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This week saw two enterprise communications platform vendors acquire startups in the voice/AI space: Vonage announced it had purchased assets of Over.ai; and Cisco acquired Voicea. Both acquirers plan to integrate their new assets into their broader communications platforms, offering further evidence that the future of enterprise communications will very much be AI-driven, with a strong voice-first element.

AI brings many capabilities to communications platforms—not just voice interfaces, but real-time transcription, voice search, and even language translation may eventually be ready for prime time. As an enterprise communications decision-maker, your job is getting a lot more interesting—and more challenging.

Let’s be clear: Incumbent vendors like Cisco will sell you a PBX if that’s what you need. UC-as-a-Service challengers like Vonage (as well as incumbents like Cisco or Microsoft) will sell you a cloud PBX service if that’s what you need. But siloed voice systems with traditional feature sets aren’t long for this world.

When voice first started moving from TDM to IP, the legacy players argued vigorously that IP networks were unsuited—at least in their existing form—to carry real-time traffic. But if you asked them how much of their R&D budgets they were spending on developing TDM products, the answer was, essentially, zero. They knew where their current revenues were coming from (TDM), but they also knew where the future lay (IP).

Vendor R&D budgets aren’t really a thing anymore. Their R&D comes in the form of acqui-hires like the purchases Cisco and Vonage made this week. That means AI-driven features are in your future.

Our Enterprise Connect program team had an interesting conversation this week with one of the consultants who’s a regular presenter at the Orlando show. She told us about a conversation she had with a client at Enterprise Connect Orlando this past spring. The client hadn’t been to Enterprise Connect for at least five years or so, and was genuinely amazed by how different the systems on display were compared to what the organization is currently running.

I’m sure that attendee wasn’t alone in his amazement. The conversation really has changed, and everyone in the industry—enterprise decision-makers, vendors, channel partners, analysts—is having to adjust. The advances in system capabilities will become something your end users can demand from you, either because they’re experiencing similar capabilities in their consumer lives, or because they’re dealing with colleagues at other companies who have them.

And that’s just in the knowledge worker world. As usual, contact centers are in the vanguard of technology advances, and so there’ll be real business cases being built on AI-enabled functionality.

We’ve all got time to prepare; AI enablement isn’t a matter of flipping a switch, and now you’ve got it. The capabilities are here already in nascent form, and they’ll continue to improve and find new use cases. In many if not most cases, their application will, fortunately, be pretty boring. But thanks to AI, your job won’t be.

 

Eric Krapf

Enterprise Connect & WorkSpace Connect Publisher, No Jitter

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