I can’t think of one thing – or company – that stood still in our space during 2017. Every player of note had at least one major development, and every trend that impacts collaboration moved forward or evolved in some fashion. I’m still using the same mobile device – that’s another conversation – but everything else has seen change, and here are my top shakeups and shakeouts that will set the stage for 2018.
Shakeups in Collaboration
1. Solutions becoming less voice-centric
I’ve been writing about this one for a while, and it very much ties into the rise of messaging. While popular in its own right with Millennials, messaging is also displacing a lot of telephony activity. For a variety of reasons, messaging is simply more expedient for getting things done. It’s not that people don’t like to talk – that won’t change – rather, there’s too much friction along the way compared to messaging. It seems counter-intuitive that near real-time would be preferred to real-time, but people use the mode that works best, and right now, messaging is winning.
Not surprisingly, this has created a great runway for the Slacks of the world, and that momentum will continue in 2018. The impact is so profound that every collaboration player has followed suit with some form of team messaging, and nobody talks about IP PBX. Microsoft is the most extreme example with their recent pivot away from SfB and over to Teams.
The implications carry over to the channel in that messaging-based platforms are easier to buy, deploy, manage, and use than voice-centric UC offerings. These solutions may be better aligned with how Millennials prefer to work, but for the channel, there may be fewer opportunities to add value.
2. The AI of things
We’re just getting a taste of what’s coming, but AI seems ready now to wash over the collaboration space much the way cloud did in 2017. The references are in every conversation, and there certainly are great use cases both for enterprise collaboration and customer care.
That said, the deployments so far have been pretty basic for simple forms of workflow automation. Things are moving quickly, though, and you’ll know it’s here when you start seeing Amazon Echo or Google Home units on desks. Even more so when you hear your workers talking at their desks, then realizing they’re not on the phone, but instead “talking” to their digital assistants.
Cisco has shown some promising examples of using AI to make meetings and collaboration more effective – such as chatbots taking notes so you can be more engaged with your team – and Genesys now has over 80 specific AI use cases. I think we’ll see a lot more of that in 2018, but decision-makers need to be wary about vendors slapping the “AI” label on everything to cash in on the buzz.
3. Net neutrality
This is a big wildcard for everything the Web touches, and if the clock is turned back, collaboration is just one sliver of the tech pie that will be impacted. Given the dominant market power of both the major broadband providers and media organizations, there are far-reaching implications if the Web is pushed off its perch as an open and free channel for communication and information-sharing. It’s too early to tell how this might shake up the collaboration space, but with the FCC ruling set to be made this month, net neutrality needs to be on your 2018 radar.
Shakeouts in Collaboration
1. Vendor consolidation
While shakeups are about how the collaboration space will change in 2018, shakeouts have more to do with winners and losers – largely because of the shakeups. The starting point would be the vendors, and by now the big moves from 2017 are well-known. Every market goes through this phase, but it’s not clear yet how buyers for collaboration will be any better off. Consolidation should produce economies of scale, but now there are fewer independent players to keep the pressure on for better pricing and ongoing innovation.
The Cisco/BroadSoft deal is probably the most ominous, as now hundreds of carriers will no longer be allied with a feisty independent. Furthermore, other independent collaboration players – such as the OTTs – will now be competing against Cisco. Watch for this to trigger more consolidation so others can keep pace – perhaps even post-Chapter 11 Avaya – so expect more shakeout in 2018.
2. Make way for even bigger players
Another form of shakeout in 2018 will come from the players we don’t know – at least for their potential impact in collaboration and customer care. In 2017, we saw the emergence of giants that weren’t on the radar previously, but have now turned their sights on this space. Most notable would be Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. All have massive customer bases, are web-centric and really understand the user experience.
These are not the calling cards for most collaboration players, and given how the market is evolving, that makes them valid threats. Not to mention, they are all determined to somehow crack the enterprise market, and since they don’t need to make a profit along the way, they have many levers to ply when it suits them. Their emergence is important to monitor for its own sake, but you should also view it as a driver for the consolidation shakeout cited above.
3. The value proposition is going vertical
Most collaboration offerings – especially UC – have been marketed as horizontal solutions – applicable across the entire organization, and managed by IT. In some ways, that adds to the complexity of UC, which will be a holdback for some. This is not what the established players want to hear when the likes of Amazon enter the market with a value proposition built around ease of use.
Not only will ease of use be a key driver for rapid adoption, but so will vertical applications that have a clear use case and a sustainable ROI. This seems to reflect what’s happening with AI in this space, where developers are focusing on specific business challenges and outcomes that can be measured. Unlike the conventional UC platform that supports everyone with a consistent experience, these vertical solutions will apply to a more focused user base, but produce tangible results that any line of business can build a business case around. Expect to see this trend accelerate in 2018, and that could cause some shakeout for new winners and losers.
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