Do UC what I see?

Daniel Fuller-Smith, UK and EMEA Sales Manager at Toshiba, take a look ahead to 2014 and what he sees as the key trends developing in the market.

With the drivers that have come to prominence over the past few years, Unified Communications (UC) is set to develop further in 2014 and become even more valuable to businesses. UC adoption is currently growing at over 30% a year according to Frost and Sullivan research, with 60% of UK respondents having already deployed the technology. The growth of BYOD and the increased availability of 4G and superfast broadband are further fuelling the capabilities of UC, ensuring it will be an exciting area for IT managers, and an opportunity for resellers, in 2014.

Federation: The game-changer

Federation offers staff the flexibility to communicate with colleagues in the most appropriate way, enabled by a more intelligent, holistic system. For example, a conversation that begins on an Instant Messenger application can be transferred to voice or HD quality video without the need to end the conversation and transfer to a new programme or device. It paves the way to a communications experience more seamless than ever before, irrespective of the platform so users can connect with each other whether they are using XMPP, CUPS, Jabber or LYNC to name a few examples. In fact, some of the emerging services even offer Facebook, Twitter and other social media federation.

The smarter federation system will also enable better presence detection, so that status updates are shared automatically. For example, if a user answers a call on their mobile or desk phone, the IM platform will recognise this and automatically change the person’s status to ‘on a call’, ensuring that he or she is not interrupted and that colleagues don’t waste time trying to find them. This is especially useful in providing staff with visibility on mobile workers, particularly given the rate at which this has increased recently. In the UK, working from home has increased by 13% over the past five years, according to the TUC. Add to this the ability to tag a user so that you receive a notification once they reappear as available and there’s no need to send reminder emails or put placeholders in the diary.

This will however generate another issue – users do not want everyone to know their status. There will thus be a need for access levels and interruption management, ensuring a user’s presence internally can be set differently to externally which prevents ‘cold calls’ from a contact centre somewhere in the world using IM as their method of communication.

Integrating BYOD and CYOD

Offering staff the flexibility of BYOD still remains a big challenge for IT managers, and CYOD has increased as a way of offering flexibility of choice without having to support every device that could be selected. The mobile OS providers are also making this easier with support for containerisation now taking over from the more traditional MDM approach. Google’s Android OS is a prime example as Google has introduced the ability to have profiles with Jelly Bean, enabling applications and data to be managed on the device itself. Some manufacturers are building in hooks to their deployment of the software that also offer container technology, so we expect to see more growth in business smartphones now corporates have the ability to control and protect their data.

The belated rise of video conferencing

Feedback from our partners suggests that 2014 will be the year that video conferencing finally becomes the major part of business communications that it has promised to be for decades. The benefits of video have never been doubted, but it is only now that the conditions are ripe for it to thrive and be used frequently by businesses, large or small.

Costs are falling, whilst quality is rising. HD is common, so detailed footage can be streamed from one location to another, vital for industries such as the pharmaceutical one where clinical trials need to be observed in detail. For the everyday business user, the BYOD market is filled with video capable devices, from tablets to smartphones and laptops. Users can now embrace video conferencing regardless of their location, and businesses don’t need to invest in expensive equipment that would only have limited use as the world becomes more mobile. There are also drivers such as 4G and fibre optic broadband that provide the speed for it to be used reliably.

The next step for technicians is to make a user’s eyes appear to be looking at the other person rather than at the screen, and to add stabilisation to the front facing camera, both of which will truly take video conferencing to the next level.

Simplicity and efficiency through Web RTC

Web Real Time Communications (RTC) is another area that will benefit hugely from the increased connectivity offered by the likes of 4G. Web RTC offers browser-to-browser communication via ‘baked in’ support for video and voice, and is already supported on popular platforms like Firefox and Chrome. Eliminating the need for plugins has major benefits for users, as installing plugins can often be tiresome and complex and they can pose a greater threat for malware, so removing them from the equation is simply more efficient and secure. Web RTC will make communications easier to use, removing the need for specialist, dedicated software as it can automatically be built into any web based application.

2014, the year of Unified Communications

With video conferencing and web RTC primed to surge, adopting a federation solution will help businesses stay competitive, thanks to the seamless and professional level of communication it can provide and productivity increases it has the potential to offer.

2014 has the potential to be a landmark year for UC, particularly if federation makes its way into the mainstream for businesses.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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