When deploying video conferencing successfully, you simply can’t install a video client and give users a webcam. Organizations with a robust video conferencing strategy see more deployment success than organizations with no strategy at all, according to a survey from Nemertes Research, a tech advisory firm based in Mokena, Ill.
A successful video conferencing strategy and deployment includes several factors, such as adoption programs and video analytics, according to a Nemertes survey of more than 400 IT leaders in various industries. Incorporate these five key elements identified by Nemertes to create a successful video conferencing strategy.
1. Funding. How an organization pays for video conferencing deployments is a major factor for success. The IT leaders with the most successful deployments had a dedicated collaboration team that funds video conferencing spending, while IT makes the buying decisions.
“IT has to own the decision,” Nemertes analyst Irwin Lazar said. “The core reason for that is because supporting video is the worst of both worlds from a network perspective.”
Video conferencing can be a nightmare for IT because it requires significant bandwidth and is latency-sensitive. Taking control of the buying decision ensures IT has better control over the system.
2. Adoption programs. A successful video conferencing strategy should include a user adoption and awareness program. Nearly one-quarter of IT leaders surveyed have adoption programs in their organizations. The programs include training, distance learning and train-the-trainer plans. More than half of organizations with a user adoption and awareness program have dedicated marketing staff within IT.
“It’s a hard sell,” Lazar said in a recent webinar. “You need to convince users of the benefits.”
Organizations with a dedicated marketing staff and adoption program had a 67% higher success rate than organizations that simply rolled out video and moved on to the next project, Lazar said.
3. Analytics. A successful video conferencing strategy should include analytics to measure video usage. The majority of organizations use analytics to measure metrics such as video performance, quality and length of calls, Lazar said.
Most organizations use the metrics available from their video conferencing vendors, while a small percentage uses third-party analytics vendors. Lazar said there was no difference in success for organizations using analytics from their video conferencing vendor than organizations using third-party services.
4. Single video vendor. Organizations with a successful video conferencing strategy also used the same provider for their room and desktop video conferencing.
“A single vendor is better than trying to cobble systems together,” Lazar said. Organizations that used a single provider were 22% more successful than organizations that mixed and matched their video conferencing services.
5. Room and desktop video. Successful organizations also used dedicated room systems in small meeting rooms instead of equipping rooms with a PC or laptop and webcam. Lazar said control issues can arise when a laptop or PC is used as the video conferencing endpoint instead of a dedicated system. For example, a software update could keep a PC offline for several hours, or a laptop could be replaced with a newer version that isn’t powerful enough to run video.
Organizations also prefer to use dedicated room systems for noise cancellation, active-speaker tracking and connecting to multiple types of meeting services.
In addition to dedicated room systems, organizations with a successful video conferencing strategy use desktop video conferencing. Two-thirds of IT leaders said they’re using or planning to use desktop video conferencing. Many desktop unified communications clients offer video, which helps boost adoption of desktop video conferencing, Lazar said.
Organizations that want to compete in an increasingly digital world and improve customer experience will find contextual communication benefits with communications platform as a service.
Customers these days are using more communication channels, and organizations need to meet these customers where they’re communicating the most, said IHS Markit analyst Diane Myers. Customers no longer communicate through just voice or SMS as channels such as social media, video conferencing and virtual assistants grow in popularity.
A significant roadblock to customer engagement today is the silos between communication channels. Many customers navigate multiple channels before completing a transaction, which creates a loss of context for customers as they switch channels, according to Francisco Kattan, head of platform marketing at Nexmo, a communications API platform and Vonage subsidiary.
“The problem is while customers think they’re having a single conversation with a brand, the reality is the brand is siloed into multiple channels,” he said in a recent webinar.
Each time a customer moves to a new channel, context needs to be re-established, which includes information such as the customer’s identity and location. Communications platform as a service (CPaaS) can create contextual communication for both customers and agents as communication tools are embedded into an organization’s website, mobile app or contact center platform.
