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UC Roundup: Windstream, Wildix 2021 UCC Trends Amid COVID-19

Migration from premise-based to cloud-based systems will further accelerate in 2021.

Edward Gately

December 11, 2020

11 Min Read
UC Roundup
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For 2021, Windstream and Wildix cite numerous UCC trends guided by the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beyond technological breakthroughs, 2021 UCC trends will be defined by evolving buying and distribution habits, Wildix said. And continuing work-from-home models will drive specialized needs for such solutions.

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Wildix’s Robert Cooper

“The coronavirus pandemic has required many companies to rethink their business plans,” said Robert Cooper, managing director of Wildix Americas.

Among 2021 UCC trends, applications designed with a mobile-first approach will be the key differentiator for providers moving forward. That’s according to Austin Herrington, Windstream’s vice president of product management.

Businesses will move up plans to migrate from premises-based to cloud-based systems, he said. This will offer a wider range of mobile capabilities.

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Windstream Enterprise’s Austin Herrington

“Even with cloud solutions, phone hardware sales will continue to decline in favor of soft client apps, WebRTC and other IP-based delivery,” Herrington said. “There will be more emphasis on reporting and analytics around employee productivity. Remote working will place even greater importance on security as organizations begin to rely on sometimes unpredictable home networks and employee behavior away from the office. Each of these trends will have significant impacts on verticals like health care with the rise of telehealth, education with remote teaching and more.”

There’s increasing confusion and a general lack of confidence among organizations approaching the UCC technology market, Wildix said. That’s because new versions of hardware and software quickly render previous models obsolete.

To remedy this, technology providers are increasingly offering subscription-based, as-a-service sales models. Hardware and software is rolled out and installed as soon as updated versions become available. Wildix anticipates as-a-service UCC deployments will continue to grow. At the same time, demand for and profitable use of the traditional one-off sales will shrink.

Also among UCC trends is better mobile and meeting technologies.

“Mobile and meeting technologies will continue to evolve to enable better interactions,” Herrington said. “For example, AI support for digital assistants to provide meeting notes, actions and scheduling will become more intuitive and accepted.”

This trend will also drive adjacent adoption of remote workspace tools, he said. That includes more immersive audio and visual IoT devices, security and performance appliances for home office users.

Many organizations responded to the pandemic with increased investments in business continuity, or digital architecture, Wildix said. That enables businesses to continue regular processes amid compromising external factors.

For the foreseeable future, business will continue to be conducted remotely, Herrington said. The lack of in-person interaction can present challenges. But there’s no better opportunity to showcase the remote capabilities of solutions than selling them in that very same manner.

“The mix of channels utilized for technology providers like Windstream will also shift to include more online presence, and remote demo and purchasing capabilities,” he said. “This could also impact the mix of channel partners who operate in this space with the enablement of more remote channels coming into play.”

In addition, there’s little question that business travel will remain down in the foreseeable future, Wildix said. Even when travel restrictions are lifted, video conferencing and webinar solutions have normalized remote meetings and presentations. That minimized costs associated with business travel. With that in mind, greater scrutiny of business travel costs is among anticipated UCC trends next year.

Also amid UCC trends, Wildix expects more opportunities for companies that sell directly to customers instead of resellers or MSPs. It’s important for MSPs to compete by making use of the as-a-service sales model. They should also stress recognizable branding whenever possible.

“There will be a partial return to the workplace with pre-cautions to prevent future outbreaks,” Herrington said. “But we may never see a full return to pre-COVID-19. Organizations who have seen the value in remote work during the pandemic and have invested in it will most likely retain a remote workforce culture going forward.”

Also among UCC trends, retailers, restaurants and hospitality will most likely resurge. But they’ll do so with more online and delivery options enabled by technology, Herrington said.

The new remote workforce may be reticent to returning to normal commutes and office work hours, he said.

“Based on that, we expect the continued growth of UC and online meeting solutions for the foreseeable future,” Herrington said.

AI to the Rescue in Contact Center

The pandemic and race to remote work created new hardships for contact centers. But AI can help contact centers not just survive, but thrive during this difficult time.

That’s according to Anand Janefalkar, founder and CEO of Ujet. A recent study from Ujet and Canam Research shows 74% of respondents either researching or in the process of implementing AI within their contact center.

Also among UCC trends, Gartner predicts that by 2022 70% of customer interactions will involve emerging technologies such as…

…ML applications, chatbots and mobile messaging. That’s up from 15% in 2018.

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Uiet’s Anand Janefalkar

AI can make agents’ jobs easier, allowing more efficient triaging and allocation of resources. It also helps address customer needs across a range of channels and devices.

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, Janefalkar talks more about how contact centers can benefit from AI.

Channel Partners: Can you give some further examples of how AI has helped contact centers in tough times?

Anand Janefalkar: The pandemic added pressure to the contact center from both sides — increasing the volume of incoming interactions while also creating new challenges for agents transitioning to a work-from-home environment.  Taking on the role of virtual agent, AI has helped to deflect a meaningful percentage of incoming interactions and offsetting the agent’s workload, ultimately keeping hold times and SLAs in balance.

With agents and supervisors in separate office environments, and the technology gaps surrounding this change, the typical process for monitoring, coaching and training agents has also strained. By combining natural language processing and ML, AI has taken on the role of robo-supervisor, auditing 100% of interactions, allowing supervisors to focus on the most critical areas so the processes for continuous agent improvement and compliance monitoring can carry on uninterrupted.

