As the dust continues to settle on what a post-COVID-19 world looks like (or should look like), several UCaaS trends anticipated for 2021 have crystallized. Front and center was how UCaaS technology would support and enable hybrid-remote work in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. At the end of 2020, the jury was still out on whether organizations would instruct workers to return to the office following the boom in UCaaS products such as Zoom Phone, MS Teams, and others. 2021 confirmed the steady move toward permanent or fluid remote work, and several large UCaaS vendors have now banked on this becoming the new default of work: Cisco’s most recent WebexOne conference, for instance, devoted half its time to demonstrating new product innovations for enabling seamless hybrid remote work. The question now is: how will UCaaS technology continue to support hybrid-remote work in a way that is simultaneously accessible and equitable and enables ease of communication and collaboration?
Three UCaaS trends to watch for in 2022 all aim to answer the above question: AR/VR digital workspaces will see sustained investment; UCaaS and customer experience management technologies will continue to blend; and speech technologies will become more sophisticated through AI-powered sources.
Several exciting product announcements toward the end of 2021 saw the integration of UCaaS with digital workspaces. Zoomtopia, WebexOne, and Microsoft Ignite all showcased new ways in which remote employees can interact and collaborate with one another from the purview of a digital office. This is not simply interacting with colleagues through a 2D bird’s-eye view of the office map – it entails simulated collaborative experiences in real-time 3D AR/VR technology.
Importantly, it is not just one vendor investing in this technology with pie-in-the-sky visions. We are seeing each major vendor in the UCaaS space bring virtual offices to life. At Zoomtopia, we saw Zoom partnering with Meta (formerly Facebook) to offer the Oculus Horizons Workrooms. By using Zoom Meetings and Zoom Whiteboard through Oculus headsets, attendees can appear within a virtual meeting room. The software reacts to real objects, enabling an attendee to still use their devices, or even draw on a whiteboard, during the virtual session. At WebexOne, we saw the launch of Webex Hologram, which combines Webex meeting functionality with real-time photorealistic holograms of meeting participants. And Microsoft Ignite showcased Microsoft Mesh, a mixed-reality platform powered by Azure.
UCaaS is moving on from video/voice calling through a tiny square on a screen – it is instead heading toward an immersive virtual reality.
Communications and collaboration technologies are increasingly entwining with customer experience platforms. Here, the driver is a broadening scope to keep data transfer, communication (internal and external), and information sharing together on one platform. This doesn’t only benefit staff, who can monitor and keep track of customer journeys, lead generation, and loyalty management without leaving their single pane of glass; customers also benefit from organizations having fast access to information for resolving issues and providing personalized interactions.
Several vendors are responding to (and reinforcing) this trend, demonstrating new products that tie together UCaaS, CCaaS, and CXM. One major example includes 8x8’s XCaaS platform, which not only unifies employee experience and customer experience on one platform but also now offers a call management system for operators and receptionists with its newly launched Frontdesk solution. We might also consider Zoom’s Video Engagement Center, recently announced at Zoomtopia, and its failed acquisition of Five9 all part of the trend for blending its telephony and meetings functionality with customer service technology. Microsoft Ignite revealed Microsoft’s own roadmap for developing a native contact center for Dynamics 365.
While UCaaS technologies may have initially sought to ambitiously bring together voice, video, file sharing, and broader collaboration into one pane, we can expect that will not be enough for 2022 onwards, especially for large enterprises.
The use of AI-driven technologies to enhance communications systems is becoming mainstream. At Enterprise Connect, several sessions emphasized how organizations now view the use of AI in their UCaaS solution. For instance, during 8x8’s session, it was noted that:
The business case for leveraging AI technology has developed strong traction, with fewer detractors year-on-year. Key use cases for this technology include integrating conversational AI into call routing functionality, noise cancellation during meetings to avoid distractions, and real-time speech analytics (such as sentiment analysis) for call recordings and reviews. Indeed, given speech technology advances are already a focus in the CCaaS market (Five9’s CX Summit made it a central focal point), the blend of UCaaS with customer experience management solutions will only grow tighter.
Source: SoftwareReviews UCaaS Data Quadrant. Accessed: November 5, 2021.
Info-Tech offers its members several services to help modernize or select a UCaaS solution as well as a research center dedicated to optimizing hybrid meetings:
Enterprise Connect is North America’s premier conference for advances in communications, collaboration, and customer experience technologies. In this note, Thomas Randall provides his trends and keynote highlights for Enterprise Connect 2021, held September 27 to 29.
On August 24, 2021, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise briefed its Q2 performance for FY21. Q2 saw positive revenue growth of 11.4% YoY, delivering 20% against the previous year.
On July 14, NEC and Intermedia briefed Info-Tech about their ongoing partnership and continuing global rollout of UNIVERGE BLUE.
On May 24, 2021, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) briefed on its Q1 performance for FY21. FY20 saw ALE’s global revenues impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and these effects continue to ripple into FY21. While global cloud sales continue to dominate, alongside a strong quarter in China, global revenue was down 5% year-over-year (YoY).
On April 28, 2021, Windstream briefed Info-Tech on its UCaaS portfolio, which includes their primary pure cloud offering, OfficeSuite UC, alongside their other solutions powered by Avaya and Mitel.
On April 20, 2021, Nextiva briefed Info-Tech on its Nextiva One suite, with a focus on its communication applications: Business Phone (voice) and Cospace (videoconferencing and collaboration). Nextiva plans to expand beyond the US later this year.
On February 22, 2021, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) released its Q4 report. While overall global revenues were down on last year’s Q4, ALE’s cloud-based solutions continued to surge. These surges are in part explained by mid- to large-sized organizations beginning significant investments to prepare for a post-pandemic world.
On December 8, Masergy – a software defined networking services company – briefed Info-Tech on its UCaaS solution. Masergy UCaaS is built on the Cisco collaboration platform, providing a value-added service through Masergy’s SD-WAN solution and Secure Edge Network.
On January 14, Revation Systems – a provider of cloud-based compliant messaging and communications – briefed Info-Tech on its unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solution, LinkLive. LinkLive encompasses several UCaaS solutions that are primarily aimed at industries with high security and compliance requirements. These industries especially include banking and healthcare.