Cloud and Managed Communications Services: 2021 Predictions

RufusGrig

14th January 2021

by Rufus Grig

Chief Strategy Officer

Writing this from the UK as we enter into 2021, there is a rather grim sense of a sense of Déjà-vu: lockdown, kids at home, hospitals at capacity, science at the limits of its capability – surely only an idiot would make predictions now?

Well, here goes anyway! What does this particular ‘idiot’ think are going to be the important trends in our world of cloud and managed communications services in the coming 12 months?

Long-Term Communication and Collaboration 

Firstly – to the home and remote working. If our businesses survived 2020 it is surely because we’ve already got this problem solved, right?Yes and no. Largely, the initial response to a lockdown was one of expediencegrabbing the first tool that came to hand. And for many, that was a mixture of mobile phones and Microsoft Teams, of “Bring your Own Laptop” and Zoom, of a quick expansion of Virtual Private Network (VPN) capacity and perhaps a crash deployment of Virtual Desktop (VDI).  

 However, as the year progressed – and thinking about the Future of Work (perhaps more accurately described as the “Future of Workplaces”) evolved – it has become clear that the future will eventually become a hybrid of home-based and officebased workers.For effective hybrid working to continue into the long term that means a strategic approach. 

How does your “collaboration” (voice, video, screen, and document sharing) continue to work when some staff are office-based and some at home? How does your use of web-based conferencing cope when some of your employees will be back to being in the car or on a train? How will it work when you have a meeting consisting of people in your office conference room, people at desks in open-plan offices, and people in their home offices (or at kitchen tables)?  

As such, we are seeing a big surge in organisations settling on an integrated communications and collaboration platform. Whether that be “voice-enabling” teams, implementing cloud-communications systems, or a mixture of the two. Insightful organisations are realising that to make all this collaboration effective, the equipment we issue to staff needs to be up to the job too (I’m thinking headsets and cameras etc).Long-term communication and collaboration strategies began to form in 2020, but 2021 is the year it becomes reality.  

Strategic Secure Solutions

Secondly, I’ll turn to security and connectivity. Boy have networks changed. From the default of “I’m in the office, with all the office’s security paraphernalia” we are now in a world where the default is “I’m on my home broadband, sharing a network (and bandwidth) with the Xbox, the Smart TV, umpteen unpatched consumer gadgets, and my teenager’s rooted Android phone” – enough to make the CISO and his team need a stiff drink and a lie-down! 

So, my second prediction is that of better and more strategic approach to securitySecure Access Service Edge, tools like SD-WAN, a Zero Trust attitude to security, and higheravailability solutions like 4G backup will start to make more of an impact. Keeping data secure, ensuring people are available, and that teams are proactive is a priority.Services like Maintel’s own Secure Homeworker are already seeing significant interest and take-up – and not just for the exec team either. There’s a massive application across the organisationfrom knowledge workers, to front line  customer service and contact centre agents. 

Evolving Customer Experience

Which leads me to my final prediction – a shift in the use of Customer Experience technology by both consumers and businesses alike. In the early days of the 2020 lockdown, consumers were extremely tolerant of organisations’ poor service levels and long wait times because contact centres were – just like everyone else – having to make huge adjustments to their operating model. Well, that was nine months ago, and consumers are somewhat justified in expecting better now. 

There are two significant ways CX directors and contact centre managers can continue to support their customers. The first is good support for home-based contact centre agents with all the security, availabilityand voice quality taken care of through services like Secure Homeworker. The second is to take advantage of an existing move – largely consumer-driven – towards an increasingly “digital-first” engagement model, where customers will predominantly “self-serve via website or mobile app. If that self-service fails, there’s then a tier of digital help and support.

This may take the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) but the use of chat powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and using Natural Language Processing (NLP) to automatically identify the customer’s intent are increasingly being used to improve the customer experience and provide support.  

Then, if the situation still can’t be resolved, the transaction is brought to a live agent continuing with either text-chat or a live call to bring the interaction to a successful conclusion. 

So those are my key predictions for 2021Though, I do have one extra one, and it is that this year will continue to provide us with personal and professional challenges, which will continue to accelerate the pace of innovation and the importance of communications technology in both our professional and personal lives. 

With that – I wish you all the best for a very happy, and a safe, 2021. 

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