While organizations that use CPaaS today are early adopters, companies that include CPaaS as part of their digital transformation strategies will reap the benefits of contextual communication, Kattan said.
Market disruptors fuel need for CPaaS
Digital-native startups — such as Airbnb and Uber — created communications disruption by using APIs to reach customers on their preferred channels, Myers said. Older, established organizations need to play catch-up to compete with these disruptive startups, and CPaaS and contextual communication can help.
Myers said organizations need to create a roadmap for what they want their products and customer experience to look like five to 10 years down the road. They should focus on building a customer experience that can happen anytime and anywhere regardless of the customer’s channel.
“This enables companies to dive deep and customize their experience that is very unique and direct with their applications,” she said.
CPaaS APIs allow established companies to add new capabilities quickly, such as call recording or real-time transcription, without having to invest in more communications infrastructure, Kattan said.
For example, Staples has used CPaaS as part of its Easy System, an IoT-driven virtual assistant that helps organizations manage office supplies. Staples developed the service to compete with Amazon. Employees can order office supplies, track orders or connect with a contact center agent on various channels, such as voice commands on an Easy System IoT device or mobile app, email, SMS messaging and a Slack integration.
“As more startups disrupt,” Kattan said, “established companies will innovate with communication APIs to deliver a better experience more effectively.”
On-premises contact centers are decreasing in popularity as more organizations look to cloud-based and hosted services for their contact center technology.
According to a recent Gartner Magic Quadrant report on contact center infrastructure, a number of vendors in the market are seeing sales drop for on-premises services as midmarket and large organizations show an increased preference for cloud-based contact center as a service (CCaaS).
Several drivers push organizations toward cloud contact center. For instance, organizations are looking to decouple unified communications (UC) and contact center infrastructure, move from capex to opex cost models and reduce total cost of ownership.
The adoption of CCaaS affects how vendors offer on-premises contact center technology. Many vendors are evolving their offerings from primarily on-premises services to include cloud-based capabilities. Several vendors in the Gartner report have made acquisitions to strengthen their cloud-based offerings, including Cisco’s BroadSoft acquisition, Mitel acquiring ShoreTel and Avaya’s Spoken acquisition.
Several other factors are influencing the market. Traditionally, contact center infrastructure purchases have been linked to an organization’s telephony vendor. However, as organizations tie telephony decisions to their broader UC strategies, they want flexibility from their contact center technology if they switch telephony vendors, according to the report.
For example, some organizations use Microsoft Skype for Business for telephony, but Microsoft doesn’t offer robust contact center infrastructure. As a result, organizations may select a contact center infrastructure vendor whose enterprise communications application business is not heavily tied to an enterprise telephony or UC product suite, according to the report.
Additionally, organizations are looking to add multichannel engagement by adding non-voice channels, such as web chat and email, to their customer service environments, the report found. For the past five to 10 years, organizations have looked to customer relationship management (CRM) offerings for these additional features, since contact center infrastructure has traditionally focused on telephony.
However, more contact center vendors are adding non-voice channels, which create a significant technology overlap with CRM. While few vendors in both markets overlap, Gartner anticipates the two markets will merge over the next several years.
Tied to the push for multichannel engagement is the shift to a holistic view of customer engagement, which includes breaking down communication channel silos and creating an integrated view of customer activities and workflows. However, multichannel engagement is still in the early phases of adoption and Gartner found more vendor hype than actual deployment in organizations.
Cisco, Genesys and Avaya were named market leaders in the report. Aspect Software and SAP were named visionaries. Huawei, Enghouse Interactive, Mitel and NEC were named challengers. Vocalcom and ZTE were named niche players. Unify was dropped from the report since it did not meet Gartner’s criteria for premises-based contact center product and service revenue.
Organizations that want to drive greater value from their unified communications deployment should look to integrate communications into other parts of their business.
Integrated communications extends the value of UC capabilities, such as messaging and video conferencing, by bringing them to other business apps. This fusion of resources drives greater productivity and supports digital transformation, according to IHS Markit analyst Diane Myers.
