The past decade began with the steady adoption for IP telephony and voice and data convergence.
Unified communications appeared a few years later and delivered a framework that supports integrated communications and collaboration applications. This included applications for multimodal customer support, SIP-based applications, integrated conferencing, and unified messaging.
Unified communications products came to market to improve the usability of existing applications and supported integrating calendars and directories on the desktop to facilitate business communications.
The next decade will build on the foundation set during the past decade and support broader capabilities to workers. The next 10 years will deliver open architecture, extended borders, enterprise social media, SIP expansion, and cloud-based collaboration and communication services
As the lines between network equipment, communication applications, and collaboration diminish, advanced collaboration tools such as shared workspace, calendar co-ordination, and rich presence will support many business processes. Improved usability for collaboration applications makes it easier to share information across an enterprise and reach decisions more quickly. Collaboration applications create an informed and connected workplace.
There are a variety of advances in communications that are under way from suppliers today. The first four trends which are reshaping enterprise communications are:
- A rapid expansion of SIP for services and applications;
- Devices that will transform and provide greater functionality to replace or co-exist with desktop phones;
- Remote working and telecommuting growth, which will create demand for secure mobile applications; and
- Video becoming widespread and promoting conversations and collaboration across the enterprise.
These changes will create an integrated workplace environment that facilitates employee real-time collaboration to facilitate business processes.
Redefining the phone
The days when every worker had a landline phone are over. Rather than automatically assign every employee a landline phone, today's infrastructure and operations managers now consider what is the right device based on the worker's job responsibilities. Changes to expect in telephone devices include:
- Expansion of open standards devices – new options include an increase in standards-based devices for appliance servers, gateways, and phones.
- Flat screen HD terminals – the phone of the future will be a touch screen device with an embedded camera and wireless headset and will provide advanced interfaces for feature and application access.
- Proliferation of smart wireless devices – based on the concept that it's more important to reach another person and not that person's location, more workers will opt in for a mobile device that supports all business telephone features and provides access to the internet and business applications.
More meetings will be scheduled on video as companies embrace cost-effective video products for internal meetings and engage more customers over videoconferencing devices. Video products will expand upward into large telepresence conference rooms and downward to individual desktops.
The cost savings based on the reduction of travel costs often support the business case for video expansion. Expanded use of video will evolve business processes in the next 10 years, including:
- Remote sales support - companies can extend their local sales teams with product experts who can participate in sales calls and support new revenue opportunities.
- Escalation and problem-solving - product groups can meet and collaborate across the globe more easily with interactive meetings that support collaborative interactive sessions from employee desktops.
- Training at local sites - regular training sessions can be held at branch locations and reduce the need for employees to travel for these sessions to centralised locations.
- Business partner meetings and contract negotiations - traditionally reserved for intimate face-to-face encounters, high definition video enables business managers to build close relationships without travel and encourages more frequent contact.
As time pressures intensify and employers look for ways to increase productivity, the need for real-time collaborative communications intensifies. New tools emerge to serve information workers to ensure that they can support business processes and reduce time spent in less productive activities.
It's important to anticipate higher demand for mobile connectivity during the coming years, an increase in social media for business conversations, the expansion of collaboration applications, and growth in the remote or virtual workforce.
Prioritising mobile connectivity
Following the trend of cell phones becoming smart computers, mobile devices for business require advanced business functions to enable the non-stationary worker to conduct business regardless of location. Mobile devices seamlessly bring together voice, internet, and video to support business communications.
Integration with unified communications software allows workers to use their mobile devices for contextual collaboration and have access to features that indicate a co-worker's availability and location. A key feature for mobility is security to allow workers to conduct business in a public setting. Key features required over the next decade for business mobile devices include:
- Presence integration - this feature allows workers to see their colleagues' status, such as availability and location, so they can reach them. It also supports employees having a single number for all their communication devices.
- Support for core business functions - mobile devices are now integrated with e-mail, calendars, contact lists, and directories and easily support access to relevant business applications. Access to the internet and other data sources changes the mobile phone to an essential business tool.
- Unified messaging support - integration with unified messaging is a core feature for business mobile devices and allows users to receive both voice and text messages and respond to the sender either by voice or e-mail.
- Access to applications - companies have their own unique set of core applications required for business. Mobile devices will support easy access to these business applications, so employees have information they need available regardless of location.
The rapid rise in social media opens up new opportunities for businesses to extend their scope and quickly respond to customers. Enterprise social software will solidify social media outreach and support the real-time enterprise that is always on and always connected. Blogs, wikis, instant messaging, and services such as Facebook and Twitter create a connected world that expands beyond corporate walls. Expect social media to accelerate benefits and:
- Extend range of communications - social media software integrates existing software applications and Web 2.0 services to deliver new functionality such as customer care via social media. Collaboration spaces offer a set of tools to facilitate teamwork and solve business problems.
- Create new channels for customer interactions - social media communications, such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter, and presence federation, bring companies closer to their customers and create opportunities for reaching new customers through proactive outreach.
- Support multiple forms of communications - the web applications also support voice and video interactions by using standard APIs, widgets, or applets to various media forms for improved collaboration.
- Expand global reach - with online services it's easy to link groups with common interests and attract interested parties into the online conversation. Social media doesn't require the user's personal information to be displayed, providing an added layer of confidentiality.