Last year around this time I predicted some business communications trends to anticipate in 2015, and stated that it would be the year of mobility, integration of communications, and user experience. In reviewing last year’s predictions, versus what actually happened – some were dead on while others have been slower to develop. Many of the same trends of 2015 are shaping up to be continued influencers on business communications and work styles in 2016, even while additional trends emerge.
Mobility certainly took a giant leap forward over the past year – and shows no signs of slowing down. The prediction of the integration of communications into ‘every aspect of how we run our businesses’, while still one of my core predictions, will be a multi-year evolution. It only began to develop some momentum during the past year, but the desire for integration of communications into and across core business functions continues to drive conversations within organizations of all sizes. Businesses are adopting Cloud solutions at a rapid pace, as anticipated, and the use of SIP trunks is still growing. In fact, a recent Infonetics survey found that over three-fourths of North American businesses plan to use SIP trunking by 2016. This being said, these previously predicted trends are still big players in the business communications world, but for the purpose of this article, I’d like to focus on some concepts that are gaining real momentum.
The responsibilities of IT are shifting, workforces are distributing, and exciting things are on the way in the area of communications enabling business processes through the use of innovations such as Application Program Interface (APIs) and Web Real Time Communications (WebRTC). The way we work is changing, and the way we interact with our customers is changing, as 2016 is set to bring another wave of innovation in the following areas:
The Role of the IT Organization is Progressing:
An increasing percentage of businesses are transferring their UC systems, email, documents, and business applications into the Cloud. As a result, the day-to-day maintenance and management of the infrastructure and the associated systems are no longer the sole responsibility of the internal IT department. By offloading these responsibilities to the Cloud, businesses can then redirect the captured time and budgets to drive relationship management with outside suppliers, customer-facing innovation, and other such projects that funnel revenue into their businesses.
Evolving Work Styles
Historically work has been a place, and employees most often relocated to be near that place. Social trends, lower unemployment rates, and communications technologies together are enabling employees to live where they want, and work from there. In 2015, 37 percent of employees said they had worked remotely at one point in their careers, compared to 30 percent in 2006 and just 9 percent in 1995. With the available collaboration tools, many of which are cloud-based, along with the advancements in mobility, projects and tasks can be completed from virtually anywhere. The ability to work remotely and use your personal mobile devices of choice (part of the well established BYOD trend) makes it easier for companies to recruit top talent, despite location. Also, companies are starting to incorporate flexible work options into their benefits packages, and as a result are attracting more of the millennial generation employees. Empowering the end user with the proper tools to work efficiently despite barriers and traditional work styles is the ultimate goal of businesses moving forward.
Something worth noting is how this will impact business IT departments. Managing and securing a business’ IT infrastructure in an environment where remote employees download tools and apps (whether authorized or not), along with understanding that many of those apps do in fact increase worker productivity, will be a balancing act for IT. Also, managing remote workers isn’t just an IT issue – the proper policies (e.g., BYOD, telecommuting and social media policies) should be in place, and business managers must be knowledgeable about the tools and practices necessary to successfully communicate with and manage these remote employees. All of this reflects the new reality that having an untethered workforce actually enhances revenue opportunities while improving employee morale.
Businesses are beginning to understand that if they want to truly communications-enable their business processes, they need to do some of the work themselves. Application programming interfaces (APIs) are the first step in creating bridges between a business’s own applications and third-party software programs. Just as more websites and apps are popping up every day, so is the use of APIs, as they are the backbone of digital experiences, and more companies are using them. For example, Sears uses APIs to enable developers to create apps that facilitate product searches and identify store locations. Salesforce.com generates nearly 50 percent of its annual $3 billion in revenue through APIs. Also, businesses of all types are using APIs to integrate their UC applications with their productivity suites. This type of integration enables things such as driving employee presence based off of calendars, and offering click-to-dial options within a document.
The use of APIs is important for businesses because they allow programmers to build tools that help people do their jobs more effectively, and that will always be a trend.
Communications and the Web
I included WebRTC on my list of predictions last year, but incorporated it into the bigger trend of integrating communications features and functions into virtually every aspect of a business. For this conversation, I want to mention it within the context of how businesses can utilize the technology and the potential growth it represents in the year ahead. Companies that don’t have the expertise to build bridges between web presence and communications infrastructure (or simply don’t want to do it themselves) can utilize the services of something called a communications platform as a service. Companies that offer this service are intended to do the heavy lifting so that web developers don’t have to know a lot about communications in order to enable it through websites and web apps. For companies that have already built these bridges, the next steps will include building things that have never been built before, as Amazon did with the Kindle Fire mayday button. The possibilities WebRTC offers are endless, and many are looking forward to seeing how industries utilize this technology in the future.
Productive Utilization of Data
It’s expected that by the end of 2016, enterprises will have brought in a leadership role specifically to handle information management to make sure companies are getting the most from their available data. According to Gartner, “25 percent of organizations will have a chief data officer (CDO) in place by 2017.” As the amount of accessible data constantly increases, so does the need to understand it. The availability of data becomes less important if you aren’t able to easily extract it, interpret it, and utilize it for decision-making. For example, drive-time analytics allow trucking companies to predict traffic patterns and adjust their routes accordingly. Analysis of call center data enables managers to identify peak call volume times and to staff agents accordingly.
While call analytics is certainly not new, the availability and ease of access to data is what continues to improve for companies of all sizes. And it is the real-time or near real-time access to data and the way in which companies can immediately use that information to improve processes “in the moment” that will play an increasingly important role in business-critical decisions going forward. In particular, the improved ease of access to data is much more simple for SMBs and offers them more business intelligence and operational guidance than they’ve had previously – giving them more equal footing with enterprises in that regard.
This shift in the way we work and the convergence of communications technologies can create a strong competitive advantage when used to reflect and accomplish your business objectives. The new year will continue with a upswing in remote work forces, data analysis, and APIs. WebRTC will gain traction as more companies see the potential of their digital experiences, and the role of IT will shift into presenting new daily tasks. Understanding, planning for, and embracing business communications developments are vital to the success of your business. We at Digium are excited about our own future in these emerging trends, and look forward to a promising new year. We wish you a happy and successful one.