I recently attended the Unified Communication Expo exhibition and conference in London to find out how much communications has been changing. As I entered the exhibition center the first thing I noticed was the huge variety of vendors on show, everything from major brands in the telecommunications industry (Aspect, AT&T, BT, Cisco, Mitel, Nokia and Siemens Enterprise Communications) to some major brands perhaps not so associated with telecommunications (Dell, Citrix, Google and Microsoft), to several niche players with products such as mobility management, IP-based voice and data networks, audio/web/streaming/video conferencing, email/chat/text messaging and unified communications (presence and collaboration), to suppliers of audio equipment (Dell, Jabra, Logitech, Plantronics and Sennheiser). For me the most disappointing thing was the lack of vendors focused on the contact center, with only Aspect, Enghouse Interactive, Microsoft (in partnership with Aspect), Noble Systems and ShoreTel in evidence.
What this all told me was that the communications landscape has changed considerably, with more vendors entering the space with more products that extend telecommunications from the good old telephone to a huge variety of channels using a huge variety of devices. It is impossible to cover a show with such a large number and variety of products and vendors, but this show has an app (UC Expo) which among other things give you a quick overview of all the vendors present. Other conference and exhibition organizers take note!
Apart from the sheer variety of vendors and products on show, I noticed three key trends:
- Everyone was very focused on the “bits and bytes” of communications, with vendors letting attendees know they can support the transfer of voice, data and video from almost any device, in any form, over the voice and data networks (basically the Internet) to make any process communications-enabled.
- The up-and-coming channel is video, to support either video-enabled calls or videoconferencing. This focus seems to put vendors some way ahead of organizations, because my research into the contact center in the cloud shows that although a small number (less than 10%) of organizations have started to deploy video, the most popular channels still remain the telephone and email. However, as more consumers begin to use services such as Skype and more smart devices are video-enabled, companies might well find customer demand drives increased adoption.
- The other big trend I spotted was the availability of more collaboration tools. Most of these were being marketed in the context of companies needing to become more social, or as I prefer, collaborative. What is clear from all my research is that companies do need to support more channels of interaction and that interactions are being handled by more lines of business, in more locations. My research into the agent desktop shows companies recognize collaboration as key to improving customer service and improving the ability for companies to resolve more interactions at the first attempt and provide consistency in their responses and the information provided. Tools such as presence (being able to find an expert) and collaboration (shared folders, Facebook-like collaboration) are therefore likely to be in higher demand than I have seen previously.
I attended UC Expo to find out about advances in communications and how they are impacting contact centers and the way organizations engage with customers. Although much of deep technology is outside my skill range, what I saw showed me that communication and collaboration technologies are developing faster than ever before, and more vendors are getting involved. There is no doubt in my mind that consumer communication habits have changed enormously; if you didn’t have a chance to attend, I recommend you check out some of the vendors I highlighted and see how they can help you keep up with both internal and consumer demands.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director