Organizations are turning to digital transformation to improve internal and external communications, according to Brian Gilman, vice president of product marketing at Vonage. Companies want to improve day-to-day interactions within the organization and external communication with customers. Integrated communications can enable greater collaboration with the apps brought into the network.
Internally, organizations are looking to enhance employee productivity. With integrated communications, an organization can enable click-to-call capabilities within Salesforce, for example, so employees can make a call and create a record of that call within the app. Creating a streamlined communications workflow within Salesforce aids productivity and ensures records are accurate, Gilman said in a recent webinar.
For external customers, organizations need to address their expectations for communication. Most companies only provide a certain number of communication channels, but customers want to communicate in various ways.
“They’re using their phones for SMS, self-service and email,” Gilman said. “The last thing they use a phone for is making a call.”
The more innovative companies circumvent the challenges of external communication by enabling customers to talk wherever and however they want, he said.
UCaaS and APIs support integrated communications
The path to integrated communications is paved with APIs and unified-communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) providers who offer similar capabilities.
Organizations of all sizes are adopting UCaaS to improve employee productivity and support digital transformation, Myers said. With the help of the cloud, organizations can extend UC capabilities further into their business.
Choosing the right vendor is an important factor for integrated communications. Organizations should evaluate UCaaS vendor capabilities, their experience with integrated communications and the security of their offerings.
“When you’re moving to integrated communications, there is a new set of capabilities you want your provider to have, especially if you don’t have it in-house,” she said.
Access to APIs also gives organizations greater flexibility to integrate UC capabilities with business apps and offers resources they may not have in-house. Organizations can develop communication tools with APIs purchased in a UC bundle or as standalone services, Gilman said.
“APIs are going to allow for hooks back into existing business apps and help enable better contextual communication,” he said.
Molding horizontal capabilities for vertical use cases
Integrated communications offers horizontal capabilities, such as SMS notifications and geofencing. Organizations can tailor these tools for vertical market needs to improve workflows, Myers said.
To determine the vertical context for integrated communications, organizations should evaluate the type of interaction between an organization and its customers, such as exchanges between a doctor and patient or financial advisor and client, Gilman said.
Organizations can then apply horizontal capabilities in a vertical manner. SMS notifications, for instance, could remind patients to refill a prescription. Or, geofencing could provide ambulances with access to electronic health records so a patient’s information is ready when arriving at a hospital.
New trends are reshaping the unified communications industry as organizations embrace the cloud and employees push new methods of collaboration. These trends are influencing the direction of UC vendor portfolios and introducing new technology, such as AI, into the workplace:
1. Digital transformation and the cloud. For the past few years, many organizations have developed digital transformation initiatives to maximize productivity and efficiency in the workplace. Now, those initiatives should begin to pay off, said Matthew Jackson, senior solutions engineer at performance management vendor IR, in a recent webinar.
Digital transformation initiatives “really have to stand on their own two feet and deliver the benefits,” he said.
Cloud deployments seem to go hand-in-hand with digital transformation, but many organizations have realized the cloud doesn’t mean an all-or-nothing migration. Hybrid environments will become the more popular deployment option over the next few years, he said.
2. New ways of communicating. One-to-many voice and video calls are growing in popularity. Jackson said conference calls make up 40% of all voice traffic in the enterprise. Multipoint video is also becoming more popular. The combination of the two, however, could negatively affect enterprise networks and network architecture, he said.
The unified communications industry is also moving toward in-browser and in-app communications, such as embedded web chat, as a preferred communications channel. Jackson said early adopters are the drivers for embedded chat and in-app communications in the enterprise.
Embedded communications “will start to take over low-level transactions that you don’t need a phone call for,” he said.
3. Emerging technology. AI will become more prevalent in the unified communications industry, especially in the contact center where the technology can be used for simple transactions that rely on speech recognition and interactive voice response. As users become more comfortable with consumer AI at home, such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, they will become more comfortable with AI in the workplace.
“With the fear factor removed, these kinds of bots will be increasingly accepted into a business environment,” he said.
