It Was the Worst of Times, It Is the Best of Times

A literary look at the state of the communications industry.

Happy 2016! As we continue to forge forward into the first half of the 21st century, I am reminded of the opening line of Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities”:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …

Why am I reminded of this, and what does it have to do with technology? Glad you asked!

It Is the Best of Times:

For the first time, both telecommunications and IT users are able to customize and take control of their networks by selecting the vendors, applications, and service providers that best meet their business needs. They are not tied nor bound to a single vendor’s platform.

It Was the Worst of Times:

However, there is a catch … or rather, several catches; in order to utilize and take full advantage of 21st century technology, you will need to upgrade your legacy network and equipment. You will need to have an all-digital network, IP voice (i.e. a phone system), SIP trunking, high-speed Ethernet connectivity, cyber security, network management tools, and staff, vendors or partners who can make it all work for you. And last, but not least, you will need a qualified, competent independent consultant whose interest is in working with and for you to sort everything out.

It Was the Age of Wisdom

Our industry is filled with smart individuals, so let’s take a look at some of the wisdom imparted by a few industry leaders around what the future holds and what changes end users might expect:

Rich McBee, President and CEO, Mitel:
“Users will enjoy technology innovation in the form of more seamless, pervasive and coordinated, real-time communications — at the browser and across mobile applications. This will be especially meaningful in business process workstream applications people use to communicate, collaborate, and get work done. More than ever, those processes will be initiated on a mobile device. The march of business communications towards the cloud, particularly the hybrid cloud, continues unabated. VoLTE, ViLTE, VoWiFi, and advanced messaging continue to grow as mobile operators deploy this technology at scale and as the handset upgrade cycle plays out.”

Jeff Platon, Chief Marketing Officer, Interactive Intelligence:
The following five key trends will have a critical impact on businesses in the coming years:

  1. Customer-centricity breaks down silos between the contact center, enterprise and external stakeholders — We’ll see the advent of digital workstreams powered by converged systems that support customer engagement, communications and collaboration, and the cloud will play a key role.
  2. IoT expands the omnichannel experience — Companies will be challenged with how to use IoT to improve customer service without creating yet another siloed channel. Best practices for connecting IoT platforms to the contact center will begin to emerge as companies strive to create a true omnichannel customer experience.
  3. Artificial intelligence: Machine learning hits prime time — More recent AI advancements have fueled the growth of machine learning, which can help companies identify patterns and predict customer behavior. Companies will increasingly use machine learning to proactively engage with customers and manage the contact center in far more effective and intuitive ways, including the use of conversational bots that serve as virtual agents and supervisors.
  4. Millennials finally get sophisticated DIY customer service — As the influence of millennials on the purchase process increases, the demand for DIY customer service has skyrocketed. This need will drive more sophisticated self-service deployments (think Web, SMS and mobile), especially for SMBs, which are typically more nimble than their larger counterparts.
  5. Mobile everything — The topic of mobility is nothing new, but consumers are fast anticipating the ability to do everything via a mobile device. This will drive the need for companies to create an experience that ensures context is transferred as customers move from mobile apps to live interactions.

Jon Arnold: Industry analyst, J Arnold & Associates:

  • As a result of cloud technology, business communications as a whole is moving towards an “as a service” (AAS) model. It is necessary for IT departments to re-think what kind of infrastructure they need to go forward and succeed in a digital environment of public, private, and hybrid clouds.
  • As cloud technology continues to improve and more millennials start to populate IT departments, we can expect to see a shift in trusting the cloud with more and more applications.
  • Today, the hybrid cloud is the dominant choice, however competition for customers will improve the offerings of private and public cloud providers.
  • The end user will have to decide which of the three types of cloud offerings provide the best combination of price, reliability, security and control.
  • Another consideration is the rate at which cloud providers are entering the marketspace. For cloud as a service to really pay off, companies will need to have a large user base. When you look at the marketplace and all of the different types of companies offering cloud services, it is hard to imagine that all of the current and future providers will survive. We can expect to see consolidation among the smaller providers, but even companies like Verizon are selling off their data centers because providing cloud services is not their business model.
  • We can also expect to see more growth for the major cloud players like AWS, Google and Microsoft, mainly because they have huge economies of scale and market reach.
  • Other second tier players like Equinix can do well, both as a direct cloud services provider and as a reseller of cloud services to smaller and niche cloud services providers. For this tier to have success, they will need to differentiate in areas such customer support, application customization, and deep expertise for the market or niche they serve. They will not survive competing against the majors on price, so they must be very focused on segments where these forms of differentiation have value.

It Was the Age of Foolishness

End users now have more choices than ever before, but also more to worry about, including:

  • Security
  • Vendor choices and compatibility
  • Automated application services
  • Multi- and omni-channel access
  • Cloud applications
  • Wireless
  • Wearables
  • Mobile
  • Social media
  • Remote access

There is some amazing business communications technology to be had out there, with more amazing things in the pipeline. And of course, there is also lots of vendor hype. How do you know what is real, and how do you know what will work best for you?

Make no mistake, this is complicated stuff. Unless you have sufficient in-house resources to dedicate to building your technology strategy and to implement a working technology platform, you are going to find that going it on your own is problematic and time consuming, not to mention expensive. Marshaling the resources to conduct a needs analysis, finding the right technology, preparing an RFP, meeting with and vetting vendors, pricing a comprehensive solution, and matching it to your business objectives requires your full-time attention.

This article originally appeared on No Jitter , as part of the colum n ” SCTC Perspectives .”

No Jitter provides daily commentary and analysis of the enterprise IP telephony, unified communications, and converged networking worlds. No Jitter strives to be the leading online community for the exchange, debate, and incubation of ideas and best practices regarding enterprise communications and collaboration.

No Jitter is produced by the same people who run Enterprise Connect , the largest conference/exhibition in the U.S. devoted exclusively to enterprise communications. No Jitter has unique access, insights, vigilance, energy, and reputation, which allow it to generate vibrant content on a daily basis.

“SCTC Perspectives” is written by members of t he Society of Communications Technology Consultants , an International organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.