Khunatorn -

Next generation of collaboration and communication services

Future comms systems may look and feel rather different from what exists today – we look at the journey for communications services

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: A prescription for digital accessibility at Boots

Secure connectivity and cloud have been at the core of enterprises’ needs for a number of years – and will be for the foreseeable future. Yet within connectivity, communications systems to address future needs are evolving – and quickly. 

As far as IT and communications are concerned, businesses have had to come to terms with the harsh realities of the post-Covid working world. The hybrid model will need to be accommodated indefinitely and the so-called third workplace will be a top priority for many. This will have big ramifications for how IT teams need to discharge their responsibilities and the communications infrastructures that will form the bedrock of their businesses.

With all the broad technology shifts that have taken place during the pandemic, networked resources have become most vital. Investment in cloud resources and modernising user computing and experience management is necessary to bring about greater IT and business alignment. With the continued demand for conferencing services, communications platforms, enterprise social networking and collaboration tools across enterprises, the total addressable market size of communications and collaboration products and services will continue at a fair clip.

Specifically, communications and collaboration software – comprising communications platforms and enterprise social networking and collaboration platforms – represents the fastest growing market segment. While traditional communications and collaboration service propositions such as fixed voice, mobile voice services and audio-only conferencing services will see their enterprise spending decline given the widespread shift towards unified communications (UC), web and video conferencing, managed IP telephony and mobile data services are expected to see healthy growth.

Cloud-based services

A key factor driving growth in this segment is the fact that most of the new platforms are cloud-based, making their deployment simple and on-demand, providing an agile communications infrastructure as a service.

Another key trend is happening within the as-a-service communications environment – the breaking down of traditional silos. Perhaps most noticeably, this is being seen in the closer alignment, if not total integration, of unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and contact centre as a service (CCaaS).

While traditional communications and collaboration service propositions such as fixed voice, mobile voice services and audio-only conferencing services will see their enterprise spending decline, managed IP telephony and mobile data services are expected to see healthy growth

The former has traditionally been centred around removing latency from businesses, offering solutions for workers outside of the office to stay almost constantly in touch. UCaaS has increasingly incorporated video conferencing over the past two years or so, while CCaaS has really done what it says on the tin, with the latest systems a lot more flexible in how they can be accessed. These once very separate elements are now coming together.

This was exemplified in February 2022 when Zoom announced the launch of Zoom Contact Center, described as an omnichannel contact centre solution that was optimised for video and offered the same experience as the core Zoom conferencing platform. The product was previously known as the Zoom Video Engagement Center and combines unified communications and contact centre capabilities with the regular Zoom platform.

It supports customer service use cases and workflows using channels such as video and voice, with SMS and webchat, and is seen by the company as “powering the future of communications” beyond meetings with unified communications, the Zoom Developer Platform, Zoom Events and now Zoom Contact Center.

Supporting more than 100 agent, supervisor and contact centre administrator features at launch, the product has the ability to include additional channels, customer relationship management (CRM) and workforce management integrations, and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to optimise agent productivity. It is also designed to extend traditional capabilities that are typically optimised for voice to provide a unique customer experience through channels such as video. This could mean enabling connected work from anywhere.

Call centres in the cloud

Zoom says its move was based on understanding the importance of bringing UC and a multichannel contact centre together into the same experience.

A typical use case could see contact centre agents, frequently tied to physical contact centre locations and often still needing to navigate multiple communications tools to work remotely effectively, use Zoom Contact Center to streamline inefficiencies by bringing communications into one central hub and collaborate with peers, supervisors or other employees in Zoom Chat and channels. This could be done by offering customers a rich agent experience, says the company.

Blair Pleasant, a principal analyst at BCStrategies, which focuses on the business communications products and services market, says Zoom’s launch shows it understands the importance of bringing together UC and the multichannel contact centre into the same experience.

“Zoom is known for great video, which is important for high-touch customer scenarios and internal use cases like IT helpdesk, employee helpline and revenue-generating activities,” she says. “But the fact that Zoom Contact Center supports routing, additional channels and the agent functionality that organisations need, means Zoom Contact Center could become the modern contact centre solution of choice.”

“The shift [in working] put our system under a stress test that we never thought we could do at that time [but] this was a new thing we needed to adapt to/ [We found] it is possible to do anything when everybody gets their act together and they all have the same goal”
Nidal Abou-Ltaif, Avaya International

Call centre agents’ needs have been transformed by Covid. Almost overnight, companies had to move entire teams from well-specced offices to people’s homes or other non-office locations. Naturally, not all of these places had, from a technology basis, what it took to be a call centre agent. This was a challenge that the comms tech industry had to address, and quickly, leading to what was perhaps the biggest proof of concept in the industry, involving millions of people using advanced comms to keep businesses in business.

Successful stress test

Nidal Abou-Ltaif, president of Avaya International, recalls being confident in the capability of his firm’s collaboration infrastructure because it had been fundamentally built to support remote working.

“The shift [in working] put our system under a stress test that we never thought we could do at that time,” he says. “We moved people to work from home, from anywhere. We had to work with many countries to change dimensions because a contact centre agent cannot go to work from home and then have access to all the data of their clients – so there were a lot of difficulties behind the scenes.

“We had to realise that this was a new thing we needed to adapt to and what we took out from that is what people refer to as the art of the possible. It is really possible to do anything when everybody gets their act together and then they all have the same goal.”

And although technology products were an intrinsic part of the solution to this new way of working, Abou-Ltaif says the key was more about the as-a-service platform communications tailored for the new world of working, and this new platform and service approach had actually begun some time before March 2020.

Read more about next-generation comms services

  • A new cloud-based platform from Vodafone and RingCentral is set to enable UK operator’s mobility and 5G capabilities to give customers more choice, flexibility and simplicity in workforce collaboration and remote working.
  • It can be difficult to make sense of popular cloud communications service models. Compare UCaaS, CCaaS and CPaaS to understand their differences and how they can be used together.

“I think we are beyond product,” he says. “That is, we have moved to what we realised we have been actually working on for some time. Again, Covid expedited proof that we had the right vision, having a platform to allow things to change. Our platform allows people to do messaging, IVR [interactive voice response] and input, connect video, voice, email, chat and social media. This is all through applications or APIs [application programming interfaces]. I think we will continue to enhance and secure our platform and allow things to come into it.”

Abou-Ltaif adds: “We are making sure that we serve our customers based on their needs and their choices. Some customers want to stay only on price; they don’t want video. Some want to have it all. And we are starting to see customers wanting to have it all.

“Airlines want to have their contact centre to do everything possible – video chat, or social media, and not only the social media we are used to; they want to have WeChat, for example. Customers also now have the choice to demand what they want. A big shift we are starting to see is that customers want complete communication. They want to go through virtual assistants that offer the same quality as when they’re talking to somebody. They want to have video.”

They say you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but there is no doubt the bar of customer satisfaction is getting higher and higher, especially in the new hybrid way of working. As many businesses have found since the pandemic began, there has been a huge spike in demand for high-quality customer experience services, putting more pressure on firms to react with more agility and at a higher business velocity.

Comprehensive, cloud-based, integrated UCaaS and CCaaS platforms can go a long way, if not fully, to address the future challenges of customer retention and offer richer experiences.

Read more on Unified communications

Data Center
Data Management