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Enterprise Connect 2021: Trends and Keynote Highlights

Enterprise Connect is North America’s premier conference for advances in communications, collaboration, and customer experience technologies. In this note, Thomas Randall provides his trends and keynote highlights for Enterprise Connect 2021, held September 27 to 29.

Enterprise Connect is North America’s premier conference for advances in communications, collaboration, and customer experience technologies. In this note, I provide my trends and keynote highlights for Enterprise Connect 2021, held September 27 to 29. Three main themes encapsulate my Enterprise Connect experience: the future of hybrid work, trends in communications technologies, and important product announcements from vendor keynotes (including Microsoft, Cisco, Zoom, RingCentral, and Amazon). Please find a full list of references at the end of this note, available on demand from Enterprise Connect until December 2021.

The Future of Hybrid Work

Several sessions emphasized how central hybrid work will be in a post-COVID world. This was a nascent theme touched upon at last year's Enterprise Connect, and the jury was still out for whether organizations would instruct workers to return to the office. This year, the latest reports confirmed a steady trend toward permanent or fluid remote work:

  • 98% of organizations expect future meetings will involve work-from-home participants (Brent Kelly, KelCor, and Phil Edholm, PKE Consulting).
  • 82% of companies plan to allow remote working post-pandemic (Chris Thorson, Poly).

What this means is that organizations now must proactively manage how their communications and collaboration systems will function. Whereas 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic saw organizations reactively enabling applications to ensure employees could work together remotely, 2021 onwards requires a strategic look at how organizations manage their space needs, such that employees can work together effectively both in and out of the office. That is, we should be asking: beyond mere communications, how can virtual workspaces and in-office infrastructure bring together employees to work-from-anywhere?

There are interesting data points that support organizations’ need for such a strategy:

  • 42% of organizations believe a virtual workspace would improve how they communicate and collaborate – 4.5 times more than they think unified calling and meeting applications could (Zach Bosin, BlueJeans).
  • 87% of executives expect to make changes to their real estate strategy over the next 12 months (Chris Thorson, Poly).

Into 2022, we expect to see organizations investing in how their conference and meeting room spaces are used to reflect fluid interchange of people in the office (perhaps even selling off unused real estate to consolidate space), and how employees can meet in the virtual world to collaborate.

Trends in Communication Technologies

A notable trend for Enterprise Connect 2021 was recognizing that communications and collaboration technologies are increasingly entwining with customer experience platforms. Over the past year, the top three communications applications purchased were unified communications, CRM, and CCaaS, in that order. The top three purchases anticipated in the coming year are CCaaS, CRM, and unified communications, in that order (Vichhivora & Chadinha, 8x8). This change in order is interesting: whereas in 2021 organizations have invested in their unified communications systems to enable remote work, they are now planning to join those systems to their CRM via a CCaaS extension in 2022. Organizations can thereby benefit from unifying their customer experience platforms with internal communications systems, building a platform for ease of data transfer and customer journey tracking.

Several vendors are responding to (and reinforcing) this trend, demonstrating new products that tie together UCaaS, CCaaS, and CXM. One major example includes 8x8’s XCaaS platform, that not only unifies employee experience and customer experience on one platform but now offers a call management system for operators and receptionists, too, with their newly announced Frontdesk solution. Furthermore, the combination of AI-driven technologies to enhance communications systems is also becoming much more mainstream:

  • 72% of companies are already combining AI and communications (Vichhivora & Chadinha, 8x8).
  • Of the 3% of organizations who have not started adopting AI, 38% said that they do not have the resources to train staff to use it, and 31% do not have the financial means. Only 8% did not understand the benefits of AI.

As such, the business case for leveraging AI technology has strong traction, with fewer detractors year-on-year. For customer experience management, for instance, key uses cases include identifying meeting highlights and next steps, agent assist, and conversational AI.

