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A careful look at our top 10 unified communication and collaboration (UCC) news stories in the past 12 months point to trends that will continue to play out in 2015. Segments of the market that had the most activity include online collaboration tools, cloud-based UCC services, WebRTC as a standard technology for browser-based video conferencing and the use of mobile devices to let employees join online meetings while on the road.
1. UC-as-a-Service = hot hot hot
More enterprises adopted cloud-based UC in 2014. According to Nemertes Research's Enterprise Technology Benchmark, 63% of companies had at least one UC app in the cloud, with Web conferencing as the most widely adopted product. One in 3 enterprises moved to a cloud-based email or calendar platform, with another 12% planning to migrate in 2015. IP telephony grew beyond the small and medium-sized business market with 18% of all companies using it, and more than 6% planning to migrate to the cloud in 2015. Nemertes analyst Irwin Lazar said cost savings is the biggest driver. Secondary reasons include the ability to easily scale services up or down, quick adoption of UC features and freeing up IT resources for projects related to a company's core business.
2. Rising use of cloud-based video conferencing
The use of expensive, in-room video conferencing is waning, while less expensive cloud-based systems available for desktop and mobile devices are taking hold. Among the noteworthy announcements in 2014 was Google's partnership with Vidyo to integrate Google Hangouts with enterprise video conferencing products. Partnerships to connect cloud-based video with on-premises systems are sure to continue in 2015, along with better tools for monitoring performance and troubleshooting online systems.
3. Collaboration gets easier
Cisco and Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications) drew the attention of industry analysts and corporate IT execs with the release of collaboration tools aimed at replacing email as the primary means of communication for group projects. Neither vendor released a complete set of tools, but both validated the industry trend toward combining messaging, file-sharing and audio, video and Web conferencing in an easy-to-understand interface.
4. UC gets more social
More UC vendors introduced products incorporating social features like activity streams to provide a more complete platform for employees to collaborate on projects. The latest products using social features include Unify Circuit and Cisco Project Squared. The vendors acknowledge lots of work is still needed, so expect more robust versions in 2015. In the meantime, rivals like IBM, Jive Software and Microsoft are likely to improve their more mature products.
5. WebRTC standards
WebRTC, an emerging industry standard for doing video and audio conferencing in a Web browser, reached a technological milestone. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) decided to require browser makers supporting WebRTC to implement VP8 and H.264 video codecs. The mandate did not settle all codec-related disputes between browser developers Microsoft, Google and Apple. It narrowed the focus to two standards, which will have to compete for market adoption. In the meantime, experts believe an increasing number of business software developers and UCC vendors are likely to incorporate WebRTC in products in 2015, with many enterprises ready to give them a spin.
6. UC becomes a Web-app feature
With WebRTC nearly completed, enterprises -- especially consumer-facing businesses -- are expected to start using the technology to add audio and video communications to websites and mobile applications. Twilio -- an infrastructure provider for audio and video calling, along with text and picture messaging in Web, desktop and mobile applications -- plans to help its customers take advantage of WebRTC. With Twilio jumping in, competitors like Plivo, Voxeo Corp. and Tropo are unlikely to stand on the sidelines.
7. Mobile UC gets lots of attention
Enterprise demand for cloud-based UCC is driving the industry push for these services on mobile devices used by employees and executives on the road. Joining a Web or video conference can be as easy as launching an app on a smartphone or tablet. Announcements worth noting in 2014 included ShoreTel's update of its mobile client with video conferencing for iOS and Android devices. Wireless carriers have also jumped on the mobility bandwagon. AT&T announced a partnership with Blue Jeans to provide more affordable video conferencing for smaller companies. Expect new products and services in this space in 2015 as competition between vendors intensifies.
8. UC monitoring on a roll
Having deployed UC tools, enterprises are looking for software that enables IT staff see in real time if there are ongoing issues with voice or video traffic. Stock monitoring features provided by networking vendors are being pushed aside for products from UC monitoring specialists like Nectar Services Corp. and Unify Square. UC vendors like Polycom are also getting into the game with tools and professional services. "[UC monitoring] companies are riding this wave of demand from enterprises," said Bill Haskins, a Wainhouse Research analyst.
9. UC silos come down slowly
Interoperability across UCC systems from different vendors remains difficult. Progress toward breaking down the silos remains slow and most enterprises turn to so-called UC federation products and services to share some UCC capabilities with external partners and remote offices. Federation vendor NextPlane Inc. introduced a service for exchanging instant messages and presence between Google Hangouts and enterprise UC platforms from Cisco, Microsoft and IBM. Nevertheless, based on the squabbling between vendors, the pace toward interoperability is unlikely to change in 2015.
10. VoIP attacks likely to rise
The biggest data breaches of 2014 centered on retailers like Home Depot, Michaels and Sally Beauty Holdings. But that doesn't mean UC networks are immune from attacks. Indeed, with IP-based phone services becoming a mainstream replacement for traditional phone systems, experts are warning that the same techniques and tools used to break into an enterprise network can also be applied to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connections. Enterprises should lockdown VoIP networks, while also defending against older threats like toll fraud, phone hacking and telephony denial of service attacks.
Getting the most out of mobile UC
Read the primer: Using a browser for calls and video conferencing
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