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The unified communications industry had an exciting year in 2016 -- from Mitel's attempt to acquire Polycom, to Microsoft's Skype for Business updates, to the rise of communications platform as a service. These stories serve as a barometer for the future of UC and collaboration as the industry heads into 2017.
Take a look at the top five unified communications news items that highlight the topics and trends most important to our readers in 2016.
1. Unified communications industry consolidation
Mergers and acquisitions were major unified communications news in 2016 as the industry saw high-profile activity. One of the most significant news items was Mitel's attempt to acquire Polycom. In April, Mitel and Polycom announced the two companies would merge in a $1.96 billion deal. News of the acquisition led to speculation over what new UC services could emerge and what would become of Polycom's partnership with Microsoft.
However, the deal fell apart as Polycom accepted a $2 billion offer from Siris Capital Group. The acquisition was completed in September.
The contact-center market saw consolidation as Genesys acquired Interactive Intelligence for $1.4 billion. The acquisition, completed on Dec. 1, was seen as a good move as Interactive Intelligence's portfolio complemented Genesys' offerings.
Microsoft also acquired professional social network LinkedIn. While details of what services or features could emerge from the deal haven't been released, Microsoft could integrate LinkedIn's capabilities with Office 365.
2. Microsoft expands Skype for Business services
Skype for Business and Office 365 dominated unified communications news headlines as Microsoft ramped up its UC offerings. In April, Microsoft released the Cloud Connector Edition of the Skype for Business Server, which allows businesses to connect existing phone lines and numbers with Skype cloud-based telephony in Office 365. As Microsoft looks to improve Skype for Business voice services, a growing number of enterprises and small businesses completed trials of the service.
Microsoft also rolled out its Skype for Business Mac client -- the first client for Apple users since the Skype for Business rebrand from Lync. Additionally, Microsoft revealed its plans to expand Skype for Business from the desktop to room systems.
Microsoft also jumped into the team collaboration space. In September, the company announced it would merge Yammer with Office 365 Groups to tighten its collaboration strategy. In November, Microsoft announced Microsoft Teams, a team chat app that looks to compete with Slack, Cisco Spark and Unify Circuit.
3. Cisco partnerships bolster collaboration services
Cisco spent 2016 beefing up its collaboration offerings. Cisco partnered with IBM to fill some gaps in Spark and WebEx with IBM's email service and social networking software. Cisco also partnered with Salesforce to integrate Spark and WebEx with the customer relationship management software. The company introduced Cisco Meeting Server, which allows interoperability between Cisco Telepresence systems and Skype for Business.
Cisco also made acquisitions and tested new services to boost the Spark team collaboration service. Cisco acquired Synata in March to help Spark users search encrypted files and messages within the service. Cisco also announced it is testing the use of bots as virtual assistants in Spark.
4. Growing demand for cloud services
Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is reaching maturity as more organizations move their UC platforms to the cloud. UCaaS business suites saw rapid growth in 2016 and account for one-third of the overall UCaaS market, according to Synergy Research Group.
Many vendors are seeing UCaaS affect their bottom line. Avaya reported declining revenue in the third quarter due to decreasing demand for UC hardware, but the vendor saw growth in its cloud and managed-service segments.
While the cloud's popularity has grown in the UC space, hybrid deployments are the reality for many organizations. Some organizations are maximizing their investments in on-premises infrastructure, while others are waiting for cloud services, particularly voice, to mature.
5. CPaaS disrupts the unified communications industry
Communications platform as a service (CPaaS) is relatively new but quickly became a fixture in unified communications news. Organizations are considering CPaaS as they seek APIs to build communication tools into their business applications. The most popular tools include SMS messaging and chat as text-based communication grows in popularity among employees and customers.
Major UC vendors have hopped on the CPaaS and API bandwagon to compete with quickly growing startups like Twilio and TokBox. Cisco announced a $150 million fund for developers to build custom apps using Cisco Spark APIs.
Avaya announced Breeze and Zang. Breeze, a rebrand of Avaya's Engagement Development Platform, allows organizations to build their own software and embed apps from Avaya. Zang is an independent subsidiary that provides a CPaaS platform, which has led analysts to question where Zang fits in Avaya's UC vision.
Looking to the future of CPaaS and APIs
UC industry consolidation benefits buyers
The Microsoft vs. Cisco debate moves to the cloud