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We Ask the Pros: 9 Top Trends in Unified Communications

By: Nancy Gates, Consultant Liaison Program Director

We asked six telecommunications consultants, each a member of ShoreTel’s Consultant Liaison Program Advisory Board, to call out what’s trending in UC today.  Here’s their assessment of what’s emerging today and tomorrow:

1) Better Client Understanding

“Five years ago, folks didn’t think they needed unified communications,” says James O’Gorman, Principal of Communications Engineering. “But today there’s a trend toward better understanding of the technical elements like chat, web and IM.  People understand it and can see the benefits.” O’Gorman cites the client education work done by vendors, partners and consultants over recent years as the source for this rising tide of solution awareness.

2) Better Desktop Integration

Ernie Holling, president and chief strategist of InTech, calls the trend toward better UC feature integration the “evolution of a toolset.”  J.R. Simmons, president and principal consultant of COMgroup, comments, “Everyone is going unified messaging.  Hot buttons are desktop sharing, click to communicate and integration between IM and phone functions. Clients are excited about new desktop tools with a single interface, with drag and drop and type and click ease.” And he shares a personal comment, citing ShoreTel as being “ahead of the curve, because the desktop integration has been better than others going back further.”

3) Mobility X 3

“The hot topic trend I’m seeing is mobility, mobility, mobility,” says Chris Thalassinos of Toronto’s Communications Intelligence Group. O’Gorman agrees, saying, “It’s hard to overstate the need for mobility, because now the mobile platform can have full UC capability.”  Melissa Swartz, Founder of Kansas City-based Swartz Consulting, cites the proliferation of mobile devices as a trend that’s not slowing as employees bring their favorite personal smartphones and tablets to work.  “BYOD as a topic is a strategy, not a technology,” continues Thalassinos, who says if employees disagree with a company’s mobile device policy they’ll simply turn the tools off.  “It ties everything from HR to IT, but it has to be right for the organization.”

4) Contact Center Proliferation

Swartz sees call and contact center components included in more and more UC deployments. “It might just be for an internal help desk, but deploying tiny contact centers within an organization offers features like estimated wait time for calls, call queuing, skills-based routing, call recording, and reporting,” she says. Byron Battles, Principal of The Battles Group, agrees, citing the value of contact center metrics to internal operations.

5) Video?

“On the horizon, one of the things you read about is video,” says Simmons.  “They say it’s a trend, but we see slow adoption. Does video truly enhance a conference call? It helps the presenter but can restrict the participants — someone is eating lunch, or checking their Blackberry,” he says. He cites video’s ability to enhance specific situations like a long-distance job interview, but questions its impact for generic calls and teleconferences. Swartz does see a trend toward video, “but not for every user,” she says. “But I think every organization — if they’re not buying video today, they’re buying a position for it in the future.”

6) SIP Trunking

“If I read the trades, it sounds like everyone is doing SIP trunking everywhere, all the time,” says Battles. “But very few of my clients have put in SIP trunking. It depends on what state you’re in, where you’re located, what system you have,” he says. Battles puts a practical spin on the industry buzz, noting the difference between what he’s reading versus what he sees in the marketplace. “The trades are usually about 12 to 24 months ahead of where my clients are,” he says.

7) AI and Smarter Devices

Simmons sees connectivity and knowledge shared between devices trending up, saying, “It’s about the software automatically interacting with what I’m doing.” He cites keyboards that inform IM while respondents type and the new Voyager Legend headset for UC, built to change a user’s presence status if the headset moves out of bluetooth range. When artificial intelligence meets rules-based processing, unified communications will morph into an intelligent network that sets modes based on user habit, attributes and preferences rather than on manual user input.

8) Constant Customer Feedback

Leaden sees a sea change occurring in sales and customer service as enterprises embrace customer survey technologies. From contact centers that prompt callers to take a survey at the end of their call, to restaurants that integrate tablets into each table’s dining experience, a plethora of metrics are beginning to flood managers with real-time responses from client contacts. The good news for consumers: these surveys are increasingly tied to employee compensation, so the motivation to provide great service is trending up, too.

9) Federated Communications

“There are more and more global communicators, so it’s important to be able to ‘unify’ communications from India, from South America,” says Holling, who cites the not-so-distant past when intercontinental phone calls could be $20 a minute. “Today it’s about globalization and the federation of communications.” To federate a product means to adapt its function to integrate with another manufacturer’s version of the same feature, for example there was a time when AOL could not talk to Hotmail. Unified communications solutions that are built on open standards are on the leading edge of this trend toward global interconnection.

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Did you miss the first eight blogs in this series?  Here are links to:

Our sources for this blog, members of ShoreTel’s Consultant Liaison Program Advisory Board:

 byron

Byron Battles is Principal, The Battles Group, LLC and is a recognized expert in the field of Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and a Past President (2006-2008) of The Society of Telecommunications Consultants a professional association of independent information technology and communications (ICT) consultants. He has 29 years of telecommunications consulting and industry experience in direct voice and data telecommunications evaluation, technical and project consulting, and applied market and subject research.

 ernie

Ernie Holling is President and Chief Strategist of InTech, which he founded in 1986.He specializes in providing crisis intervention at the enterprise level and in developing technology strategy for complex, multi-site/vendor environments and contact centers.  He is a member of the Project Manager Institute, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the Utilities Telecommunications Council, and is a past vice president of the board of directors for the Society of Telecommunications Consultants.

stephen

Stephen Leaden is founder and President of Leaden Associates, Inc., an independent consulting firm providing specialized support to enterprises in VoIP, unified communications, contact centers, converged networks, and cloud-based architectures. A past president of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants,  he’s been in the telecommunications field over 30 yearsand  is a frequent speaker at national trade shows, a contributing expert for UC Strategies.com, and a contributor to IDG and The Voice Report.

james

James O’Gorman has background in both common carrier and private consulting and is the principal of Communications Engineering, LLC.  He has been an independent telecommunications consultant since 1980, providing consulting advice to legal, financial, publishing, health care, entertainment, governmental and educational institutions. He plays a key role in the design, selection, and project management of state-of-the-art telecommunications systems and infrastructures. He is a Past President of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants.

J.R

J.R. Simmons is President and Principal Consultant of COMgroup, Inc., with 37 years of experience in the telecommunications systems industry, including 28 years as a consultant providing planning, design, analysis, and implementation management skills. Currentprojects include strategic planning, data networking design, systems analysis, IP telephony, and call centers. J.R. was elected to the board of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants in 2011 and to the Executive Board of the STC in 2012.

Melissa

Melissa Swartz has been providing telecommunications consulting for her clients since 1991.  She is the founder of Kansas City-based Swartz Consulting,  a firm that assists clients in managing telecommunications technology and costs. The consultancy provides a range of services from analysis, planning, acquisition, design, and implementation to ongoing support. She is currently the President of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants.

Chris

Chris Thalassinos of Toronto’s Communications Intelligence Group has over 20 years experience in working with companies to strategize and realize innovative business and technology solutions. As an advisor, he focuses on project leadership, solutions development and client relationship management and guides organizations to effective deployments of emerging and converging technologies.

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