The unified communications (UC) industry is growing dramatically with analysts expecting it to be a $96 billion market by 2023, according to Global Market Insights. While UC tools are soaring in popularity, the industry is not immune to the impact of broader tech trends like artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and connected workspaces, etc. These emerging trends are establishing new ways of working and are slowly starting to integrate with more traditional UC tools.
While innovation is a high priority in the UC industry, it can be difficult to determine what trends will have a long-term impact. However, three specific trends stand out above the rest: digital whiteboards, persistent collaboration apps and artificial intelligence. These applications not only have the potential to boost productivity and team collaboration, but also to change how employees choose to work and interact with one another.
1. Digital Whiteboards
One of the many benefits of digital whiteboards – like the Cisco Spark Board and Microsoft Hub – is their potential to bring employees, companies, remote workers, and team projects all together in one place. We showcased the Cisco Spark Board at Enterprise Connect - see our walk-throughs here. Digital whiteboards range in capabilities and features, but typically offer digital co-working spaces, video chats, and screen sharing, all on a “whiteboard” interface. As sales of digital interactive whiteboards ramp up, companies can streamline business workflows and increase team collaboration.
While these whiteboards are an encouraging move toward intelligent tools and collaborative work environments, their scarcity may be a challenge. These tools aren’t as effective unless they’re working within a network of digital whiteboards. Sales of these devices over the next few years will indicate whether digital whiteboards are a long-term trend or a current fad. With that in mind, companies looking to jump on this trend should invest in a few boards at a time to ascertain their true productivity benefits.
2. Persistent Collaboration Apps
With millennials leading the charge for effortless communication in the workplace, technology is inevitability starting to cater to this younger generations’ preferences. As a result, team chat and collaboration apps like Microsoft Teams, Cisco Spark and Slack are taking the workplace by storm due to their ease of use and similarity to texting. These apps streamline communication and real-time collaboration for teams, companies and freelancers. Teams can interact more frequently and keep a pulse on projects in real-time.
While persistent collaboration apps are being adopted at a rapid rate, they tend to be a departmental purchase and the apps function mainly in isolation from other communication tools and platforms. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether these tools will replace traditional UC tools or remain yet another boutique solution.
3. Artificial Intelligence
While AI technology is advancing rapidly, the beginning stages are already starting to enter the UC space with the use of bots. Today’s bots are primarily streamlining or automating basic tasks like starting a call or booking a conference room, but they’re expected to grow steadily more sophisticated in the coming years. Expect to see major tech providers like Microsoft and Google incorporate bots or virtual assistants into their UC tools over the next few years.
While bots are the first step in bringing AI into UC, it's still unclear how more advanced AI tools will impact the UC industry. However, successful applications of AI could enable UC tools to learn through experiences and proactively anticipate user needs. Ultimately, this technology has the potential to support more efficient workplace communication and processes, propelling the UC industry forward.
While it is uncertain what long-term impact digital whiteboards, persistent collaboration apps and AI will have on the UC industry, all of these trends are clearly starting to make waves.
As the workforce becomes more global, collaborative and intuitive smart-technology will be vital to fostering business success. These evolving customer needs will undoubtedly drive even more innovation in the UC industry, further disrupting the way we work and collaborate.
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