Vendor Keynotes

Several vendor keynotes occurred throughout Enterprise Connect, including Microsoft, Cisco, 8x8, RingCentral, Zoom, and Amazon. All had significant product updates, detailed below.

Microsoft (Nicole Herskowiz, GM)

  • A new PSTN deployment for MS Teams, titled ‘Operator Connect’. This service is now live with over a dozer operator partners. Admins can now choose their operator partner, set up policies, and assign numbers within the Teams admin center.
  • Voice calling/queues can be added to channels in MS Teams. Calls can also now be routed to a channel to contact all within that channel.
  • "Spam likely" incoming call identification.
  • The new "MS Teams Display" will enable hotdesking and quick links to make ad hoc calls.
  • Auto-lighting will enhance how people appear during MS Teams meetings.
  • "Speaker Coach" provides automated suggestions to a presenter on MS Teams to aid their talking flow (e.g., speaking too fast or too quietly).
  • Up to 10 co-organizers can be assigned for Teams Webinar, all having the same capabilities and permissions.
  • A newly structured Q&A experience during webinars; organizers can mark "best answers," pin posts, or dismiss questions.
  • MS Teams will be integrated with LinkedIn Live, enabling seamless broadcast to LinkedIn through MS Teams.
  • "Cameo presentation" mode for PowerPoint during MS Teams meetings, enabling speakers to have their presentation as their background.

Cisco (Jeetu Patel, EVP & GM, Security & Collaboration)

  • Webex can now translate in 120 different languages.
  • Vidcast, enabling asynchronous video exchange, is now live.
  • Background noise can be effectively removed (owing to Cisco's Babble acquisition). Moreover, the "MyVoiceOnly" option can focus on the voice closest to the mic, removing other speech noise in the room.
  • New employee insights are delivered to Webex users for better managing time and work fatigue.
  • Cisco’s Slido acquisition is now incorporated into Webex, enabling real-time engagement and feedback with attendees.

Zoom (Harry Moseley, CIO)

Much of Zoom’s keynote were highlights from their fifth annual Zoomtopia conference, held September 13 to 14, 2021. Please see Info-Tech’s coverage of that conference for more details.

RingCentral (Anand Eswaran, President & COO)

  • Enhances UC&C capabilities with new presentation modes, a team huddle (similar to a channel), and automated meeting summary reports.
  • Meetings can move from a mobile to a conference room device in real-time.
  • Live transcription available in Q1 2022.
  • Roadmap items include biometric security, voice analytics, spam filtering, and a personal virtual assistant.

Amazon (Ken Walsh Fisher, Director of Partners at Amazon Connect, & Paquale DeMaoi, GM at AWS)

  • Amazon Connect provides an omnichannel, cloud-based contact center, which can use Slack for video calls and live transcription via Amazon Chime SDK.
  • Three new capabilities for Amazon Connect: Wisdom, Voice ID, and high-volume outbound communications.
  • Amazon Connect Wisdom acts as an agent assist, delivering real-time recommendations for resolving customer challenges to agents; derives data from CRM, such as Salesforce and ServiceNow.
  • Amazon Connect Voice ID provides real-time caller authentication and fraud detection. This capability can be setup and configured in your IVR, supporting self-service and high-touch customer interactions.
  • Amazon Connect high-volume outbound communications is currently in preview. It will provide mass communication functionality through multi-channel engagement, scaling to a million contact attempts per campaign, per day.

Session References

Note: Sessions are available on demand from Enterprise Connect until December 2021.

  • Brent Kelly (KelCor, Inc.), Phil Edholm (PKE Consulting). “Cisco, Microsoft, or Zoom? Making Sense of their Enterprise Platforms, Part 1.”
  • Chris Thorson (Poly). “The Next Normal: Hybrid Work in 2021 and Beyond.”
  • Zach Bosin (BlueJeans). “Next-Generation Collaboration with BlueJeans.”
  • Jinal Vichhivora and Russ Chadinha, 8x8. “Predicting the Future of Communications.”

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