Tomorrow’s UC – Nobody’s Talking About Voice
Analysts are good at seeing the big picture, and we all connect the dots in different ways. As we know, UC continues to be a moving target, especially as both innovation and disruption continues to be driven from players outside the realm of who we usually talk about. For this post I’m going to link takeaways from three recent items, with my take on how UC looks poised for yet another 90 degree turn.
I’ll start with this week’s UCStrategies Industry Buzz podcast, which had us talking about Gartner’s latest Magic Quadrant update on the enterprise UC market. Then I’ll bring the recent partnership announcement between IBM and Cisco into the fold (which was the topic of our previous podcast), followed by some data points from Dimension Data’s 2016 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report. Here we go.
Dot #1 – Current State of UC
The Gartner MQ update reflects the state of UC today, and you can’t deny reality. Enterprises are still most comfortable with premise-based solutions, and given their sunk costs in phone systems, telephony remains a key anchor for UC. This is where most of the money is being spent, and the status quo among the leading vendors remains in place. No surprises there, and the report does give nods to trends that will take UC in different directions, namely mobility, messaging (although that’s mostly about email), CEBP and workstream collaboration. I would have added analytics and IoT to that list, but perhaps it’s a bit early.
What I like about the report is how UC is framed by parameters that are easy to understand. This makes for a value proposition that IT can sell to management, and provides reasonable criterion for comparing vendors in the MQ. We parsed through enough of the related details on our podcast, and I just want to note one thing that signals change ahead and provides a nice segue to my next dot.
Compared to last year, there’s just one change in the makeup of this vendor club – no IBM. Based on Gartner’s premise-based, telephony-centric definition of enterprise UC, IBM no longer fits, especially with their focus on the cloud and more recently, what I’ll address next.
Dot #2 – Will Watson Re-define UC?
Who knows? Or maybe this will complement UC or represent something altogether new and different. Tomorrow is coming quickly, and UC keeps shape-shifting in ways nobody really understands. This is why the world needs more UCStrategies, both to keep current on the trends and to help IT make better decisions.
I’m sure IBM doesn’t mind being dropped from the UC MQ, as they see where the puck is going. Telephony never was their thing and they know that tomorrow’s value for communications technology has little to do with voice. You wouldn’t normally view IBM as a driver of change for UC, but I’d say they’re in a pretty good position to do that based on their recent partnership announcement with Cisco. If you can’t disrupt from within, do so from without by teaming up with the market leader, at least as defined by the MQ.
This partnership may well get bogged down in the details and a power struggle for customer control, but sometimes co-opetition among the giants is needed to take things to the next level. Time will tell, but their joint thinking reflects the shortcomings of UC in its current form, as well as the opportunities presented by the much bigger trends of cloud and IoT. The concept of “cognitive APIs” sounds almost as abstract as first generation UC, but this is what innovators do. Once all forms of communication have become digitized – including voice – every interaction creates new streams of data to feed into Watson.
We’ve all seen what Watson can do on Jeopardy – or earlier with Deep Blue and chess – so just imagine the possibilities once our communications patterns have become the raw materials for managing workflows and measuring productivity. Big Brother scenarios aside, IBM’s AI and machine learning pedigree along with Cisco’s real-time collaboration solutions – especially Spark – is a powerful combination that we haven’t yet seen.
Rather than trying to extract more value – and profit – from telephony, this partnership is thinking bigger and differently than the established order of UC vendors. For both Cisco and IBM, the more workplace connectivity the better, as this drives their visions for IoT and Big Data. We know that business decisions are becoming more metrics-based, and to support that, analytics is the next must-have competency. That’s why I mentioned its absence earlier with the MQ – it’s not part of today’s UC, but it’s essential for tomorrow’s UC.
Dot #3 – Dimension Data’s Numbers Validate the Story
Speaking of metrics, now I’m going to cite some data points from Dimension Data’s study to connect these dots more clearly. Even though their research is focused on the contact center, many of the findings speak to broader issues related to collaboration, along with how agent performance ties into some of the highest business strategy priorities.
First, the numbers validate how there’s a big gap in terms of analytics capabilities and its perceived importance. Consider these data points:
72% believe analytics enables better agent performance
69% say it drives better CX – customer experience
52% say it will help improve the journey of their customers
83% view CX as a competitive differentiator
78% view CX as their most important measure of strategic performance
79% have no Big Data capability
Only 17% can identify problem hot spots that impact CX
Only 34% use analytics to personalize solutions
Only 36% can track a customer journey across multiple communications channels
While this just speaks for the contact center, given how extensively they use metrics for agent performance, I suspect this gap will be even greater across the rest of the enterprise. Not only is there a much wider range of job functions in the office environment, but few performance metrics exist that are comparable to what’s used in the contact center.
Clearly there’s an opportunity here, both inside and outside the contact center. For the former, the Dimension Data research found that 50% of respondents rank analytics as the #1 factor that will reshape their space in the next five years.
To take this a step further, the data also shows the extent to which metrics are tracked for both time and cost per contact center interaction. While it’s pretty high for telephony-based interactions – 83% - the levels are notably lower for Web chat and email, at 66% and 59% respectively. I see this as another way to connect the dots in that telephony is more mature than digital channels, and the opportunities for tomorrow’s analytics will focus on what’s driving collaboration today. Maybe not so much for email, but when you look at how Millennials communicate, it’s about chat, messaging and a bit of video – and not telephony.
These are the modes they engage with, and increasingly with a social media element. They like to share and be public about what they’re doing, and when you start thinking along these lines, it starts to make more sense as to why Microsoft just acquired LinkedIn. As an aside, if that combination pays off, it will be another example of disruption with a player from outside the UC&C space.
More importantly, when you connect all these dots, it also becomes easier to understand why Cisco and IBM are partnering. The Dimension Data findings provide a pretty good indication both as to why analytics is important, and how limited enterprises are in their capabilities. The Gartner MQ update may reflect today’s mainstream UC market quite well, but there are strong undercurrents of change coming for sure. While it remains to be seen what form they will take, you’ll be the last to know if you expect to find out the news via a phone call.