2017 has been a big year for Unified Communications (UC). Over the past year, enterprises of all sizes and across all industries have come to realize the need to adopt robust UC solutions in order to gain greater agility and connectivity, and improve the customer experience. At the same time, players in the UC market have also been actively pursuing further growth opportunities and are focusing on innovations to gain a larger share of the market.
As 2017 comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the highlights and trends that shaped (and also disrupted) the UC space. VoipReview recently caught up with Todd Carothers, the Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing at CounterPath, a trusted provider of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and UC solutions for enterprises and carriers, to discuss the movers and shakers he saw in the UC space in 2017. Carothers also shared with VoipReview some exciting developments that CounterPath will be offering to the market soon.
The Rise and Impact of Slack
Slack, a cloud-based set of team collaboration tools and services, has enjoyed immense popularity and growth this year, with average daily users reaching upwards of 6 million. Because of its popularity among all businesses, 2017 became the year for “copying” Slack--most notably its ‘persistent team’ feature of keeping conversations going on a perpetual basis.
Carothers argues, however, that while Slack picked up steam this year, the platform doesn’t have too much of an impact on the high-end enterprise market. “Previously, Microsoft tried to buy Slack, but when that didn't work out, they built their own version: Microsoft Teams,” stated Carothers. “We are finding that a lot of customers use Slack today in small and medium-sized enterprises but are looking for a better solution that integrates into their call platform.”
According to Carothers, Slack’s introduction of new features such as voice calling, mobile integration, and even a screen share option, has also created a silo due to its non-acceptance by big vendors. “While Slack may have proved the overall need for presence meeting rooms/discussion areas in businesses, the ‘silo’ that it has created by not effectively bridging the old and the new worlds is problematic,” he said. “And that has left itself all on its own.”
UC Moving into SMBs
For Carothers, this year also saw the UC marketplace put more of a focus on SMBs. “Full unified communications is for the enterprise, mostly due to the cost required to get the perfected experience,” said Carothers. “However, 2017 saw some solutions bring forward the UC value at an affordable price, and SMBs responded! We have seen in 2017 a UC push in the SMB market that we haven’t seen before, and we’re also seeing this growth in large carrier accounts that are selling to SMBs.” Carothers believes we can anticipate that more advanced services will be developed for the small businesses market going forward.
Use of Mobile VoIP for Retailers
The rise in mobile VoIP use for retailers is growing as well, revealed Carothers. Instead of using old-school Motorola-like walkie-talkies, retailers have been adopting UC communications for their store employees. “We are seeing more of this inside of retail because it makes it easy to transfer communications in-store and between stores, as well as use IM for a better overall experience for customers – and for employees. If a customer asks for an item they don’t see on the shelves, associates can quickly check with other team members on site – or at a sister location – and get an instant update on inventory,” said Carothers.
Enhanced Contact Center Operations
Carothers also observed a significant improvement in contact center operations this year, specifically the shift away from traditional shared call line appearance models. According to Carothers: “These models are ancient, and companies are now using messaging and presence within the enterprise to upgrade their caller status for their call centers.” And now, instead of busy lamp fields, companies are using ‘presence’ and IM for a richer experience. Carothers also noticed the increasing usage of analytics in the contact center, along with software development kits (SDKs). “Also, customers are leveraging our SDK to insert datagrams that provide information about a customer as they enter the call center queue. This way, they don’t enter the call center ‘cold’,” he added.
What CounterPath Brings to the UC Market
When it comes to communications for the modern workforce, CounterPath is one of the names that today’s businesses depend on. A trusted provider of over-the-top (OTT) UC solutions as well as desktop and mobile VoIP solutions, CounterPath helps teams connect using voice, video, messaging and presence--on multiple devices and across multiple platforms.
CounterPath started in the softphone industry--and they are still known for their rock-solid softphone. But Carothers noted that the company has been focusing less on the softphone itself and are putting more effort into the softphone experience. “We have looked at and given attention to things like handover capabilities (switching between WiFi and LTE) so that calls don't drop,” shared Carothers. “We have built a whole platform called Stretto that focuses on usability for provisioning, user metrics, handover, push capabilities, a battery saver option, and even a message and presence service capability add-on.” But aside from these, Carothers mentioned they are bringing the next level of the UC/softphone experience with their newest collaboration feature, which will be rolled out soon: Threaded Communications.
“We will be offering Threaded Communications, an idea that we have been working on for a year and a half now,” said Carothers. “It is centered around how people actually communicate.” This feature embraces the persistent team concept: not just in regards to direct communications, but all types of interactions. For Carothers, he believes it is important to have the capability to view all interactions in one place because, at end of the day, users are trying to achieve continuity.
“A lot of communications today starts with an IM or email and then escalates to voice or video,” he said. “So, by having communication history, I can go back and understand context. And with our technology, these threaded communications sync across all devices, too.” Carothers continued: “With Threaded Communications, we are always talking about how we integrate into other platforms or workflows. We will enter the Threaded Communications solution by focusing on session recording that can be easily accessed by other team members and then expand the solution over time.”
Another development CounterPath customers can look forward to is the company’s integration with Skype for Business. “This is an important integration for us because Skype for Business is big, and the move to Microsoft Teams has left a bad taste in a number of users’ mouths because Microsoft is forcing a roadmap that many users don’t want,” said Carothers. “So, there is a big opportunity for us to bridge the best user experience through Bria clients for those users. We are excited about supporting this integration.” And down the road, Carothers shared that there will be a combination of their collaboration solution into Bria X.
CounterPath is a VoIP solutions provider that designs, develops, and supplies innovative VoIP and UC products that are designed to change the face of telecommunications. Founded in 2002, CounterPath specializes in the operator, enterprise, and channel markets. Their suite of products and solutions power the voice and video calling, messaging, and presence offerings of leading telecommunications providers such as AT&T, Avaya, BroadSoft, NEC, Verizon, and more.