As an independent consulting company, we have the privilege of working with many organisations. This independence means we sit on the customer side of strategy, reviews, requirements gathering, and decisions. There are a few trends we have seen this year.
Firstly, the Covid-19 year – this must be the year of enabling unified communications. No other single event in our careers has ever pushed through as much technology change, at anything like the pace we have seen. Organisations quickly reacted to lockdowns with the need to work away from the office. Most of these changes were made with little change management by IT teams and their suppliers, who did amazing work in an incredibly brief time.
So, what were the highlights from 2020?
Unified Communication and Collaboration is here and being used
Mobile use is dominant and still growing
The internet is becoming more important as remote working grows.
1) Covid-19 has been the year of Unified Communication adoption
The business case for cloud has always been difficult to justify. Purchasing hardware is cheaper, but ensure you are in a position to justify and articulate well (and regularly) the massive operational benefits provider by IaaS and Cloud providers. Automation, scalability and availability are typically the advantages straight out of the box. However, don’t forget to ensure your sponsors are aware of the significant operational and cost benefits that must be factored into any Cloud business case. These benefits include platform and environment redundancy, datacentre security, cooling and clean power, hardware resiliency, as well as operational activities that no longer need to be funded out of your wages budget and the list goes on…
After many years of planning and talk, Unified Communications is here. Outside of complex call control and specialised campus-based requirements, Unified Communications platforms are the only system we see customers putting in.
Virtually the only Unified Communication system being put in is Microsoft Teams. Whatever you think of Microsoft, they have done a tremendous job of building a set of features that appeal to the commercial and government sectors.
We see plenty of Zoom users too. Almost all of these are in addition to Microsoft Teams’ implementations (at its various stages). Zoom was an easy tool to rollout during lockdown and has many excellent features that have, arguably, led the Video Collaboration market. However, organisations must consolidate systems to save costs and effort, and when it comes time to do this, Microsoft Teams is an easy choice.
There are several reasons for this:
Microsoft Teams is a natural extension of Office 365 from a user and technical implementation perspective
Many companies had sub-sections of Teams implemented prior to Covid-19. This meant it was easily extended during lockdown
Feedback from customers was that users picked up the platform quickly, it worked and was liked by users. It’s easy to underestimate how much familiarity with the system and “it just worked” has influenced decisions
Microsoft has built clever tools to help users work easily between its Office files and Teams. The skills to conference call, video call, and chat are similar to other Microsoft applications, which are almost universally used by organisations
Organisations are wary about an unconstrainted Teams channel creation, file sharing, and management of the SharePoint platform. However, the Unified Communication aspects of Teams are well understood and can be rolled out with SharePoint functionality constrained or implemented at a different pace.
From an Edge Communication point of view, we have been a big user of video and desktop sharing for some years. One of the first changes we noticed in lockdown was that people started to default to video being on during meetings. Up until then, most meetings outside our organisation started with a blank screen. Not anymore – it’s great to see smiling faces 😊
“Firstly, the Covid-19 year – this must be the year of enabling unified communications. No other single event in our careers has ever pushed through as much technology change, at anything like the pace we have seen”.
2) Mobile is as dominant as ever
Mobile continues to be popular, and amongst our clients, the dominant and preferred communication tool. Here are some of the reasons we think this has happened:
It’s easy to forget the productivity that mobile devices have delivered, especially as apps become more refined. While it’s true that mobiles have led to blurring between work and home life, consider the time saving and functionality these devices have delivered. In short, many people wouldn’t be without their mobiles
Except for top-end model hardware prices, operating costs for mobile continue to move down, with more data the top request from organisations. This cost reduction means mobile operating costs compare favourably to other options, especially when all costs are considered
In general, pricing is down although we have to say it is difficult to analyse for many reasons. When we work in this area for our customers, we notice there is always a reduction, although multiple factors influence price and it can be difficult to work this out. In general, the Total Cost of Ownership model is the best way of figuring out cost
In general, organisations see hardware funding down, per month calling down, data allowances are up
With the improving Microsoft Teams client, the mobile is increasingly able to take on the role of a single device.
3) Data services – Wide Area Networks and the Internet
Continuing a multi-year trend, connecting staff with applications, systems, and data via an organisation’s WAN is evolving from smaller but guaranteed bandwidth MPLS services to multiple high bandwidth Internet circuits. This has several implications for organisations, particularly those with critical up-time requirements. Some of the trends we have seen are:
Large increases in bandwidth
Decreasing overall costs
Connecting to the internet is becoming more critical as applications and services move into the cloud
Organisations may use more than one telecommunication vendor to supply diverse connections
Solutions such as SD WAN, can utilise multiple circuits together increasing bandwidth, and improving availability, particularly if diverse connections are used.
5G – not so much…
Without getting ourselves in trouble from telecommunications companies, 5G is still mostly hype. It promises much faster mobile speeds, lower latency and more capacity, but these benefits are largely invisible outside the advertising pitch and a few sites, mostly in the centre of some cities.
We have no doubt 5G will eventually add a lot of value to our organisations, however, we are not sure it is going to be used outside densely packed urban areas where greater cell tower density, needed for high frequency 5G, can be justified. At least in the medium term.
In rural areas, where low frequency 700Mhz 4G is the workhorse of connectivity, this is unlikely to change for some time to come. We have little doubt that just as the industry developed and then rolled out lower frequency technology for 3G and 4G, the same will happen to 5G. In the meantime, don’t hold your breath.
– Kerry McFetridge