Channel Partners Takeaways – What Millennials, Mobility and 5G Mean for UC
If UC, or collaboration, or UC&C are going to have staying power, the solutions will have to be Millennial-friendly. This isn’t news, but if you don’t have Millennial-aged developers building UC&C applications, as well as employees evaluating how a solution will actually be used, it may already be too late for what’s coming.
On that cheery note, I wanted to share some takeaways from the Channel Partners conference that I recently attended. I’ve written about the impact of Millennials before, but not so much from a channel-centric perspective. This was my first time at Channel Partners, and while UC wasn’t the main focus, I heard many messages that are very relevant to the UCStrategies community.
I covered a lot of ground in Las Vegas speaking with many exhibitors and executives, but what resonated most for me was a panel session chock full of Millennials with some very thoughtful moderating by Janet Schijns from Verizon Enterprise Solutions. This may seem like an unlikely match, and yes, it’s becoming de rigueur these days to have a Millennials panel at tech conferences. Actually, I think that unlikely match is exactly the point, and props to Verizon for stepping up to get close and personal with a demographic many of us don’t understand and are even intimidated by. When Verizon becomes cool for this crowd, they win, big time.
When it comes to Millennials, each side of the generation divide has distinct and unrelated concerns about the other, and if these aren’t addressed, we’re all doomed. Maybe not all of us, but the UC space for sure. Millennials are insecure about their lack of life experience and how our generation (you know who you are) doesn’t take them seriously. Correct. On the other hand, our generation is terrified by how Millennials can run circles around us with their gadgets, and getting exposed can seriously undermine an authority base that may have taken a lifetime to establish. Also correct. Of course, I’m painting in broad strokes, but finding common ground here is essential for making UC&C deployments successful.
We have a lot to learn from each other, and when both parties come into this with open minds, I have no doubt that UC&C will truly become an awesome experience. I’m showing my colors, but even getting out of bed qualifies as awesome for some Millennials, but you know what I mean. For the UC&C community to get there, here are three takeaways from that session that need to be followed.
1. Embrace end users
To be fair, the Millennials were mostly talking about personal communication and how they engage with technology. However, some of the dialog was work-related, but really it’s pretty moot these days. I say that for two reasons. First, the “consumerization of IT” is real, and employees bring expectations to work based on what they do on personal time. Second – compounding this – is the fact that a lot of that “personal time” activity is happening while working. The divide between these worlds – either during or outside 9-5 hours – is long gone, and Millennials do both personal and work-based communication at all hours.
Underlying this is the simple reality that defines success for all forms of UC&C offerings – IT needs them more than they need you. End users cannot be taken for granted, and if they don’t see a benefit, they’ll keep doing things on their own terms. There are too many options on the Web for every UC&C application, so for end user adoption of UC&C to happen, you have to know what they like and be able to deliver.
Listening to the panelists, it’s clear what they like: mobility, Wi-Fi, constant access to social sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, easy-to-use messaging applications, security for online purchases, and long battery life. Granted, Verizon is pitching mobile services, but their bucket list sounded pretty reality-based to me. Having said that, it’s also worth noting what they didn’t mention, namely voice. That’s not really surprising any more, but this panel was another example of how the mode of choice among Millennials has shifted from voice to text.
For both channels and UC&C vendors, these wants should be seen as table stakes to drive end user adoption. Sure, these are consumer-centric things, but it’s not hard to see how they can be adapted for workplace collaboration applications. This is what vendors mean when talking about being mobile-first or social-friendly, and there’s lots of opportunity for innovation.
Aside from having cool apps, Millennials simply want to know that you’re paying attention to them. Don’t get me wrong – these are sharp kids, and our community can learn a lot from them – and one of the panelists expressed that sentiment well: “we need to know that you care and you know that we care.” This is a demographic that wants a two-way relationship – if you understand their needs and address them, they will do incredible things. However, if they just get off-the-shelf UC&C apps, you’ll lose them from the start and will never get them back.
2. Focus on experiences, not applications
This isn’t really new, and most UC&C vendors have moved on from the technical attributes and now focus on UX, the user experience. Of course, this is really hard to quantify for building a business case, so vendors need to be creative. They have to be, as this panel made it clear that they don’t care much about the products they use – it’s the experience that they value.
Walking about the show floor at Channel Partners, it’s not hard to see why UC&C has a problem here. If I wore a blindfold and went booth to booth, it would be hard to tell each vendor and solution provider apart. Each one believes they have differentiation, but that’s difficult to communicate, not just to channels, but ultimately to end users.
One theme that came up on the panel was the nuisance of repeatedly getting impersonal ads while doing other things online. Aside from the creepy nature of knowing too much about your browsing habits, these ads keep coming over and over, which can ruin an otherwise great UX. Again, this was a consumer-centric discussion, but these problems come up when using third-party business applications.
A key element of the UC&C UX is the ability to focus solely on the task at hand, with as few distractions as possible. Remember, this was a key driver for Slack, especially in terms of moving away from email, which has become an unwieldy catch-all for every form of personal and work-related communication.
Coming back to Millennials, a UC&C offering that minimizes, blocks or eliminates unwanted, impersonal ads makes for a superior UX. To some extent this can be achieved by keeping end users engaged on a UC&C platform, especially one running from a private cloud. The less often end users have to go out to the public Internet, the better their UC&C UX will be, and that’s something the channel – and vendors – can be seizing on right now.
3. Think about Big Data – a lot
Whatever you envision UC&C to be today, it’s going to look very different not that long from now. The good news is that this is still an early stage market, and while it’s possible for UC&C as we know it to emerge stillborn, most Millennials have yet to experience it. As such, there’s still time for UC&C to morph into a solution that totally speaks to this demographic. Slack and their ilk represent an important – and logical step – in that direction, but new iterations will come as other technologies evolve.
One of those evolutions will be 5G, and Verizon talked about how this will be a game-changer for mobile-centric Millennials. First off, the faster speeds will enable a new generation of applications, and that’s where IoT enters the conversation. Secondly, 5G applications will consume much less bandwidth, and this will translate into longer battery life for mobile devices. Interestingly, when asked what their wish list would look like in this new world, there wasn’t much in terms of super-cool applications.
That spells opportunity for everyone – channels, vendors, developers and service providers – but only if you’re thinking ahead to what 5G will enable. The panel discussion got more interesting when the moderator got more specific with IoT, talking about the ability to track virtually anything with sensors, or with embedded AI bringing M2M into everyday communications flows.
The possibilities for cool consumer applications are limitless, even though the shadow of Big Brother will often loom around the corner. When those come along, Millennials will move to them with WhatsApp quickness, and that should send a message to the UC&C community. Think about how M2M and IoT can impact business processes, automating tasks, workflows and even jobs.
This is where the worlds of UC&C and WFO get uncomfortably close, and it’s hard to say right now which will prevail. Will communications become embedded in workflow software, or vice versa? This is an existential question for UC&C players, and if they’re not thinking about how 5G is going to impact the way people work and communicate, the likes of IBM and SAP will get there first.
If IoT lives up to the hype, it will be much bigger than UC&C, at which point the ability to capture and process endless streams of data will be far more valuable to enterprises than the ability of their employees to communicate. The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to be thinking now about what these changes mean for UC&C and developing 5G roadmaps for what enterprises are going to need.