Emerging Trends that will influence the enterprise voice communications landscape in 2021

The year 2020 was all about digital technology. Enhanced use of voice solutions like VoiP or cloud hosted PBX further bolstered the shift toward digital voice as companies opted them for easy scalability, cost-effectiveness, and disaster recovery advantages to tide through the pandemic. However, the PRI/SIP-enabled communication system also held its ground as some enterprises favored legacy telephony on account of its familiarity. Various technological advancements are commonly used among large enterprises, but now even SMEs can adopt most of the technologies to drive their business. We are seeing a rise in authentic content marketing and expanded use of digital spaces to create and nurture relationships with consumers, increased demand for chatbots, more widespread use of voice search, a greater focus on and use of data analytics to ascertain consumer intent, increased use of social media marketing and greater emphasis on providing an engaging user experience (UX)

Against this backdrop, let’s take a look at some of the emerging trends that will shape the enterprise voice communications landscape in 2021.

Unified Communications to enter the mainstream

Digital communication and collaboration took the center stage in 2020. Amid the social distancing mandate compounded by a growing focus on health and hygiene, individuals and organisations alike switched to video and audio-conferencing tools to streamline workflows and maintain business productivity. The need for a unified communication system that integrates voice, video, and data channels, therefore, surged in the post-pandemic world more than ever before.

With companies increasingly tapping into the limitless potential of innovative digital alternatives to physical get-togethers and meetings, this trend is expected to carry forward into 2021 and beyond. It will be complemented by the increased adoption of mobile VoIP systems enabled by SIP. The coming year will see more and more professionals using app-based virtual numbers to effectively communicate with clients anytime, anywhere. Leading unified communication solutions providers will help new-age enterprises drive productivity by deploying a host of features across integrated telephone systems. It includes caller ID, voicemail, call recording-forwarding-scheduling, direct inward/outward dialing, call hunting and call masking

BYOD and remote work will rule the roost

Before 2020, BYOD and remote work were a little more than buzzwords. After the viral outbreak hit the world, these two concepts transformed from being an exception to becoming the rule almost overnight. Even amid the lockdown-led restrictions, startups, and SMEs endeavored to ensure that their brand value does not suffer. Therefore, they quickly turned to an agile communication system to ensure high levels of productivity as well as robust customer service even as their employees worked from home. In 2021, brands are likely to continue leveraging advanced voice solutions, instant messaging, video conferencing, etc. to maintain a competitive edge.

AI-enabled smart VoIP assistants will become the norm

A key reason why companies are moving toward Cloud telephony solutions is that they want to provide 24/7 service to their customers. Digital communication solutions equip professionals with the flexibility to address customer queries anytime, anywhere. Therefore, forward-thinking organisations are integrating AI into their telephony systems to not only streamline everyday tasks such as routing calls or diverting calls to voicemail but also to deliver more personalised service to customers.

The combination of AI and VoIP has the potential to radically enhance the customer service offering of an organisation. 2020 had already seen a spike in the adoption of AI-driven chatbots as companies struggled to deal with the increased quantum of calls and customer queries amid the pandemic. In the coming year, more companies will leverage chatbots and programmed voice response to automate responses to basic queries. This will help them save not only time and costs but also the human resource that can then be applied for dealing with queries that are more complicated or urgent in nature.

AI can also help enterprises eliminate linguistic barriers by analysing speech patterns and enabling real-time call translations. This feature can enable professionals to cut across linguistic boundaries when reaching out to customers, especially in a linguistically diverse country such as India.

Increased focus on privacy and cybersecurity

The pandemic witnessed an alarming rise in the instances of cyberattacks on businesses. In its wake, companies have begun focusing more on their cybersecurity front to ensure that their networks as well as customers’ data and privacy are not compromised. Responsible organisations will continue to optimise their voice solutions with encryption technology such as TLS/SRTP and authentication codes to protect phone calls and messages against malicious threat actors. The future of cybersecurity will revolve around Business Continuity on disaster situation, Remote Collaboration tools, Internet- last mile, Security & Cloud (BRISC)

Increased demand for UCaaS

The past half-decade has witnessed the continuous consolidation of communication channels into an integrated service, resulting in the rise of Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS). These services rely on VoIP technology to provide integrated telephony solutions and other features such as web and video conferencing, team collaboration, instant messaging, faxing, etc. 2021 will see more and more companies opting for cloud-hosted UCaaS solutions for setting up their communications networks. One of the biggest advantages of using UCaaS is that it can save both time and money when setting up their communications networks. Companies would no longer have to purchase and install separate video and audio equipment, instant messaging software, and voice solutions while enjoying a competitive advantage over their peers.

Predictive analysis and data science

Predictive Analytics is an advanced data science technique including data mining and machine learning to forecast future events with a high level of reliability and accuracy. All modern enterprises recognize data as a valuable commodity. In the coming year, they will increasingly accrue data from customer interactions and use predictive analysis to identify key challenges and train executives to offer better customer experiences. With the right predictive analytics tools, businesses can gain a forward-looking perspective of their customers’ behavior and make smarter decisions for their business. Predictive analytics has been proven to increase revenue and efficiency in several companies and help them meet their goals.

VoIP and WebRTC

In the near future, VoIP technology will offer real-time communications solutions like live video support, instant calls, etc. 2021 is primed to be the year when the marriage of WebRTC and VoIP marks the preliminary step in this direction. The combination will also enable seamless file-sharing and direct calls from web browsers without the need for adding widgets or plugins.

Here’s the bottom line: Rise of hybrid voice solutions

Every business has its own needs and requirements. Some of the factors enterprises consider while deciding which communication solution to deploy include employee strength, cost-effectiveness, scalability, information security, etc. That said, both digital and analogue voice solutions offer distinct advantages for business communication. Therefore, modern businesses are increasingly leveraging a combination of Cloud-hosted, SIP and PRI-based communication setups. An optimal mix of telecommunication tools that strikes the right balance between performance and budget can help enterprises glean the best of both worlds in 2021 and beyond.

By Joyjeet Bose, Senior Vice- President- SME Operations, Tata Teleservices