AI is dramatically improving the customer experience and driving better business outcomes by leveraging historical data and even behavioral characteristics of the customer and the agent for more intelligent pairing. AI is predicting customer intent and ensuring customers are matched with a live or virtual agent best equipped to resolve their issue.

CP: What sorts of challenges does AI address in contact center?

AJ: Completing simple, non-cognitive tasks so agents, supervisors and administrators can focus on more complex needs. Using conversational AI, agents can help offload many of the incoming interactions and facilitate the self-service model.

Finding the underlying root cause of underperforming metrics may not always be apparent to the human eye. AI can be empowered to make dynamic changes to customer and agent workflows, interactive voice response (IVR) menus, capacity rules and queue assignments to optimize the customer journey and enable the contact center to more quickly react to unforeseen changes.

CP: Are an increasing number of businesses embracing AI in contact centers?

AJ: Adoption of AI solutions is steadily increasing. But the vast majority of inquiries still stop just short of adoption and implementation. There still exists some consumer hesitation as the return on these investments is still widely debated, even among the vendors themselves. Outside of the typical chatbot, the broader use cases are still being defined by the vendors and socialized with the market. More time is needed to socialize the technology, the use cases and most importantly the results. All of which is needed to establish consumer confidence in these solutions before driving more widespread adoption.

CP: Has AI become a competitive advantage in contact center? If so, how?

AJ: Absolutely. Agents can support more complex interactions. Supervisors can focus on the most critical areas for improvement. Customers achieve faster resolution to their issue. And businesses can more quickly adapt to customer requirements. It’s not just an advantage, it’s table stakes for any contact center trying to adapt to ever changing landscape.

CP: Do you have tips for successfully implementing and getting the most benefit from AI in the contact center?

AJ: First, be crystal clear about what specific problem you’re trying to solve. From there, set out to define what success will look like. And work with your vendors to build a plan to get there. AI can’t solve all problems and it often takes considerable ongoing investment. So be very thoughtful about how technology can be applied to move the needle for one particular problem at a time, rather than a broad sweeping makeover.

Lifesize Beefs up CxEngage CCaaS

Lifesize this week unveiled new features and integrations for its CxEngage CCaaS platform.

These enhancements allow contact center agents to be more effective in their work. That results in better omnichannel customer experiences.

New integrations include:

  • AutoReach, an intelligent dialer that helps sales or other outbound teams reach their customers sooner and more reliably.

  • Observe.AI, a combination of voice AI and ML that transcribes calls, creates opportunities to evaluate and coach agents, and condenses the quality assurance process.

  • Omilia, an AI-powered virtual assistant that focuses on customer care tasks.

  • Chat enhancements.

Andy Bird is director of product management for contact center solutions at Lifesize.

“New opportunities for partners will predominantly materialize through the newly announced integrations, as partners will have the chance to implement solutions from multiple leading vendors that work in harmony and compound results,” he said. “For example, Telarus is…

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Lifesize’s Andy Bird

…a key channel partner for both Lifesize and Observe.AI, so they will have increased opportunities to bring both integrated technologies into a sale.”

These features and integrations make CxEngage an even more versatile, globally scalable and interconnected platform, Bird said.

“By further capitalizing on CxEngage’s core strengths – like omnichannel support and routing – while opening up to more best-of-breed integrations for everything from AI to workforce optimization, Lifesize partners will have a more competitive CCaaS offering with which to serve customers,” he said.

Ooma Direct Routing for Microsoft Teams

Ooma is now offering Direct Routing for Microsoft Teams through a global data network.

It connects Teams users to external phone lines and transforms Teams into a business phone system. Every device enabled with the Teams app becomes a fully functional business phone. Non-technical system administrators can make changes once the system is up and running.

Teams does not include an out-of-the-box connection to the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Beagle-David_Ooma.jpgDave Beagle is senior director of channels at Ooma.

“Microsoft Teams is rapidly gaining popularity, reaching 115 million active daily users last month, creating a huge new market opportunity for Ooma’s channel partners to support organizations building their telecommunications infrastructure around Teams,” he said. “One missing piece of the puzzle for Teams deployment is an easy and affordable way to connect users to the PSTN. Ooma’s Direct Routing for Microsoft Teams allows our channel partners to provide that connection through an aggressively and flexibly priced service that is easy to implement, customize and manage.”

Ooma serves a network of 2 million users through seven global data centers. The company is using the data centers to provide PSTN connectivity for Teams.

New Zoom Phone Opportunity for Partners

The Zoom Certified Integrator Program has been extended to include Zoom Phone. The program now allows partners to become certified in delivering Zoom Phone.

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Zoom’s Laura Padilla

Laura Padilla is Zoom’s head of global business development and channel.

“Zoom Phone certified integrators can build services around Zoom Phone, providing value-added services to customers such as design, deployment and management of Zoom’s video-first UC platform,” she said. “The program offers additional benefits, such as engagement with the Zoom professional services organization team, collaboration with the Zoom Phone design team, and branding opportunities including a Zoom Phone certified integrator logo, as well as a listing on the Zoom partner locator.”

Over the past year, Zoom has enhanced its partner program. It also significantly grew its partner business with over 200% growth in partner deal registrations.

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About the Author(s)

Edward Gately

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

As news editor, Edward Gately covers cybersecurity, new channel programs and program changes, M&A and other IT channel trends. Prior to Informa, he spent 26 years as a newspaper journalist in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona.

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