Navigating the changing landscape

Richard Evans, chief technology officer at Cinos, looks at how channel businesses can adapt to UC trends that are impacting the market.

In recent years, the unified communications (UC) and collaboration market has demonstrated resilience and innovation. While global economic uncertainties brought the threat of recession and global supply chain disruptions impacted hardware availability, channel businesses have showed remarkable resilience, moving towards software-based solutions and prioritising adaptability.

We witnessed a surge in demand for seamless integrations, interoperability and enhanced user experiences. Cloud-based communication platforms and secure collaboration tools emerged as the frontrunners, emphasising the need for businesses to prioritise flexibility and accessibility in their communication strategies. But where does this leave the Channel moving forward?

A new reality

It’s best to start with the technologies and markets that have experienced unexpected growth. One example of this was the rapid adoption of augmented reality (AR), notably in the virtual and hybrid events space. The increased interest around immersive event technologies caught the industry off guard, but for good reason.

Following the uncertainty of the last couple of years, it was expected that people would quickly return to in-person events, and while this has been true, the speed at which people were moving away from virtual to live events has been slightly slower than expected.

Virtual and hybrid events have seen a marked uptick and attitudes towards the technology are changing, with 47 per cent of consumers believing the metaverse will become widely used in the next decade, according to KPMG.

This unexpected growth demonstrates the Channel’s ability to reposition itself and innovate in response to unforeseen challenges. It also provides a blueprint for the future of large-scale gatherings and the appetite we’ll see over the next year for transformative solutions.

To the cloud

Elsewhere, the deployment of cloud-based video conferencing tools is increasing. Zoom’s revenue increased by 6.9 per cent in 2023 and Cisco Webex Calling has 6 million new users since last year. This reflects customers reimagining the way their teams meet and collaborate over video.

Businesses across the UK have embraced these tools as essential components of their daily operations, enabling seamless communication and collaboration despite geographical constraints. That’s evidenced by the fact Microsoft reports that its monthly active use of Microsoft Teams channels has gone up by almost 200 per cent.

With more people working from home, cloud-based communication platforms and secure collaboration tools emerged as the standout performers of 2023.

Small to mid-range collaboration devices performed strongly, as businesses moved away from large-scale meetings to equip smaller, more flexible huddle and personal meeting spaces to accommodate the lower numbers of staff who are now in the office at one time.

Sales of high-end audio-visual equipment for conference rooms also dropped, highlighting a shift in priorities towards solutions that accommodate hybrid work.

These trends indicate that as permanent home office setups increase, there’s a need for businesses to prioritise flexibility and accessibility in their communication strategies.

We’ve also seen cloud communications services such as UCaaS and CCaaS gain traction towards the latter stages of 2023. On one hand, this can be attributed to the maturity of the products, many of whose deployment was sped up during the pandemic and have taken time to earn customers’ trust.

That being said, many customers who made the knee-jerk decision to move into public cloud communications services over the Internet have struggled with reliability and compliance further down the line.

These customers are now looping back to the market, in search of options that meet all their requirements, rather than just address a handful of critical ones.

Looking ahead

There are some important lessons to be learned from the technologies and markets that fell short of their potential. With customers embracing remote and hybrid working, there has been less need for static desk phones.

This has impacted investments in office-based phone communications and last year many customers were left facing a surplus of desk space, with the associated endpoints gathering dust on those workspaces. With a shift in the selection of software over hardware, soft client communications are now the order of the day and it’s likely this trend will continue.

Organisations could focus on smaller, more flexible endpoints that enable bring your own device. That could mean the technology is available to the user on their preferred device.

Undoubtedly, these insights and strategic customer decisions will inform and shape the strategies of UK channel businesses going forward. After all, identifying the best-performing technologies and markets has always been crucial for understanding the pulse of our industry.

The adaptability displayed by the Channel will position it well for the future, helping it to foster a more resilient and forward-thinking approach to navigate the evolving landscape of collaboration technologies over the next 12 months.

This opinion piece appeared in our June 2024 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.