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The unified communications market has matured, and vendors are now being challenged to find new ways to differentiate their services and win over customers. For many vendors, that means developing AI-driven capabilities and expanding into the contact center space.
Vendors ranging from industry incumbents, like Microsoft and Cisco, to startups, like Mio and Omilia, will showcase the latest in unified communications (UC) and collaboration technology at Enterprise Connect 2019, which will run from March 18-21 in Orlando, Fla.
In this Q&A about the hot topics at Enterprise Connect 2019, Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar shares his insights on the trends and vendor announcements he's anticipating at the enterprise communications trade show.
The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
What will be the hot topic at Enterprise Connect 2019?
Irwin Lazar: This is going to be the year of AI. There won't be a single presentation on the main stage and most breakout sessions where AI isn't going to come up as a topic.
Everyone is looking at how to use AI to differentiate. They're using AI to add intelligence to calls, provide contextual information, predict behavior and need, and provide translations. The challenge [for vendors] is how is my AI better than yours? How does Mitel differ from Cisco and how does Cisco differ from Five9?
From an enterprise perspective, the question is whether they really care right now. We find a lot of interest in AI in customer engagement to improve interactions and route calls to the right person. On the broader UC and collaboration side, we found some interest in things like facial recognition to see how many people are in a room and better analyze use of the meeting space.
What other trends are you watching?
Lazar: The focus on customer engagement has really taken off this year. Looking at [the Best of Enterprise Connect 2019 nominees], half are contact center and customer engagement related.
A lot of cool things are going on around UC, video, APIs, digital immersive whiteboards -- those are the core areas we're looking at. Innovation these days is around customer engagement and the contact center. Startups and emerging vendors are looking at how they can compete in the customer space.
What should users take away from the new strategic leadership conference track?
Lazar: One of the trends we've seen when we talk to people responsible for UC and collaboration is that, five years ago, they cared about whether the technology worked. Now, they care about whether people are using the apps. They've rolled out video conferencing or team collaboration and want to make sure people are using it and have a measure of success.
We're seeing in our research a focus on what value the technology brings to the business. If I made an investment in Microsoft Teams, what's the bottom-line impact? Does it improve operations, reduce costs or provide new revenue? From an IT leader standpoint, I've got to be able to answer those questions and be part of the fabric of the business.
Businesses differentiate and disrupt by leveraging emerging technology. In order to be a disruptive business and not be the next Blockbuster, they need to figure out how to use things like 5G, AI and CPaaS [communications platform as a service]. It's fair to say business and IT leaders are converging. Lines are blurring; they have a shared interest.
What are you expecting from the vendor keynotes?
Lazar: Google and Cisco are under new leadership, and I want to understand where they're taking their organizations. Amy Chang [senior vice president of Cisco's collaboration technology group] has a background in AI and with Google, so she has a different view of the market than Rowan Trollope [the former head of Cisco's collaboration technology group] when he was there. I want to understand what she's looking at and where she's taking Cisco.
Google is one of those companies where there's demand for a credible alternative to Microsoft. Can Google finally build an integrated set of apps to compete? The challenge is it has more disjointed point apps today versus an overall vision of integrated apps.
Amazon is starting to look at making a move into the larger contact center space. In our research, a lot of companies are kicking the tires of Amazon. There's interest in it with small, ad hoc deployments. Amazon's not competing with Cisco, Genesys or Avaya. I'm excited to hear where the company's going.
With Microsoft, we'll continue to hear more around AI. For Microsoft, Google and Amazon, the question is how they take advantage of the power of their computing platforms, AI and innovative apps.