In part 1 of this series, I covered the history of communications, the PSTN vs. VoIP debate and the role VoIP will play in companies being future ready.
One trend gaining traction in the voice over IP (VoIP) realm is unified communications (UC), and it has been transforming the way midsize to large businesses operate.
I asked Alon Cohen, executive vice president of Phone.com (who co-designed and patented the first audio transceiver); Wes Hayden, CEO of Virtual Hold Technology; and Sean O’Brien, executive vice president of Strategy Communications at PGI, what their predictions on industry trends of UC and the future of VoIP technology holds and how midsize to large enterprises can become future-ready.
Cohen: VoIP will become more pervasive. By 2017 I estimate that 75 percent of new business will not even look at public switched telephone network (PSTN) as a viable solution. Video plus screen sharing will be used by more and more employees as additional devices support video, including desk phones, computers and mobile smartphones, and due to the fact that joining a videoconference by phone or with video will become as simple as joining an audio-only call today.
To become future-ready, the first thing companies need to do is find a good Internet service provider (ISP), increase your existing bandwidth and availability to professional levels, and install a VoIP-enabled security firewall.
Hayden: Companies of all sizes jumped on the VoIP bandwagon to decrease telephone costs and improve the scalability and flexibility of voice networks. With VoIP now well-established, we’ll see more enterprises turning to mobile and desktop VoIP apps to streamline communications both while at the office and away. New apps will enable organizations to connect employee smartphones, tablets and laptops to one singular VoIP platform, so employees can interact through the service without being tied to their desk phones. A singular platform allows employees to seamlessly transfer calls from an office phone to a cell phone or tablet without interruption and can support other customer service applications that might be required by different employees.
Within the customer service segment, this ability to add or remove devices and connectivity can be beneficial when scaling for different levels of customer service, seasonal support needs or specialty agent skill sets.
Moving beyond a basic VoIP service does take some planning to become VoIP-ready. VoIP relies on a solid network infrastructure to run voice and data across multiple channels — so it’s crucial that the right infrastructure is in place for seamless integration. Organizations should also look at integrating additional platforms with VoIP so all interactions into a contact center are through one portal, and customers receive a consistent experience. Finally, a backup or recovery system is important in case a disaster happens. For example, to ensure communication isn’t interrupted if the network goes down, the system should be set up to reroute calls to another location or phone line.
O’Brien: The first generation of unified communications was true to its name: It was all about bringing disparate technologies together. We couldn’t focus on things like user experience and productivity because the base technological hurdles were still so huge. And VoIPs’ original value proposition was simply one of cost savings. However, I believe the industry has already begun a shift in focus toward enabling true productivity and collaboration empowered by these technologies. To prepare for the future, companies should evaluate UC and VoIP not merely on their technological merit but on the holistic collaboration experience they can create for their workers.
Tim Basa, vice president of sales and marketing at Bullseye Telecom, believes midsize companies need to start the process of fully integrated, converged network solutions. In fact, the best piece of advice Basa provides a midsize company is to adopt and or switch over to VoIP/UC and make sure you have a great provider that can allow you to scale.
“We are at such an exciting time. The Internet of Everything is basically upon us and companies (of all sizes) need to be ready — future ready now.”
Into the future
Michael Bremmer, CEO of Telcomquotes.com has more than 20 years of experience in the telecom/tech industry, and his wit caught my eye in an email to me with this subject line: “Video killed the radio star and mobile is killing VOIP (hardware)…”
So I asked Michael what trends he foresaw happening with VOIP within the next two to five years:
Bremmer: “Geofencing will automatically allow an office worker’s “phone” to convert to a business phone (in the office) and when they leave, it will automatically revert to personal calls only, turning off GPS tracking (for the business apps).”
Perhaps this could mean that location-based application developers would have to focus on enterprise GPS coordinates to determine when an employee enters or departs the workplace. Ironically, Frost Sullivan’s Top 10 Trends for the Asia Pacific Unified Communications Industry in 2015 predicts that “wearables will enter enterprises” with employee tracking, timeline notification, meeting alerts and push notifications. (This technology will keep employees on schedule in accordance with their to-do lists.)
Rich Weborg, CEO at OneReach, is extremely passionate about technology and communication and believes that technology can help drive better and more meaningful interactions between people and businesses. He has helped to create several technology startup companies over the last 10 years and has developed compelling solutions for various industries, including DSL, networked VPNs, text messaging and data analytics.
