AI, messaging top unified communications industry trends

Unified communications industry analysts explore the trends that will affect organizations in 2017. Artificial intelligence, messaging and infrastructure are key areas to watch.

As the unified communications industry continues to evolve, analysts are eyeing key trends that could affect organizations in 2017. These trends could shape all aspects of an organization, including employee communication workflows and contact-center services.

Interest in artificial intelligence (AI), in particular, has grown, as organizations tackle digital transformation initiatives to improve business processes and interactions with employees and customers. AI could see more widespread adoption across the unified communications industry in 2017, according to some analysts.

"Recent case studies prove that AI and machine learning can make an organization's processes, applications and resources smarter," Jim Sinur, analyst at Aragon Research in Palo Alto, Calif., wrote in a blog. AI can help organizations improve employee and customer workflows, decision-making and scenario planning. Coupled with analytics, AI can help organizations make more informed decisions and prepare for future situations, he wrote.

AI can also improve contact centers with the use of chat bots, according to Frost & Sullivan analyst Nancy Jamison. She wrote in a blog that 2016 saw the rise of virtual assistants, as organizations move to omnichannel customer service. Chat bots are an extension of virtual assistants that can automate conversations, transactions and workflows.

Messaging inside and outside your organization

Messaging apps, too, will play a key role in contact centers, as organizations look for new ways to communicate with customers.

Harnessing social platform messaging apps will turn social customer care on its head in 2017.
Nancy Jamisonanalyst, Frost & Sullivan

"Harnessing social platform messaging apps will turn social customer care on its head in 2017," Jamison wrote.

For instance, Facebook announced in April 2016 it was opening its Messenger platform to developers. Similar messaging platforms then followed suit, giving organizations a new way to engage customers.

Currently, 2% of customer inquiries are managed over mobile messaging. But messaging-based customer inquiries are expected to surpass inquiries via social media in the next two years, according to Gartner analyst Noah Elkin.

"Rapid consumer uptake of messaging apps for a host of communication, content and commerce functions will make an already personal, user-driven medium that much more so," Elkin wrote in a blog.

Messaging apps will also be important inside organizations, as team collaboration grows in popularity. While team collaboration may be a new trend in the unified communications industry, adoption will continue to grow in 2017, said Sandra Gustavsen, an analyst at G Business Systems LLC in Shamong, N.J.

"This concept of centralizing a particular project's conversations, interactions and documentation can make a difference in the successful management and completion of a project," she said.

Cloud infrastructure accumulates interest

Organizations need a robust infrastructure to support the growing adoption of software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps for UC and collaboration.

The use of cloud infrastructure for SaaS apps will grow across the unified communications industry, according to a blog from market research firm Technavio. Some organizations will turn to private cloud infrastructure, since it's considered more secure than public cloud. Others will opt for public cloud as a more cost-effective option. Technavio predicted larger organizations will adopt public cloud infrastructure in 2017.

Software-defined WANs (SD-WAN) will become vital for organizations that want to meet the high bandwidth needs of UC apps and cloud infrastructure, according to Gustavsen. More organizations will consider SD-WAN migrations in 2017, as they look to simplify branch office networking, improve app performance and lower networking costs.

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