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It still amazes me how quickly the communication landscape has changed for enterprises. We can divide that change into three different categories: data, voice, and platform. Each one contributed differently and helped push the boundaries of the other. First let’s consider data transmission. Fiber optic prices dropped, which led to copper replacement and an exponential increase in capacity. This in turn caused data transmission to change from slow and expensive to fast and affordable. Bits per second became Megabits, and now Gigabits per second are the new normal. Far gone are the days when enterprises had to struggle with monthly internet limits and time wasted to download large files.
These improvements in data transmission and connectivity contributed to a new voice standard, namely a move from the PSTN to IP. Voice communication was no longer dependent on the telecoms exclusive pipes but leveraged the internet, which is open to all. The doors were now wide open for a new breed of service providers, which later became known as Over the Top (OTT) providers. The OTTs, which were initially underestimated by traditional telecom players, later became their worst nightmare and leapfrogged enterprise voice communications. Some of the notable OTT offerings are still widely known and used today.
The evolution in data and voice communication has been shaking things up in the enterprise space, but the last category—the platform—is by far the most disruptive, especially with the introduction of the “cloud” concept. Not only has it challenged the long-established norm, but also leveled the competitive landscape across all enterprises, regardless of their size. Cloud computing brought a lot more than just cost reductions; it moved the platform from the enterprise premises where growth was limited and came at great effort, to a place where scalability is directly tied to profitability and resources are effortlessly available in seconds instead of days, weeks, or months. Enterprises can now pivot their entire business plan and adapt to new challenges quickly without the need to touch their existing physical infrastructure.
"UCaaS changed the very fabric of how enterprises interact internally and externally, generating new workflows and enhancing productivity level"
Looking back 5 to 10 years, the non-traditional players, i.e. the OTTs, were introducing a new way to communicate that completely changed the paradigm and advanced that evolution curve for both the enterprises and the communications service providers (CSPs). Namely, the introduction of Unified Communications (UC) combined what were previously different communication channels operating in separate silos. Voice, email, conferencing and video were now merged into a single platform. The cloud has also influenced UC and inspired a new concept we know today as Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS). UCaaS is one of the fastest growing services in the telecom sector, and it is not slowing down. The reason for the continuous growth is simple– it continues to evolve and keeps addressing the requirements for both traditional and new-generation enterprises. It introduced a new concept called collaboration, which changed the very fabric of how enterprises interact internally and externally, generating new workflows and enhancing productivity level.
The same way the cloud influenced real-time communications, it is also disrupting the connectivity plane. While connectivity prices may have dropped, they still account for a significant amount of an enterprise’s recurrent costs, especially if guaranteed bandwidth and dedicated data pipes are required. IP Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) helped enterprises extend their private connectivity across different geographic locations, offering reliability and management options when compared to typical Direct Internet Access (DIA) connections. It also provides more functionalities and performance than the older Dedicated Circuit (DC) connectivity option. However, the price for IP MPLS still plays a factor in the business plan of many enterprises, which is why Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SDWAN) is currently such a success. SDWAN allows enterprises to aggregate their existing unmanaged broadband connections and turned them into a secure network that can expand across all branches and be centrally managed. It offers almost all the advantages of IP MPLS but at a fraction of the cost. The other significant gain of SDWAN is the simplicity to deploy and manage, which results from merging both cloud and connectivity concepts. Enterprises now can have end-to-end visibility of their network and control over their network applications without the need for expensive infrastructure or a large network engineering team.
So, what is the next significant milestone in enterprise communications? The answer seems to lie in new frontiers such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Data, voice and platforms (now the cloud) are continually evolving and together made these new technologies available for everyone. Data connectivity is now offering fiber speeds via wireless (look at 5G), reducing latencies and increasing capacity, allowing for real-time decision-making algorithms to reply in milliseconds. Voice has evolved to a point where speech can be easily understood and converted to text and vice versa. The cloud now offers a tremendous amount of computing power where even the most complex operations can be completed instantly. AI allows enterprises to use bots to interact with their customers and advise on their strategy and help predict future events. ML looks at past data and offers better decision-making insights and knows when specific circumstances deviate from normal operation thresholds. IoT will be the primary data feeder for both AI and ML engines while keeping everything connected. Enterprises will see many of their workflows be automatized, translating into new levels of efficiently and undoubtedly new business ideas and models.
These are exciting times. While it has taken a while to reach this stage, in the past few years communication technologies have reached unexpected heights. The credit should go to the vendors, both startups and traditional, as they have shifted the enterprise communications paradigm and disrupted the conventional telecom ways. At the rate enterprise communication technologies are currently evolving, if I were to write this article again next year, what I am now calling the next significant milestone would then be the typical and commoditized communication channel for all enterprises.
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