4. The vendor effect. As a result of these unified communications industry trends, the “big three” vendors — Microsoft, Cisco and Avaya — are positioned for a strong year, Jackson said.
Microsoft will continue to focus on Microsoft Teams and messaging, while Cisco will extend its market reach by consolidating its BroadSoft acquisition into its Spark collaboration software, he said. Jackson also expects Avaya to be resurgent after its bankruptcy with a new focus on the cloud.
Amazon could be a wild card in the unified communications industry as it gains momentum with its Amazon Web Services cloud offering and UC product, Chime.
“If we look at the totality of the business and growth, it’s not unreasonable to expect they will have a much larger UC voice-based business this time next year,” he said.
A little more than a year ago, Facebook crashed the unified communications party. The largest social network in the world launched Workplace by Facebook, a collaborative platform for business communications.
Facebook said last month more than 30,000 organizations use Workplace by Facebook worldwide, which is more than double the amount from April 2017. Some big-name customers are using Workplace by Facebook, including Walmart, Heineken, Spotify and Lyft.
Walmart, as one of the largest companies in the world with 2.3 million employees, is especially noteworthy. Facebook, at last tally, has more than 2 billion monthly active users of its consumer product.
Because of their respective sizes, both Facebook and Walmart have nearly unmatched scale, said Jon Arnold, a unified communications analyst, in a recent webinar. By landing one of the largest retailers in the world, Workplace by Facebook has shown it’s a serious offering that businesses could consider.
The popularity of messaging
Business Facebook is not the same as consumer Facebook. Workers are not exactly posting pictures of their pets, kids or favorite meals. But Workplace by Facebook exploits the familiarity users already have with its consumer interface, thus giving it a huge advantage over other collaboration services.
Enterprise IT groups would certainly favor a service that’s easy to deploy and use, which helps with end-user adoption. At the same time, IT does not have to provision and support these software-based, messaging-centric services since lines of business can easily download them and start collaborating.
Workplace by Facebook, which has a free version, includes messaging, voice and video calls, live video streaming, file storage and the ability to create work groups. Enterprise features include administrative controls, single sign-on, and APIs for custom integrations and bots. Other enterprise features include integrations with e-discovery, compliance providers, G Suite, Windows Azure Active Directory and more.
Workplace by Facebook and many other similar services — including Slack, Cisco Spark and Microsoft Teams — are looking to capitalize on the popularity of messaging communications. Additionally, a young generation of workers, now flooding the job market, prefers messaging over voice communications.
A second wave of disruption
Messaging in the business world has evolved in three waves, Arnold said. The first wave of disruptors included services like Slack, HipChat and Redbooth, among others. These apps focused intently on persistent, short-form messaging that addressed collaboration gaps.
Next, traditional and established UC providers adapted and launched messaging tools or acquired them. UC vendors were late to adopt messaging since they were relying heavily on legacy applications.
Now, a second wave of disruptors has surfaced with the likes of Facebook and Amazon — two names that are too big to ignore, Arnold said. Earlier this year, Amazon launched Amazon Chime, a UC service that includes online meetings, video conferencing, calls, chat and the ability to share content.
As discount retailer Walmart competes with online retailer Amazon, the former needs to make the in-store buying experience more compelling to keep people from buying online. One way to do that, Arnold said, is to empower workers in the stores to be more responsive to customers. Mobile messaging devices and apps can connect employees to get information for customers.
Traditionally, Arnold said, retailers like Walmart are late to adopt technology. As a result, retailers need to deploy technology that’s easy to use, which streamlines end-user adoption. Workplace by Facebook offers that ease of use with an interface that’s familiar to users.
“If you can land a Walmart,” Arnold said, “you can land a lot more other retailers, too.”
Standardizing their platforms
Ease of use, in particular, is a strong point for second-wave disruptors Facebook and Amazon; and that strength should help them in the business market. Historically, established UC vendors have not been so focused on ease of use, Arnold said.
