The unified communications market is in transition as organizations increase their push to the cloud and vendors look to enhance and differentiate their services. But even as the market evolves and new capabilities come to the forefront, organizations still seek guidance on more established technology, like VoIP, and the ongoing debate between Microsoft and Cisco services.
Our expert tips provided a wealth of advice for buyers who needed to make sense of the market and offered insight into the unified communications trends that were top of mind in 2019. Review our top tips of 2019 to see what trends will continue to drive the market in the coming year.
1. Continuing the Microsoft Teams transition
The end date for Skype for Business Online is approaching, and organizations need to plan their migration to Teams before the 2021 deadline. Developing a pilot program enables organizations to test a Teams implementation before rolling it out to the entire company.
Organizations evaluating a migration to Teams should consider the telephony features not yet available and how important they are to the business. Microsoft has features still on its roadmap, such as phone system admin enhancements, and it may be beneficial to take a wait-and-see approach to a migration.
Organizations in regulated industries should also evaluate how a Teams deployment affects compliance, such as HIPAA compliance in healthcare. Microsoft Teams offers compliance benefits, like secure messaging, and risks, like data exposure, that IT must carefully evaluate and manage.
2. The Microsoft vs. Cisco debate continues
The age-old debate between Microsoft and Cisco for business communications was still going strong in 2019. With both vendors pushing their respective Teams platforms as the hub for collaboration, organizations need to weigh the capabilities, security features and pricing options to determine which product suits their business needs.
Organizations planning to adopt cloud-based telephony need to evaluate the capabilities available in Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams. While the apps are similar in terms of service delivery and collaboration features, their approaches to telephony differ. Microsoft is making Teams telephony the core of its business communications as Skype for Business winds down. Cisco is integrating its BroadSoft assets with Webex Teams calling, but larger customers may prefer to continue using Cisco Unified Communications Manager for calling.
3. Ramping up cloud communications adoption
Cloud adoption is gaining momentum and unified communications as a service is evolving as vendors look to better meet customer needs and differentiate themselves. New services coming to the market include deeper team collaboration integrations, AI capabilities and APIs.
The cloud also opens the door for organizations to tightly integrate their UC systems with contact centers. Integrating the two platforms enables office workers and contact center agents to access the same communications capabilities. Organizations should carefully evaluate their existing integrations and communications infrastructure to determine how to approach mixing cloud-based UC and contact center.
As cloud capabilities expand, organizations shouldn't overlook staffing during a migration. While organizations may reduce staff responsible for technical operations, other areas of IT will see an increase in staff, including collaboration and development teams, to manage vendor relationships, support user adoption and oversee workflow integrations.
4. Continuing the migration to VoIP
While voice over IP is a mature technology, it's still a major unified communications trend as organizations make VoIP the starting point of a hybrid cloud migration. Using VoIP to kick off a hybrid migration allows organizations to take a phased approach to the cloud.
Organizations can test low-priority outbound calls to ensure a migration is successful before opening the system to high-priority calls, such as an inbound call center. A hybrid approach allows an organization to fall back to its on-premises PBX if the lower-priority calls experience quality issues that need to be addressed before moving all calls to a new system.
But as VoIP technology advances, organizations need to be cognizant of maintaining compliance with laws and regulations. Kari's Law, for example, requires all new multi-line phone systems to permit users to dial emergency services without dialing a prefix first. The law requires software or system updates to existing equipment to achieve compliance, while new equipment made, sold or leased after the February 2020 deadline must already be compliant.
5. AI benefits and challenges
UC vendors are turning to AI to enhance and differentiate their services through virtual assistants, automation and real-time transcriptions. In the meeting room, AI-driven smart cameras can add new capabilities to meetings, such as background blur, object identification and automatic zoom.
On the network, AI and machine learning can provide greater network visibility and automation to enhance quality of service (QoS) for real-time communications traffic. AI and machine learning provide a centralized control plane that offers end-to-end visibility and enables IT to set QoS policy for every device on the network.
The adoption of AI will affect employee skills and job responsibilities. On one hand, virtual assistants can automate mundane tasks to help employees focus more on their projects. On the other hand, employees may need to learn new skills to manage the data generated by AI in collaboration and business applications.
AI holds promise for enhancing productivity and collaboration, but adopting AI isn't without its challenges. Organizations need to build a business case for AI to ensure the technology is applied to the areas of the business that would benefit the most. They also need to hire the right employees who have the skills to manage AI capabilities, make sense of the data and optimize AI integrations.