Some technology predictions for 2021

By Richard Roberts, VP UK & I and Northern Europe at Mitel.

Video collaboration will evolve to create more immersive collaboration experiences

Video collaboration has experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic and this trend is likely to continue into 2021 as organisations are looking to accommodate the needs of their hybrid workforce.

As a result, industry players will be looking to add new features to existing collaboration apps such as a shoulder tap button or a quick-call function that allows users to recreate the spontaneity and intuitiveness of in-person meetings.

There will also be more focus on combining video conferencing with other emerging technologies to create more immersive experiences through complementary use cases for the technology. For instance, we can imagine to augment videoconferencing solutions with AR by introducing features like enhanced digital whiteboards that make collaboration in meetings more intuitive and feel more 'real'.

Or if you’re a service worker, like a technician, and you’re stuck with a problem – an AR-enhanced videoconference could connect you with a colleague who can help you solve it. AR will be also a major boon to remote training, particularly when in-person training is more difficult or expensive.

Technology that enhances the customer experience will drive channel growth in 2021

As customers rethink their business models and digitise their services to adapt to the volatile market environment, we’ll see stronger demand for technologies that help enhance the customer experience. Whether it’s AI, chatbots, blockchain, or AR, businesses will be increasingly looking to the channel to help them figure out which technologies are mature enough to be impactful, and where they can add value.

The pandemic has shifted many consumers out of the store and onto digital services, so creating better online customer experiences (CX) will be a major trend, and one the channel should watch. Our recent research into the impact of COVID on consumer behaviour revealed that nearly half (45%) of UK consumers have increased their use of online customer service during the pandemic and, of that number, more than 73% will rely more on digital options going forward. As a result, next year, we’ll see a growing number of brands experimenting with chatbots, AI and messaging apps in a bid to enhance the digital consumer experience.

With CX experience becoming more integral to the success of modern businesses, the channel will be perfectly placed to identify strategic CX touch points that go well beyond the call centre and span the full value chain of the business. For instance, it might be the company's HR division that sets up a CX function to engage with employees or the procurement team using a CX solution to liaise with suppliers.

As organisations are looking to improve engagement with their workforce, business communications technology will continue to experience rapid growth. Channel partners will be able to add value by helping their customers face the burden of choice and understand the interplay between business collaboration solutions and emerging technologies such as AI-based apps, VR and AR.

The office of the future will require a different technology approach

The lessons we have learnt from the pandemic will have marked impact on office design and how office spaces are being used in the future. While some organisations are downsizing their offices or looking to rent multiple satellite office spaces outside of the city centre, others will focus on ways to attract employees back to the workplace. This will result in a boom in office collaboration hubs where a mix of smaller meeting rooms, social areas, and learning spaces encourages informal communication and productivity.

These changes will drive a shift in the technology employees use. During the pandemic we’ve seen a rise in productivity applications, virtual assistants and CRM software and this is likely to continue in 2021 and beyond. There will be a stronger focus on adopting cloud-based UC solutions that support a hybrid workforce, enabling employees to access everything from virtual assistants to in-depth analytics and video collaboration tools on the go.

The future of work post COVID-19 will drive wider adoption of cloud UC solutions (new topic)

Within just a few months the pandemic has changed the face of modern working, triggering a shift to virtual collaboration that is likely to last long after the pandemic is gone. The rise of remote working and the financial pressures of the lockdowns have put tremendous pressure on IT departments to offer reliable and flexible solutions for teleworking, while keeping down costs. In this volatile market environment cloud has emerged as an essential strategy for enabling businesses to transition to a more agile working model.

The need for seamless communication and collaboration has never been greater, so next year we’ll see wider adoption of cloud solutions for unified communications (UC) and business collaboration.  High-performing companies will be spending the time, money and energy to assess their current infrastructure and plan the best way to gain the benefits of cloud without having to start all over, become burdened with expensive deployment models or get locked in for years with a specific vendor.  As a result, we’ll see a rise of multi-cloud approaches to cloud migration and virtual desktop solutions delivered as-a-service.

Businesses will ramp up AI adoption to drive deeper personalisation

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many retailers have ramped up their e-commerce capabilities in an effort to drive customer engagement and ensure business continuity. Our recent research indicates that they have been successful in achieving this, with retail coming on top for the best customer service for 50% of Brits, followed by healthcare and hospitality.

The data suggest that consumers’ adoption of digital CX tools will continue to increase next year, with nearly half of UK consumers expecting to use more chatbots (42%), virtual agents (43%) and self-service CX technologies (44%).

In response to this trend businesses will continue to strengthen their digital offerings, so we’ll see a stronger focus on personalisation. This will drive faster adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics, with businesses looking to bundle AI-powered chatbots and agent-assist technologies with contact centre platforms to create more personalised and seamless online experiences.

As AI becomes more widely used, virtual assistant apps will become easier to train and deploy, enabling smaller businesses to compete more successfully with larger brands when it comes to customer experience.

These technologies will be key for providing a seamless omnichannel customer experience and for meeting the needs of today’s consumers who expect quick and easy access to information at any time and on any device. 

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