State of the UC Industry 2015- NetSapiens CEO Weighs In

[vc_message color=”alert-info” close=”yes” css_animation_delay=”0″]Earlier this month, seven experts in the field of VoIP and cloud communications shared their thoughts in a Q&A style panel discussion titled “State of Unified Communications 2015: Experts Weigh In“. In it, they gave their take on the state of  UC in 2015 and their predictions of what to expect in the future. NetSapiens CEO and Co-Founder, Anand Buch, has decided to weigh in with the NetSapiens perspective.


Unified Communications is a buzzword that has clearly been increasing in popularity, but it is not a buzzword to be ignored. Our industry has not settled, and likely never will, on one definition of the term, but in essence it affects all forms of communication and this is why I would like to contribute to the “State of Unified Communications” discussion. What did I take away from this panel? A few words that come to mind quickly are “alignment” and “validation”.  The panelists speak to several areas that I believe resonate with what we, The NetSapiens Community, are trying to collectively achieve.  

In this article, I highlight 5 topics that I believe to be critical to the UC  discussion.  These trends frequently appeared in the seven panelists’ answers and are highly aligned with our vision at NetSapiens. I have also found these topics to be trending in conversations with our clients and other industry colleagues. Some examples of the panelists’ answers from the original article are included below.


1) Device Independence and Mobility

One of the trends that was brought up multiple times was the concept of disassociating a user or subscriber from a physical device. With this concept, features, functions and the rules that dictate those features and functions are associated with the person and not the multiple devices that they may utilize. This is a familiar concept here at NetSapiens. We built this into our SNAPsolution platform from its inception dating back to deployments in the early parts of the prior decade. Today, we are also expanding this concept to our mobile app “SNAPmobile” and to a fully integrated softphone enabled by WebRTC.

What would you say was a major UC development in the past year?


“Increased shift to cloud-based UCaaS, ongoing “conversational” communications across all modes of contact. Also, increased capabilities for device-independent, online mobile apps to be CEBP-enabled.”


– Art Rosenberg


What will be a game changer in the UC landscape for businesses in the next 12 months?


Mobility has long been the missing link to make UC ubiquitous, and it looks like that gap is being bridged now. Anything new in this space is mobile-centric, and vendors are getting closer to making the mobile experience good enough for everyday use. While smartphone innovation has probably peaked, devices continue getting bigger, reflecting an ongoing shift from voice to video and text as the main sources of utility. Complementing this is the rise of phablets, which will bring end users even deeper into an environment that will make UC a core productivity tool.


-Jon Arnold


2) Browsers as the Goto Application – “The New Normal”

It is evident that notion of OS and device agnostic web-based applications is becoming the ‘new normal’ and that in effect the browser is becoming the ‘desktop’; real-time communications is now clearly taking the same path as well. There have recently been incredible advances in the standardization of rich multimedia functionality that is being built directly into commodity browser technology, specifically with HTML5, WebRTC, etc. NetSapiens has focused primarily on the browser as a user interface for the SNAPsolution platform’s portals. At the time of the SNAPsolution’s initial development,  there was certainly merit and ‘conventional wisdom’ to building native desktop clients for the purposes of backward compatibility to legacy systems while keeping users in their comfort zone, however,  it has always been NetSapiens’ philosophy to keep looking forward and ride the waves of innovation instead of fighting against them. This innovation includes our own WebRTC development that was recently demonstrated at the WebRTC Expo. This includes video conferencing, screen sharing, chat, file share and even a soft client that is directly integrated into our browser-based suite of user portals. The “State of the Unified Communications” panelist, Evan Kirstel, highlighted the potential of WebRTC particularly well:


What would you say was a major UC development in the past year?


The rise of WebRTC and ORTC has opened the door of real time communications to an entire universe of application developers, and we have already seen early WebRTC apps, with an explosion of opportunity ahead of us. The fact that Google and Microsoft have united on a set of standards presents a unique opportunity for developers to embrace real time communications in their web and mobile applications in a way that SIP never managed to do. A tidal wave of innovation will follow.


-Evan Kirstel


3) Applicability of UC Across Diverse Businesses

The benefits of Unified Communications are not limited to a particular type of business. UC can bring rewards to a diverse range of end users if the UC solution meets their specific needs. In order to serve more clients, service providers will need to evolve to deliver more customized solutions.  A business’s use cases for UC can only be met by service providers who have the flexibility to customize their offerings to suit their customer’s region, industry or even their individual circumstances. The diversity of different types of end-users is something that service providers can embrace as an opportunity to differentiate themselves on something other than price.  We have seen the success that our client base has had in customizing their feature set to a wide range of end-users  from a small residential community to large corporate entities who needs to communicate across multiple time zones and continents.