Facebook and Amazon also know how to engage with consumers. And since they’ve saturated the consumer market, Facebook and Amazon need to tap the business market to feed their own growth strategies.
Going forward, what if Facebook and Amazon become preferred enterprise communications channels and standardized certain protocols and codecs around their platforms? Because of their scale, other UC services would need to fit into the Facebook and Amazon models. Could you imagine? You might not have to for much longer.
The workforce is evolving as organizations focus their efforts on digital transformation strategies. New approaches to technology are influencing employee productivity and collaboration. Five key technology trends are expected to drive the evolution of digital workforces in 2018.
1. Artificial intelligence. Voice-enabled virtual assistants in the enterprise are expected to see growth as organizations adapt consumer AI technology, such as Amazon Alexa, for business purposes.
Many organizations are evaluating AI for the digital workforce to use virtual assistants to prioritize emails and chat bots to automate customer service processes, said Alex Bennett, director of end-user computing at Dimension Data, in a recent webinar.
2. Smart workplaces. An extension of smart buildings, smart workplaces are designed around the activities of employees and connect them to business processes using internet of things, AI and big data.
“We see clients bring in activity-based working and architects to design an office space to speak to an activity that people need to carry out during the day,” Bennett said.
3. WebRTC. WebRTC may finally be maturing with the digital workforce in 2018, according to Joe Manuele, group executive for customer experience and workplace productivity at Dimension Data, a technology services provider. Manuele said there is a new generation of video conferencing services from providers like Zoom and Highfive that use WebRTC browser-based communications.
“Once you get a critical mass of people using it, then it becomes absolutely critical for the key browser providers to support that type of technology,” Bennett said.
4. Video. Video is becoming the de-facto communication method as organizations look to go beyond messaging, said Bennett.
However, organizations must heed the security, compliance and regulatory requirements of their respective industries. Financial companies, for example, must make sure all components of a video call are recorded, not just audio, he said.
5. From BYOD to BYOA. Organizations are shifting away from allowing employees to use their preferred mobile device for work. Instead, companies are starting to allow employees to use their preferred productivity and collaboration apps, said Manuele.
However, organizations should encourage employees to use the more secured version of an app, such as moving the user to the enterprise edition of Slack.
“This is a wave we’re not going to be able to stop, but should actually encourage,” he said.
As more organizations move their communications infrastructure to the cloud, session border controllers must follow suit.
In 2016, nearly 40% of North American business users were using some form of IP telephony, such as SIP trunking, voice over IP and cloud unified communications, according to Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm based in San Antonio.
Organizations are also increasingly using third-party apps that incorporate VoIP and other cloud communications services. Session border controllers (SBCs) are at the heart of these services as they provide the interoperability to deliver voice networks at scale, while securing links between services and customers, according to Frost & Sullivan analyst Michael Brandenburg.
“Cloud-ready SBCs are a strategic infrastructure investment,” he said in a recent webinar. “Picking the right one paves the way for the cloud-first communication opportunities that are coming to market.”
Brandenburg offered four considerations for organizations evaluating cloud-based SBC vendors.
1. Software independence. SBCs are no longer just hardware-based products, which creates flexibility for communications infrastructure and offers new cost structures and development cycles.
With a cloud-based product, SBC vendors can develop a common software product that can support multiple virtualized environments and optimize data center resources, he said. Cloud-based SBCs also shift costs from a traditional capex model to opex-based subscription licensing.
2. Cloud scale. Many organizations are using infrastructure-as-a-service platforms from Amazon Web Services and OpenStack for their cloud communications.
However, these platforms have specific architectural requirements that must be met before real-time communications can be deployed, Brandenburg said. SBC vendors must be able to handle diverse processing requirements while using minimal infrastructure resoures.
3. Advanced media handling. SBCs must handle a wide range of media types. Media codecs, for example, are constantly refined and updated, while new media formats are emerging on the market. SBC vendors must adapt to these changing media needs.
“When looking at SBC vendors, you need to understand their commitment to maintaining existing codecs and capabilities and their willingness to quickly embrace new codecs coming to the market,” Brandenburg said.
