This week we sat down with three members of the N4Engage team to explore their thoughts on the past, the present, and the future of Unified Communications. Here’s what Scott Miller, Will Chapman, and Jordan Kirby had to say…
Let’s start with the introductions…
Scott: I joined the team back in 2008 as a Support Desk Analyst. Fast forward 12 years and i’m a Project Team Leader looking after new telephony projects, involving a range of technologies and platforms. Myself and my team work with customers to ensure they get the most out of their telephony solutions, starting from day one scoping of a solution, configuration, and testing – all the way to delivery, ensuring a customer is happy that their requirements and expectations have been met and, in most cases, exceeded.
Will: I’ve been a part of the team for the last six years working as a Collaboration Systems Engineer. While no day ever looks the same my primary role is to support the infrastructure used by the rest of the team. This tends to involve hardware or software support, working with vendors and carriers, investigating complex ongoing support issues, developing new features for internal or customer use, and evaluating existing and potential software/hardware for use.
Jordan: I’ve been here just a little longer than Will, joining back in 2013. My role is that of Technical Manager meaning you can usually find me working with our development team on the design and testing for our in-house management systems, working with suppliers on new products, and assisting our pre-sales and support teams with anything they might need.
What’s the biggest innovation you’ve seen in Unified Communications (UC)?
Jordan: That depends how far back you go! For me the biggest innovation has to be the advent of VoIP/SIP based telephony platforms. Several of the opensource PBX solutions really helped drive the adoption and (when implemented correctly) trust in VoIP. Suddenly you didn’t need the big rack-based PBX, you could get a server (or even an old desktop) and run a very capable PBX from it for only the cost of the hardware. I can remember the day it dawned on me how big that could be whilst testing out Asterisk on an old laptop for a project that needed to capture and store DTMF key presses for a post call survey.
I’ve seen VoIP go from being brand-new and running over the internet with a lot of problems, to running over MPLS or private circuits with QoS profiles to guarantee bandwidth for calls, and now back again to running over the internet (with less problems!) in the form of Webex Calling and Microsoft Teams.
Scott: I’d say there’s been two key innovations recently. Firstly, the growth of home-working has brought to light the importance of video during calls and has increased the demand for video conferencing capabilities. Being able to see the person that you are speaking to during a phone call can improve understanding, efficiency, productivity, communication and streamlines collaboration, along with helping to build better relationships.
Ensuring you have the required bandwidth for video calling to be possible is essential. We’re finding that many customers are now making use of 5G networks, whether this be on their mobile device, corporate backup connection or at home in a rural location.
Will: I think for me the transition to cloud-based phone systems has been far faster than I expected. Traditionally, larger organisations preferred solutions that kept call traffic on dedicated links rather than over the internet. However, bandwidth and reliability improvements over the last few years – plus the unexpected need for remote working – has seen larger businesses move to entirely internet cloud-based solutions.
How do you think the pandemic has impacted the industry?
Will: I’d argue one of the reasons that the transition to cloud-based phone systems has been so rapid (and therefore so innovative) is due to the pandemic. Remote working increased the need for businesses to move to internet cloud-based solutions as they are generally easier to deploy for home users and do not require VPNs.
Jordan: I agree with Will. The pandemic has normalised working from home and therefore collaboration over standard home internet connections has become normalised too. As internet connections become cheaper, lower latency and more stable the drive for QoS controlled MPLS circuits to run voice and video services over is reducing.
Scott: There has been a huge realisation that users need to be able to work from anywhere. Many companies who have ageing phone systems or technology that doesn’t work well in home-based environments have struggled to operate effectively during the pandemic. Pressure has been put on these types of systems, as well as the connectivity that users working from home are utilising – not only in relation to telephony but all other related systems that rely on said connectivity.
Are there any recent, or upcoming, features or products that you’re particularly excited about?
Scott: N4Engage’s collaboration portfolio continues to grow, and within our HCS offering there are regular updates to our end user clients, one of which is Webex. The Webex Meetings and Webex (formally Webex Teams) client feature sets are starting to be merged which is fantastic, as the product is becoming more powerful with features that many users have experience with. Other exciting and useful features such as transcription, expression recognition and further bot integration functionality make the client current and feature rich.
Will: I think Webex Contact Center is going to be a really powerful tool that can be applied on top of non-Cisco systems. So it could well end up being a effective tool for both Webex and Microsoft Teams users. Watch this space!
Jordan: I’m excited by the new SIPLink management platform and routing engine that we are currently building. It is going to allow much quicker provisioning, a more flexible product and ultimate self-service. From a product perspective, I would agree with Will – Cisco Webex Contact Center v2 looks amazing. It will be a big enhancement to our Contact Center offering over the coming months.
If you had to predict something for the future of UC, what would it be?
Jordan: Vendor-sprawl. Not so long ago you generally wouldn’t have considered getting different components of your collaboration system from different vendors. Nowadays organisations are opting for the vendor that’s right the job even if it means utilising multiple vendors. Luckily all these vendors have APIs which allow interoperability and integration, offering organisations the freedom to pick the solutions that match their requirements. It is very much a customer driven market rather than vendor and I think we’re going to see that continue.
Scott: I predict that IP (VoIP) based telephony systems will completely replace analogue systems, with calling and video immersion being at the forefront of customers requirements.
Will: The events of the past year have forced organisations to rethink their collaboration strategies, ensuring the technology they use is agile and future-proof. As a result vendors have needed to step up and introduce new features quicker than their competitors. I think we’re going to see technological advancements happening much quicker than ever before. Technology that was predicted for maybe five years down the line will be brought forward in an attempt to overtake competitors.
Have you got any questions for our experts? Get in touch with them now.