When choosing a VoIP/UC provider, what is the one question that most consumers think is a good question, but is actually pretty inconsequential?


Cost.  Cost variances between providers aren’t enormous, and are often dependent on factors specific to each customer, but in the end features, manageability, and the ability to integrate into the existing environment are far more important success factors.


-Irwin Lazar


Is a UC solution suitable for every type and size of business out there?


This comes down to a question of definition. Does every business need communications tools? Yes. Does every business need mobile access to business information? Again, yes, and that involves communications infrastructure of some kind. UC is a term of art – every businesses need communications tools.


-Sheila McGee-Smith


Is a UC solution suitable for every type and size of business out there?


Yes- UC is for all types of end users involved in a business process, especially when they may be mobile and need the flexibility of UC.


-Art Rosenberg


4) PSTN and “Voice” is Here to Stay

This is another key topic that often appears when discussing new technologies or concepts like Unified Communications. I have found that an overwhelming majority of my colleagues, including myself, can see that the PSTN and “voice” aren’t going away anytime soon. My personal favorite answer during the “State of the UC Industry” discussion came from Elka Popov. When asked about the most underrated feature of UC, she answered, ” A phone call :)”. I would like to illustrate my point using our demonstration at the WebRTC show. We showed what we like to call “the best of both worlds”. One world is the “legacy” voice systems that have been in place for decades which are a crucial part of how many today communicate. The numbers to support this are staggering with no one research effort pointing to anything more than 35% of the market still not having converted to IP-based communications.  The other world is “next generation” communications like WebRTC. Without a way to connect to the legacy world, WebRTC  will remain an island of technology that is cut-off from other forms of communication. NetSapiens bridges the gap between the two by integrating WebRTC enabled features like video conferencing and softclients directly into our platform that also connects to the PSTN. This is what I like to call “innovation with a purpose”. It’s about practical applications for the real world and doing this effectively with the users in mind. We create our roadmap based on feedback from our clients who have a direct pulse on what the market is doing.


What will be a game changer in the UC landscape for businesses in the next 12 months?


Realistically, there are no game changers in any 12 month UC period. Enterprise Comms is a slow game. 12 months is the equivalent of a time-out. We are still dealing with VoIP, convergence, and smartphones. Bottom line is we are more connected than ever before, and more conversant than ever before – yet oddly enterprise comms is less important. The industry promises BYOD and work anywhere, and then wonders why people are using their own apps and not buying hard phones. I am very optimistic that these changes are positive for the industry. Enterprise Comms vendors are slowly shifting from being feature focused to focusing on flexibility, simplicity, and security. These topics were not top of mind a decade ago.


-Dave Michels


Do you think video calls will replace the default audio phone calls as the primary method of communicating?


Depends what is meant by “default.” I suppose desktop to desktop comms between “buddies” will soon be more likely to be video than just audio. But video is not ideal for all situations. The PSTN isn’t going away anytime soon. I prefer video over audio communications for several reasons, yet still find myself on the phone quite a bit. The phone is simple, cheap, effective, and universal. It’s impervious to bad hair days and bad lighting. We don’t lose our telephones nor do their batteries die. Video will continue to increase, but reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.


-Dave Michels


5) Unification of Experience

Last, but certainly not least, is a key trend that I believe to be fundamental to the wide scale adoption of UC and that is the Unification of Experience.  Without the unification of the user experience, you can not have true UC.  We spoke of this with our clients at our annual user group meeting, and we continue to work diligently to maintain a unified experience throughout our platform.  This includes the internal development that we are working on and also the efforts that we are making with continued expansion of interoperability with third parties.


What is one potential feature of way of communicating via UC that as far as you know doesn’t exist, but you’d like to see in the future?


Probably everything I can think of already exists. Perhaps with mobile communications devices becoming primary endpoints for some and desktop phones and PCs remaining table stakes for others, any features that convert the most common modes of communication for mobile users to the most common modes of communication for desk-bound uses (and back) can provide value to both user groups. What I mean is mobile text/SMS to email and email to mobile text, voice call to mobile text/SMS and so on. I suppose what I am also asking for is universal federation across networks, devices and apps.


-Elka Popova


In summary, what’s the key take-away for the NetSapiens Community of Service Providers?  Relative to what was said in this expert panel, we seem to be heading in the right direction and it certainly serves as a good checkpoint.  The disparate pieces of wide scale adoption of UC seem to be converging: availability, education, functionality, usability, etc.  But certainly, I think we can all agree we still all have a lot of collective work to do and certainly can’t get complacent, and as Thomas Edison said  “We shall have no better conditions in the future if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present”.