Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) has gained tremendous traction throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and saw a rapid increase in usage and impact in 2021 with the rise in remote work. Alongside this momentum was the rapid growth of Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) and the overwhelming realization that fully integrated communications platforms that unified these solutions in an elegant way was critical to addressing and improving the actual experiences of people, both internal and external to the organization. Integration of communications and collaboration capabilities into business applications, processes, and workflows is critical.
The move to unified experiences
As an industry, we get so caught up in the alphabet soup of acronyms and category creation that we forget that the letters must live among us from an experiential perspective. So, I’m looking at this communications and collaboration convergence as another signal that customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) were always a continuum and represent two of the three experience pillars alongside the ecosystem, which I’ve referred to collectively as the “experience of things.”
It’s important to frame technology discussions around experiences. For instance, Zoom’s rise as a communications and collaboration provider as remote work became the critical, primary, or only option for most knowledge workers exposed an industry that focused more on the description of the technology than how people were actually experiencing it. Zoom’s rise showed the reality of the “I want that” proverbial metaphor of experiences, whatever “that” experience or thing was.
Zoom became a thing that you do to connect with others in real-time over video at a time when you could not meet in person due to public health restrictions. It was both a thing and a verb people could do simply, so it resonated. It was a tangible experience that didn’t need a technical acronym.
Therefore, in the context of this discussion, Zoom’s attempt to acquire Five9 gave credence to this push for integrated platforms and solutions that offered unified experiences for enterprises, more specifically customers and employees. While that deal subsequently failed, it was a signaling moment. Although Zoom didn’t start this trend or notion, it was the long sought-after Holy Grail for a fully integrated platform that supported both internal and external communications.
This trend towards unified platforms and experiences for people didn’t start with Zoom, however. Leading UCaaS providers such as Cisco, Microsoft, RingCentral, and 8×8 have filled out their platforms and solutions to break the imaginary barrier between UCaaS and CCaaS, either as a single stack or through a tightly integrated solution offering. The barrier is imaginary because it was the technology itself that caused friction in how people experienced internal and external customer workflows and processes.
Changing workplace dynamics increases cloud communications technology demand
As the demand for UCaaS rose, customer support operations also became more dependent on cloud communications and contact center services to meet customer needs. Customer support agents working remotely created a major disruption to work routines, as business operations required a higher degree of online interactions. The solution involved the integration of technology platforms to seamlessly support the ability of remote agents to support customers. Cloud infrastructure and services were made for such a time as this.
Research shows the UCaaS market is set to grow just under 15% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2028. Simultaneously, the market for CCaaS is expected to grow at 15% CAGR through 2028. While the data represents separate markets, further technology convergence and integration is likely to impact buyer behavior to evaluate more complete integrated solutions, either from a single vendor or multiple providers. IT leaders and other technology decision makers must consider more flexible and open communications platforms from a solutions perspective that deliver on specific experiences for people.
We have to support experiences
Remote workers will account for 53% of the U.S. workforce in 2022, according to Gartner. This shift will continue to change buyer requirements to support the ability to work from anywhere. Evaluating needs for communications and collaboration for employees and customers requires targeted focus on how people will be experiencing the technology in all interactions. Are customers able to manage or have the tools to create their own experience across all channels? Do customer-facing staff have the internal tools for better communication and collaboration that will extend contextually to support customer experiences? Are employees able to manage their own experiences based on where and how they want to work and interact?
These are the questions that technology decision makers have to ask. The decision framework also includes consideration of the vendor landscape for holistic communications and collaboration solutions that enhance the overall customer experience and the internal employee experience. Decision makers must look at pure-play providers who may focus on UCaaS or CCaaS with the intent of evaluating their levels of integration for a full communications solution for customers and internal employees. Organizations have to look closely at the forward-thinking providers who are making definitive steps for broader, more flexible platforms that support better management and ownership of experiences.