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5 UC and collaboration trends driving market change in 2021

As the hybrid work model expands, discover the unified communications and collaboration trends anticipated to transform the market in 2021 and further on.

The COVID-19 pandemic ignited unprecedented changes in the unified communications and collaboration market as organizations rapidly shifted to remote work. Hybrid work, which exploded in use during 2020, will continue to drive ongoing market evolution in 2021 and beyond. UC and collaboration vendors now primarily focus on ensuring equal access to collaborative capabilities regardless of location, and optimizing the remote and in-office experience.

As vaccination rates increase and infection rates improve in certain parts of the world, many companies are planning for at least a partial return to the office in the second half of 2021. These predictions for the UC and collaboration trends are the ones shaping up to influence the market in the coming year.

1. UC as a service is king

According to Metrigy's 2021-2022 global study on workplace collaboration, 47.5% of the 467 companies benchmarked now fully rely on the cloud for their communications needs, or run a combination of UC as a service (UCaaS) and on-premises UC. Of the 28.6% still using UC on premises, just over one-quarter (25.4%) are moving to the cloud or evaluating such a transition. Primary drivers for shifting to the cloud include the need for cost savings, security and better support for remote work, as well as the emergence of more available features in the cloud.

2. Video as, if not more, important than voice

Nearly half of Metrigy's research participants say use of their phone systems is declining as one-to-one and group conversations shift to meeting apps, team messaging or mobile devices. Nearly 87% indicate video is a critical or important service within their organizations, with 82% using video for all or most meetings. In the last year, UCaaS providers have rapidly improved their video meeting experiences, adding new features including recording, transcription and translation, as well as AI-enabled features to improve voice and video quality. Endpoint vendors have also responded with a slew of new devices for improved personal audio and video. Customers should expect a continued focus through the end of 2021 and into 2022 on how to make video more accessible and enjoyable.

3. Team collaboration becomes a workflow hub

Most UCaaS vendors now provide a team collaboration experience as the core UI, and the majority (57.1%) view it as a work hub, meaning that they integrate other apps into team collaboration platforms. About 47% of companies currently integrate at least one app -- such as virtual whiteboard, project management, meetings, file-sharing, CRM or HR tools -- into their team spaces. Looking toward the future, team collaboration apps will increasingly enable users to create and manage their own workflows through the use of low-code/no-code tools and bots to more effectively manage their work.

4. The focus shifts to security

In response to the pandemic, many companies quickly adopted a range of collaboration applications to support remote work. Now, IT, business and security leaders are increasing their focus on how to secure them. More than half of companies are budgeting more for collaboration security, purchasing platforms to ensure consistency of policy and governance, as well as to prevent and mitigate against active threats. Among successful companies -- defined as those with the highest ROI for their collaboration spend -- 65.5% have a proactive collaboration security plan, versus just 27.6% of those with no or low ROI for their collaboration investments.

Users should anticipate continued vendor focus on security as a differentiator while specialty collaboration security vendors rapidly emerge.

5. The home is the new office

The shift to remote work has created new challenges for IT organizations, especially when it comes to supporting real-time collaboration applications. Key work-from-home challenges include poor Internet and in-home network performance, securing remote endpoints, gaining visibility into application performance, and ensuring remote worker engagement. Successful companies are more likely to proactively support remote employees by providing ISP selection and home Wi-Fi support, as well as performance and administration management of voice and video apps. This requires ensuring appropriate management platforms to gain necessary insight. In addition, companies are rapidly investing in new security platforms, such as secure web gateway and cloud access security brokers, to safeguard themselves against growing phishing and ransomware attacks.

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