training program for users.
5. The challenges of team collaboration management
Team collaboration apps became a more integral part of UC strategies in 2018. But questions abound over who owns and manages these apps, as lines of business gain more buying power and deploy apps without IT intervention.
For organizations with multiple team collaboration apps, IT is tasked with reining them in and providing the proper support and security measures. IT can take certain steps to work with lines of business and address team collaboration management challenges, such as creating a security strategy and evaluating business metrics.