Weborg brings with him more than 25 years of experience in software development, process engineering and product management. He began his career working for Fortune 500 companies, including Aetna, Sprint and Level 3. Now Weborg is creating companies focused on emerging technology. Weborg holds a master’s in technology management at the University of Denver and a bachelor’s in information systems from Central Connecticut State University.
Weborg notes three key trends:
1) Embedded support channels in more places
WebRTC will become more ubiquitous (supported in all browsers) and finally allow people to be detached from their phones. This will allow for companies to expose voice and video channels directly through their website and software products. Imagine being able to talk to a company directly through a phone embedded in the company’s site. We are already seeing organizations such as Amazon (Kindle’s MayDay) expose support capabilities right in their products. This capability will become more accessible to any size company as these new standards proliferate and communication providers make it easier to integrate UC capability into a company’s existing infrastructure and processes.
2) Channel convergence
While the communication industry has been talking about multi- and omnichannel for a while, a lot of channels are still not supported within a UC perspective. Of course text messaging comes to mind. Not many companies allow a customer to text for support and use automation or live agent interactions to get help from a business in that channel.
“To add to this, we will also see other text apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger begin to support businesses. If a customer wants to use that channel, customers and providers will ultimately support it.”
3) Self-service and UC
Unified Communication is quite often implemented as a live person interaction medium. Talk, IM, video, etc. However, as UC and omnichannel services continue to be implemented, the need for adding self-service to these channels will increase. Any channel that gets exposed to customers will ultimately need to include some level of contact-aware self-service capability prior to routing to an agent. This self-service capability will not only allow for a much better user experience but it will help a company contain the cost of offering new support channels for their customers.
WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication)
Where Weborg believes that WebRTC will become more ubiquitous, Darc Rasmussen, managing director and chief executive officer of IR Prognosis, believes that WebRTC could transcend VoIP.
“Instead of purchasing, maintaining and operating expensive ‘PBX’ environments to route and control VoIP communications, WebRTC promises a future of instant, point-to-point communication and collaboration.”
Campbell Williams, the group strategy and marketing director at Six Degrees Group, states the technology that seems to be getting most attention is WebRTC, which promises potentially to do for browser-based voice and browser-based real-time communication what session initiation protocol (SIP) has done for more client-based communications.
“WebRTC promises to put that into any browser from a communications perspective. So for example, I could be logging on to my company portal and from here I can pick up voice mails, video calls, I can dial my colleagues, I can see who’s available and who’s not, and rather than needing a client application I’m doing everything through a browser.”
Williams further elaborates WebRTC “has started to gain a lot of traction, or at least it’s gaining a lot of interest, but most people haven’t used it, and most people don’t know too much about it.”
Who changed the face of the telecommunication industry?
Andy Abramson, CEO and founder of PR firm Comunicano and author of Web log VoIPWatch, is considered to be one of the eight most influential voices in the growth of “Internet Telephony” (along with Alon Cohen who co-designed and patented the first audio transceiver). He believes that companies like Dell, Google and Microsoft will all be selling VoIP services far more integrated into essential IT services.
Abramson states it will be as common as buying dish soap at the supermarket:
“WebRTC will eventually transcend VoIP SIP as the primary technology for person to person and group voice/video communications.”
Whatever the future holds…
According to Grand View Research, by 2020 the UC market will balloon to a global annual worth of $75 billion. VoIP and UC will continue to trend in 2015.
Further key findings of the study:
- On-premise, unified communication accounted for more than 60 percent of the market in 2013. However, the cloud-based or hosted product segment is expected to rapidly gain share over the forecast period.
- Enterprises emerged as the largest application segment in 2013 and are expected to continue dominating the market over the next six years.
- North America accounted for more than 35 percent of the market in 2013; the regional market is characterized by the presence of several key players as well as a high popularity of BYOD solutions.
Preparation is key
When unified communications (UC) is properly implemented within an organization, it is destined to enhance and boost collaboration and productivity. It is also imperative that IT/IS and telecom groups work together and not operate as separate entities within the organization. Remember this: A house divided against itself cannot stand.
UC solutions that work for one company, if cloned may become a disaster for another company. A one-size-fits-all solution will in this case fast-forward out of the frying pan into the fire.
Pay due diligence by properly researching (infrastructure, IT/telecom roles, and employee use) UC options that will work for your organization and not only for current organizational needs. Think ahead three to five years into the future — be proactive and #BeFutureReady.
Stay tuned for the VoIP and UC e-book coming soon, which will include WebRTC.
This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.