On Our Radar for 2017

by Sandra Gustavsen

The challenges and requirements of the modern workplace are bringing about the need for new business communications solutions. Today, knowledge workers are likely to be spread among different locations, with many working remotely from a home office or frequently on the road and not necessarily even working within the same organization. New team collaboration tools are emerging as an effective way for dispersed business colleagues to communicate, collaborate and manage projects.

Additionally, businesses are increasingly incorporating video and other bandwidth-intensive cloud-based applications into their operations. More and more cloud unified communications (UC) providers are looking to Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) to ensure Quality of Service (QoS) over public Internet connections and as a good approach to handling these high-bandwidth requirements.

And, there’s mobility. The convenience, intuitiveness and ease-of-use of mobile smartphones and tablets have made these our preferred devices for quick and easy management of enterprise communications, yet voice quality still lags behind that of a traditional hard-wired telephone. Next-generation office phones entering the market combine a mobile smartphone experience with the high quality audio of a desktop telephone.

Read more below on three of the trends that will be on our radar in 2017 – team collaboration apps, SD-WAN as it relates to the cloud UC experience and next-gen office desk phones – as business communications vendors race to keep pace with the changing ways we work.

Getting On Board with Team Collaboration

New team collaboration applications are emerging that aim to ease communications among virtual or distributed work groups. These new apps make multiple technologies such as messaging, audio, video, multi-party meetings and content sharing accessible from a single user interface on a desktop or a mobile device. Team members simply log into a virtual “room” or space where they can easily share together in real-time with others on the team. This concept of centralizing a particular project’s related conversations, interactions and documentation can really make a difference in the successful management and completion of a project.

Market research firms are beginning to track market impact and adoption. Here is what some are saying. Synergy Research is watching teamwork applications as “an emerging and super-high growth area that features Cisco’s Spark and vendors like Slack, Cotap and Redbooth.” IDC speaks to the intersection of workplace and mobile messaging. “The exposure of users to applications that are simple, easy to use, and that connect a disparate group often across geographic boundaries, has become a standard expectation.” IHS Infonetics acknowledges these are “the early days of team collaboration solutions,” but momentum and adoption are growing.

A range of team collaboration apps are now available, including many on the market for years from cloud providers (e.g. Slack, Redbooth, HipChat and others). Traditional telecom manufacturers (nearly all of which have now added cloud services to their portfolios) are quickly getting on board too with new team collaboration applications that are easily accessed as subscription-based cloud services. Read more here about several team apps now being offered by some of the established telecom vendors.

SD-WAN Meets Cloud UC

Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) has been making big headlines lately as the next frontier for enterprise networking and a better approach to handling the high-bandwidth requirements of the modern workplace, including the increasing adoption of cloud-based applications for information technologies (IT) and unified communications and collaboration (UC&C).

SD-WAN technology promises not only to simplify branch office networking and the delivery of WAN services, but also touts application performance improvements and lower costs compared to traditional and less flexible network techniques such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Internet Virtual Private Networking (VPN).

Research firm IDC is watching this market develop and estimates that SD-WAN revenues worldwide will surpass $6 billion in 2020, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate or CAGR of 90% over 2015-2020. IDC cites a recent U.S. survey that shows as many as half of enterprises will consider a migration to SD-WAN over the next two years. Gartner also weighs in, predicting that 30% of enterprises will actually deploy SD-WAN technology in their branch offices by the end of 2019.

Read more here on the SD-WAN approach and its benefits, particularly as these relate to cloud-delivered telephony and unified communications.

The New Office Desk Phone

The office desk phone is not obsolete – not yet. Though market statistics continue to show the steady decline in TDM (analog and digital) desk telephone shipments, IP desktop phones seem to be holding their own for now. According to the Q2 2016 statistics from market research firm MZA Telecom & IT Analysts, IP extensions/licenses grew a modest 4% year-over-year, while TDM extensions fell by 8%.

Business communications vendors are closely monitoring the market and the growing preference for softphones and mobile devices; and thus, directing more of their research and development dollars into software and applications. But, at the same time, there is general agreement that hard-wired endpoints still have the advantage over a mobile device when it comes to high quality audio, recording and speakerphone capabilities and remain an important requirement in today’s conference rooms and during critical business conversations.

The dilemma – or downside – for users is that while the office desk phone excels at audio quality, it typically lacks the convenience, intuitiveness and ease-of-use of a mobile smartphone which has become our preferred device for quick and easy management of communications. The solution? Combine the best of the mobile smartphone experience with the high quality audio of an office telephone, creating a more contemporary desktop device. A number of business communications manufacturers are doing just that – developing and rolling out “next-generation” IP-based and SIP-based phones that better meet today’s expectations. Read more here about some of the latest market entries.