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The top five UC technology trends to watch in 2016

According to one expert, the future of unified communications should see more API adoption, video conferencing in small meeting rooms and vendor consolidation.

As we turn to a new year and look toward the future of unified communications, let's revisit past predictions and make some new ones for 2016. Looking at my last predictions piece for UC technology, I'm going to score it three right and two wrong.

What I got right: WebRTC has gone mainstream with nearly every UC and video provider supporting it, though browser ubiquity remains more of a dream than a reality. Cloud video is definitely here as 44% of participants in a recent Nemertes Research study cited current use of, or plans for, cloud video conferencing. And mobile messaging -- such as team chat and collaboration or workstream communications -- has indeed entered the UC technology mainstream.

What I got wrong: The PSTN isn't dead, but it's on life-support. And we aren't yet seeing data caps impact enterprise mobility plans, but stay tuned.

So that's 60%. Not great, but not too shabby either. But with 2015 in the books, let's take a look at the future of UC technology and make some predictions for 2016:

1. UC as a platform

This one is easy to predict because it's already happening. Companies are leveraging cloud API providers like TokBox, Twilio and the recently acquired Tropo to add communication functions into their apps.

Although we haven't yet seen widespread adoption of UC APIs in the enterprise, I think that's going to change. Many UC vendors are looking to deliver these interfaces and application developers are increasingly aware of these capabilities.

About 10% of companies are already building custom UC apps, while more than 25% are integrating UC technology into their existing apps, according to Nemertes Research. REST (representational state transfer) is now a term that UC leaders will need to learn.

2. Reinventing the collaboration workspace

If I had a nickel for how many times UC vendors have talked about infusing small meeting rooms with rich collaboration capabilities, I'd have a lot of nickels. But it's not just talk.

By the end of 2016, I predict at least 50% of companies will either be using [team] apps or will have plans to deploy them.

UC vendors like Cisco, Highfive, Polycom and Tely are delivering services that enable easy access to video conferencing, content sharing and screen projection. With its Centro platform, Polycom is actually proposing a complete redesign of the room itself.

I think the appeal and low cost of inserting video, screen sharing and projection into small rooms and workspaces is too great to pass up for a growing number of customers.

3. Team apps gain momentum

Going beyond last year's prediction that these apps would enter the UC realm, I think a majority of knowledge workers are on the verge of making these team apps their collaborative home.

Messaging service Slack just reported 2 million daily active users. Cisco will make a strong push to drive Spark out to its customers. By the end of 2016, I predict at least 50% of companies will either be using such apps or will have plans to deploy them.

4. Collaboration goes beyond the knowledge worker

This one piggybacks on my first prediction. Organizations, vendors and service providers will use APIs to drive collaboration applications out to task workers. Tablet-wielding field workers will no longer need to switch between apps to communicate with a customer or co-worker.

In many companies, task workers comprise a larger percentage of the employee population than knowledge workers. A great opportunity exists to leverage collaboration interfaces to improve the productivity of these kinds of employees.

5. Continued consolidation amid UC technology

The one prediction I'm sorry I missed in 2015 is the consolidation we're seeing in the UC market with the acquisitions of Acano, Esna, Talko, Tropo, Unify, Glip, Fuze and so on.

Barring another economic meltdown, I think you'll see more mergers and acquisitions in 2016 as UC vendors look to widen their array of offerings and improve their competitive standing.

Likely acquisition targets include the team messaging vendors, such as Cotap, Redbooth and Slack. Other probable targets include Pexip, Blue Jeans, Lifesize, Zoom, join.me, Polycom and many more.

There you have it -- a look back and a look forward at some of the important UC technology trends. Happy New Year everyone and thanks for reading!

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