By Danny Windham
A new year brings new projects, new initiatives and new challenges for IT leadership. As new technologies and new deployment models have continued to mature, businesses are becoming more willing (and obligated) to try new things.
It’s helpful to reflect upon and take inventory of the advances that shaped the evolution of your business over the previous year. Perhaps even more crucial is assessing trends of the near future, which will provide leaders and key decision makers within an organization with valuable insights in order to position their business for success.
Over the past several quarters we’ve seen adoption of many new products and services that essentially transfer control of the specific functionality from the IT professionals into the hands of the end users. Bring your own device (BYOD), popular mobile applications such as Evernote, evergreen browsers, and even user-controlled updating of operating systems are all examples of this trend. This trend is driving a renewed emphasis on user experience. For solutions to thrive in this new environment, they must be flexible, cost effective, and easy to set up. Against this backdrop, here are some IT and communications trends expected to dominate 2015, and influence how you grow and manage your business:
IT Spending Increases
With the increased enthusiasm and confidence from U.S. consumers, improvements in the economy, strength in the U.S. dollar, and an expectation of expanded credit and funding opportunities for businesses, the overall trend for companies this coming year is growth - growth in both infrastructure investment and employee count. Gartner Research forecasts that 2015 will be an even better year than 2014 for IT vendors, with companies spending $3.9 trillion. If this prediction is correct, that translates into a 3.7 percent gain over 2014. In the business world, with growth comes an imperative need to properly allocate funds to deliver the best return on investment. You want to focus spending efforts that support growing and servicing your customer base, while saving pennies in any area you can.
Communications Systems in the Cloud
The perception of the cloud has transformed from curiosity to investment, but moving forward, it represents much more than a standalone concept in the IT world. In the area of business phone systems, while sales of on-premises PBX systems have remained at a steady level through recent years, the market for hosted PBX solutions continues to grow as the flexibility and cost savings of this route become common knowledge among SMBs. More and more businesses are switching to cloud-based solutions as a result of the reduced cost and commitment, the decreased IT dependency, scalable growth potential, and the evolving mobile-friendly workforce. Cloud-based services are enabling a fundamental shift in the end user business models, and the entire communications industry is morphing in response to this trend. It’s impacting not only the communications technologies and deployment models, but also the entire value chain of how end users are served.
More Efficient Business Models
The move to the cloud is really about enabling new, more efficient business models, and, in so doing, the inevitable byproducts of that trend will ensue. Selecting the right IT product and service is one thing; now, deciding how to pay for them is an independent decision. This explains why CFOs are realizing the value of using available cash for revenue-generating activities and using OPEX for day-to-day expenses, including communications systems. This trend will continue into 2015, as operational expenses free up capital and require a shorter commitment, which is ideal in an ever-changing tech world. Other impacts of the move to more efficient business models include a reduction of the typical internal IT staff levels, outsourcing of select infrastructure previously deployed on prem, and an improvement in systems’ reliability and scalability as a result of the elastic nature of cloud-based solutions.
The concept of a mobile-friendly workforce will play an even larger role in 2015, as today’s employee takes advantage of flexible work options offered by their employer. Previously, when an employee left the office, the best way of getting in touch with him or her was via a home number or cell phone. Companies will continue to embrace BYOD as a way to control cost, improve productivity, and improve employee morale. 2015 will be the era of enhanced BYOD due to hosted mobile apps and softphones enabling more workers to detach physically from the office, while affording them the full benefits of a traditional desktop experience. A computer, a tablet, a laptop, a desk phone and a mobile phone all have unique utility value in the communications world. Why not enable all of them and allow employees to utilize the one that best serves any specific need? If staying in touch with fellow employees and clients can happen from anywhere, with any device, imagine the talent your company will be able to recruit and retain when your business has no geographical or device restrictions. 2015 further highlights this new age and the opportunities it brings for the remote worker.
SIP trunking offers businesses the benefits of converged communications while saving money by significantly reducing international and long distance call costs as well as the need to purchase physical BRIs, PRIs or PSTN lines for voice. According to numbers from The Eastern Management Group, the SIP trunking communication industry is growing by 5 million supported devices, per year. Even while hosted VoIP solutions are gaining momentum, there is still a need for dial-tone delivery to on-site communications systems. Organizations that have legacy equipment in use or that require a premises-based PBX are adopting SIP trunking services. Additionally, the industry will inevitably grow in the coming years. An Infonetics Research report stated that 58 percent of American businesses said they plan to use SIP trunks in 2015, up from 38 percent in 2014.
Integration of Communications Tools
As the integration of real-time communications tools continues to evolve in 2015, businesses will realize tremendous benefit from the ability to better collaborate and streamline business processes. WebRTC is an emerging standard that enables users to make voice and video calls through web browsers without needing to download plugins or implement a media client. As an overall communications category or trend, the concept of WebRTC is certainly gaining ground, but it is merely a development upon the bigger trend of integrating communications features and functions into virtually every aspect of a business.
From the coffee shop to the conference room, 2015 will be the year of mobility, integration of communications, and user experience. Businesses of all sizes will construct the new mainstream and execute on the groundwork established by new services, new archetypes, and new platforms within the business communications realm.
Danny Windham is the CEO of Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.