The Age of Reason

Dec 30, 2015

Gotcha! If you thought this article would have anything to do with Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous novel, you thought wrong.  I recently read Mr. Sartre’ book,  but have no intention of analyzing it here. This article is not about achieving personal maturity. It is instead about technological maturity and, more specifically, about the evolution of the unified communications (UC) market.

As we fast approach 2016, we are all looking into the crystal ball trying to predict the future. I believe 2016 and the next few years will go down in history as the age of reason. It may be just wishful thinking and I may be a few years too early with this prediction, but the future must bring some rationalization to today’s hectic world of unified communications.

The Failing UC Value Proposition

For years, UC vendors have pledged to help streamline communications deployment and management and take the end-user experience to unprecedented levels.  However, enterprise communications complexity keeps on compounding and the cherished UC experience remains an elusive nirvana.  It is not only that the UC experience has not met industry expectations, but the term itself remains ambiguous as it aims to define both an expanding set of software-based communications and collaboration tools and an ideal, tightly integrated and optimized enterprise communications environment.

Businesses are adopting IP telephony and other advanced communications tools, but penetration rates are nowhere near where early hype would have suggested. Vendor financial performance clearly shows that customers have been slow and cautious to make new IT and communications investments.

Multiple factors—economic, political, technological and competitive—have led to stagnation in the enterprise communications market.

The biggest problem with UC is that the “U” can never quite catch up with the “C”. Communications and collaboration tools continue to proliferate, but very few are ever truly unified in tightly integrated communications environments.

For businesses with legacy telephony systems, effective integration with advanced software-based tools is simply too expensive and cumbersome. But even businesses that have invested in the right IP telephony foundation are struggling to integrate all the new technologies and tools deployed within the organization. Staffing and resource constraints also limit customer ability to fully optimize their communications infrastructure.

In their quest to deliver greater customer value and differentiate, UC vendors actually increase complexity and add confusion. Each vendor pushes its own technology stack creating interoperability and integration challenges for the numerous businesses with best-of-breed, multi-vendor environments. Vendors have also failed to find the holy grail of the user experience—that perfect aggregation point for a user’s complete set of communications and collaboration tools.

Conflicting vendor approaches and efforts to compel customers to standardize on a different technology and tool set slow down market evolution, aggravate customer pains and weaken each vendor’s market position. Thus, in effect, UC perpetuates the problems it originally set out to resolve.

The past decade has been the age of UC adolescence— frivolous, exuberant and eager. It may be time to enter the age of reason.

Time to Redefine UC

In the face of a tough global economy and uncertain political climate, the year 2016 should be marked by greater wisdom in enterprise technology development and deployment.  A more mature approach would require a greater focus on the “basics”—simplicity, economy and convenience. Vendors are already experimenting with innovative business models (freemium, subscription pricing for premises-based solutions, cloud/hosted/aaS, etc.)  and developing solutions that more closely resemble flexible and intuitive consumer apps.  However, an even more pragmatic approach to enterprise communications may be needed to rejuvenate the UC industry.

From a user point of view, sometimes less is more. A well designed tool set for specific job roles can go further in empowering employees than the most feature-rich solution forced upon reluctant users. Different users require different communications and collaboration experiences to be effective and productive in their jobs.  Knowledge workers are more likely to choose a communications client as the hub for all their communications and productivity apps. Contact center agents, on the other hand, may wish to see all their communications and productivity tools embedded in a CRM app. IT staff and other internal support job functions may wish to see their tools aggregated in HelpDesk, HR or ERP apps.

As the industry adopts open standards and software-based solutions, the future belongs to mashable apps, open APIs, flexible admin portals, and truly customizable interfaces. On-demand services delivery and outsourced communications management can deliver further efficiencies and boost company agility.  The key goal is to harmonize and rationalize communications and collaboration experiences across devices, interfaces, platforms and networks. We’ve heard that before, but it’s time to finally make UC easier to deploy and use, reduce desktop clutter, and relieve UC tool fatigue and confusion.

That’s my wish for 2016. What’s yours?

Category : Cloud, Enterprise

Elka Popova


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