2015 Predictions for Enterprise Communications

Dec 10, 2014

I always liked to read the articles written by fellow analysts related to yearly predictions. This time I decided to give it a shot myself and write my own observations on what, I believe, are going to be key trends next year. This article also goes in hand with Frost & Sullivan’s Unified Communications and Collaboration division transitioning into a new naming: Connected Work. The term ‘Connected Work’ refers to connectivity that enables new styles of working both independently and collaboratively in a team with others. It refers to a new approach to work environment, advanced technologies and access to global talent resources. This innovative approach is expected to reduce the need for fixed assets and help employees to focus on their tasks independent of their work location.  The different trends I’m going to talk about are all related to this concept where work is no longer a place you go, but what you do anywhere and anytime.

  1. Open Workspaces Continue to Emerge: The idea of open work environments involves new open-space “cubicle-less” workplace designs intended to promote collective innovation, collaboration, and increased productivity. The concept also goes in line with intelligently allocating financial resources to save space, power consumption (the Eco Office) and money in a challenging economy.  For workers requiring privacy, new open-space designs must also offer comfortable layouts that allow for individual work. Unified communications and collaboration vendors, such as Cisco, Plantronics, and Jabra are already placing strong emphasis on innovative collaboration products with the open workspace concept in mind. I expect more businesses around the world to embrace the open workspace idea in order to foster greater innovation and collaboration.

  2. Collaborative Apps Continue to Grow, with WebRTC Being a Key Enabling Technology: Year 2014 was marked by the launches of several innovative collaborative applications, with WebRTC being a key piece of the equation. Some examples include Circuit by Unify, Project Squared by Cisco, and Smart Office 2.0 by GENBAND. All these tools seek to deliver several key benefits including improved user experience; collaborative team spaces; integration of real-time with non-real-time communications; agile product updates;  gamification elements from the consumer world; and access to anytime/anywhere information.  A fundamental element of anytime/anywhere information has been the usage of WebRTC, which allows plugin-free browser-based voice and video communications through web browsers, including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. Although the rollout of these applications is not intended to replace softphones or UC clients, the more appealing design of the new collaborative applications is overshadowing the more utilitarian concept of the traditional UC clients and interfaces. From a marketing standpoint, UCC vendors have been marketing these group collaborative apps more aggressively than the traditional peer-to-peer UC clients. In 2020, 72.0 percent of companies are expected to deploy at least one social/collaborative software tool.  In 2015 I expect UCC vendors to launch more WebRTC-enabled collaborative apps, which will become a center piece in the vendors’ market strategies.

  3. Cloud Storage Usage Continue to Grow: With compelling products from vendors such as DropBox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive, or Google Drive, cloud storage is becoming a key element of the new connected work paradigm. The opportunity to have all your information on the go, accessible anywhere and on any device is definitely very appealing.  In spite of the security challenges that cloud storage services can pose to enterprise customers, more businesses are deciding to offer or allow workers the opportunity to store work documents in the cloud.  DropBox for Business, for example, surpassed 200 percent of annual growth in 2014. Today, the company has more than 80,000 organizations that rely on DropBox for Business. Google, on the other hand, reported it is signing up more than 1,800 customers per week for Google Drive for Work. Recognizing this growing trend, UCC vendors, such as Cisco, are beginning to integrate their enterprise collaboration solutions with cloud storage solutions (Cisco Squared with Box, in the case of Cisco). Some UCC vendors are even deciding to offer these types of cloud storage services themselves (the case of Unify through Circuit). One thing is true, cloud storage services for businesses are here to stay and grow, offering enterprises all the necessary tools (e.g., auditing, security, regulatory compliance) to transform the service from a consumer solution to a business-grade/corporate-compliant service. 

  4. Headsets Become the Most Adaptive Endpoints in Connected Work:  For those who know me, you are aware that I’ve been covering the enterprise endpoint space for the last eight years. One type of enterprise endpoints that has successfully embraced evolving industry trends in an agile manner has been the professional headset. Transforming themselves from mere accessories to main enterprise communications endpoints, professional headsets have changed in terms of form factor much more than any other enterprise device. With the rise of mobility, professional headsets responded with cordless headsets. With the evolution of unified communications, professional headsets responded with UC-enabled headsets. With the proliferation of multiple communications endpoints, professional headsets became the glue offering multi-modal capabilities (connecting the desk phone, the mobile phone, and PC communications in a single device. With the emergence of contextual intelligence, headsets incorporated smart sensors enabling an improved user experience. Today, the technologies incorporated in a headset are transforming the way we work, having a powerful impact on our daily productivity. One of the latest trends coming from headset vendors such as Plantronics and Jabra is the focus on open workspaces and targeting focus on younger generations of workers with new  Plantronics BackBeat Pro (http://www.plantronics.com/us/product/backbeat-pro?skuId=sku6810014) and Jabra Evolve (http://www.jabra.com/Products/PC_Headsets/Jabra_EVOLVE__Series). These devices are headphones and at the same time headsets. They are able to: cancel the ambient noise with advanced noise cancelling technologies; act as headphones for music listening through an immersive audio experience; and even answer calls though built-in mics.  Quoting Jabra’s statistic that estimate individual work space to decrease from 50 square meters to 20 square meters, and with the growth of open workspaces in mind, I expect these types of headphones/headsets to become increasingly adopted within the enterprise segment.  

  5. BYOD and Mobility Continue to be the Paramount Driver of Connected Work. In 2020, 30.0 percent of workers worldwide are expected to access office networks remotely.  Furthermore, by 2020, 50.0 percent of all enterprise communications devices are expected to be purchased by employees and fully supported by companies.  Today, there are more than 500 million tablets in the world from which 30.0 percent are supported for business purposes (either corporate-issued devices or employee-purchased, company-supported devices). The number of consumer-owned smartphones used at work is also growing year after year accentuating the trends of consumerization of information technology (IT) and bring your own device (BYOD). More than ever before, it is the end user, not business management, who defines the new work paradigms. Taking this into consideration, almost all major enterprise communications and collaboration vendors have been adapting their strategies and restructured their solutions portfolios to fit today’s new working realities.  From a hardware product development point of view, smartphones and tablets have considerably changed perceptions of what enterprise endpoints should look like. From a communications software point of view, smartphones and tablets have compelled many vendors to focus on “mobile-first” applications that center on mobile-optimization, mobile device and data management, end-user experience, software agility, and software design. In 2015 UCC vendors are expected to allocate more resources to the optimization of communications and collaboration capabilities they deliver on mobile devices. 

  6. Generation Y Will Become a Larger Percentage of the Workforce: By 2025, Frost & Sullivan estimates millennials to make up 75.0 percent of the U.S. workforce. Furthermore generation Y workers are expected to account for 30.0 percent of the total projected population in 2025. Increasing Gen Y importance as key influencers is leading to changes in workplace habits and communication patterns. Gen Y expectations for a greater quality of life make them a highly tech-savvy group. An increase in the Gen Y population at work is expected to cause revolutionary changes in terms of connectivity in the workplace. Because of Gen Y’s easy adaptability to technology, collaborative work culture augmented by relevant and contextual communications tools would make them more productive. Excessive compulsion to check their smart phones for emails, texts or social media updates would accelerate the adoption of social networks in the connected workplace. In 2015 many UCC vendors must have Gen Y workers in mind when developing their new enterprise collaboration solution. Exploring behavioral conduct of this target audience will be an important key to success.

 


Mohamed Alaa Saayed

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