4. Analytics capabilities. Moving communications infrastructure to the cloud means SBCs must collect, monitor and analyze a wide range of data, particularly if SBCs are deployed in multiple locations. An SBC’s analytics platform must be as reliable and scalable as the SBC itself, Brandenburg said.
“Service providers have service-level agreements with customers and they’ve got to be able to measure that,” he said.
Virtual and augmented reality technologies are slowly making their way into the enterprise as new use cases emerge. Organizations looking to deploy virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology to create more immersive collaboration must carefully evaluate hardware, software and the workflows they want to enhance.
“If your goal is to make data actionable in the field, think about what is the ideal solution,” Nall said in a recent webinar. Organizations must evaluate what they can accomplish with VR and AR technology and how users might adopt this new form of collaboration.
Organizations must think about how they want to present augmented data in a user’s field of view in the headset and avoid overwhelming users with too much information. Nall said the current trend is to use visual cues and icons to present information instead of text.
Organizations must also consider the types of objects they want to create with VR and AR technology. The size and shape of a virtual object, as well as the real-life surface that users work on can affect the success of VR and AR collaboration. Reflective or transparent surfaces, for example, can cause problems with displaying augmented and virtual content, Nall said.
Evaluate hardware and software options
Once the ideal use case for VR and AR technology is chosen, organizations must evaluate the available hardware and software options.
With VR and AR software, organizations can develop applications in-house to create their augmentations or deploy a packaged service from a vendor, Nall said. Packaged services, however, tend to be more expensive with upfront costs and integration costs with legacy systems.
Organizations can choose from two types of hardware: monocular or binocular headsets. Monocular headsets display content in one eye, much like Google Glass. Binocular headsets, like the Microsoft HoloLens, use both eyes and provide a more immersive experience. Binocular headsets are often two to three times more expensive than monocular headsets, Nall said.
“You should realize that hardware is ephemeral,” he warned. The VR and AR industry is evolving quickly and most hardware will be obsolete within 18 months.
Hardware security is also an important consideration. While headsets may not hold a significant amount of data, they are often connected to the internet and can be a doorway into the network if hacked. Before deployment, organizations should loop in their IT or security team, deploy mobile device management and additional security measures such as access and authentication.
Gartner has unveiled a new Magic Quadrant report for content collaboration platforms as file synchronization and sharing becomes more collaborative and workflow-centric.
The report originally focused on the enterprise file synchronization and sharing market. Gartner updated the report to reflect the market’s evolution toward content-based collaboration among individuals and teams, digital transformation and content management.
By 2020, 80% of large and midsize organizations will have deployed one or more content collaboration platforms as part of their content productivity and collaboration strategy, according to the report.
Content collaboration platforms are evaluated in the report as standalone products with file sync and sharing as their core capabilities. But the platforms also offer collaboration and content management features and include integrations with cloud collaboration suites such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google G Suite.
The content collaboration market also touches the team collaboration market. Content collaboration vendors, for instance, have integrated their products with team collaboration services such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark.
Content collaboration products may also include APIs and other tools that can integrate with services and clients that are not native to the platform. APIs also allow organizations and developers to build apps around the content collaboration capabilities.
Several factors are driving the adoption of content collaboration platforms, according to the report. Many organizations are deploying these platforms to support productivity and collaboration for mobile and remote workers. Content collaboration platforms are also part of organizations’ cloud storage adoption strategies.
Organizations are also turning to content collaboration platforms as they reevaluate their on-premises investments. Some organizations are looking to deploy content collaboration platforms to replace traditional, on-premises content storage services, while others are looking to these platforms to modernize their network storage infrastructure.
In the Magic Quadrant report, Box, Microsoft OneDrive for Business, Dropbox, Citrix, Google Drive, Axway Syncplicity and Egnyte were named leaders. BlackBerry and Accellion were named visionaries. Intralinks by Synchronoss, Thru, Ctera and HighQ were named niche players.