A Look at the State of the Industry

Communications technology is always changing, but there are some clear trends that will be shaping this sector in 2021, according to IAUG members and industry analysts.

Supporting the remote workforce, moving to cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) applications are high on the list.

“Many members have been asking for insights and tips for staff working from home,” said Jayne Hogle, telecommunications manager at American Heart Association | American Stroke Association, and former IAUG board member. “I think we will see the number of physical offices shrink significantly in the future. That will require functionality changes in the conferencing space to accommodate this shift.”

Slade Besson, director of telecommunications and networking for Nicholls State University and IAUG board member, agrees. “Remote work is here to stay,” he said. “Last year, everyone had to find a way to keep their organizations going. Now, the communication providers are enhancing their remote offerings and tailoring their products to meet concerns like cybersecurity.”

Moving to cloud

Hogle, Besson and analysts expect the move to cloud-based services and platforms will accelerate this year. Avaya’s UCaaS (unified communications as a service) and CCaaS (contact center as a service) support that migration, said Besson. “After the pandemic hit last year, we worked with RingCentral and Avaya Cloud Office (ACO) to provide a solution on top of our legacy Nortel system so our employees could work from home,” he said.

A recent forecast from International Data Corporation (IDC) indicates that worldwide spending on cloud services, infrastructure, and professional and managed services will surpass $1 trillion in 2024. “Cloud in all its permutations will play ever greater, and even dominant, roles across the IT industry for the foreseeable future,” said Richard L. Villars, group vice president, Worldwide Research at IDC.

By the end of 2021, based on lessons learned in the pandemic, most enterprises will put a mechanism in place to accelerate their shift to cloud-centric digital infrastructure and application services twice as fast as before the pandemic, Villars added.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications are moving from the pilot phase into operations at many organizations. “I see AI and ML becoming more a part of our daily interactions, especially in the contact center,” said Hogle.

For instance, AI applications can provide more efficient call routing, as well as looking at call quality for remote works, said Besson. “On the customer side, AI and ML are increasingly important in delivering a better experience, especially with higher call volumes since the pandemic began. In general, the better the AI, the better the user experience.”

In fact, “AI engineering” is one of Gartner’s “Top 20201 Strategic Technology Trends.” A robust AI engineering strategy will facilitate delivering the full value of these investments, said the Gartner report. “AI engineering offers a pathway to the mainstream DevOps process rather than a set of specialized and isolated projects. It brings together various disciplines to tame the AI hype. It is the operationalization of AI accountability.”

Edge computing

Edge computing is another technology sector expected to grow this year, in keeping with the shift to cloud-based services that support a remote workforce.  Moving data storage and applications from a centralized system to the edge of the network, can benefit the end user with shorter latencies, robust security, responsive data collection, and lower costs.

Frost & Sullivan projects strong growth in this sector, and estimates that 90 percent of industrial enterprises will use edge computing by 2022, according to a recent study, “5G and Edge Computing—Cloud Workloads Shifting to the Edge.”

“The recent launch of 5G technology coupled with multi-access edge computing (MEC) brings computing power close to customers and also allows the emergence of new applications and experiences,” said Renato Pasquini, ICT research director at Frost & Sullivan. “Going forward, 5G and MEC are an opportunity for telecom operators to launch innovative offerings and also enable an ecosystem to flourish in the business-to-business segment of telecom service.”

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