The future of collaboration technology continues to be based in the cloud.
Research reports issued by industry analysts this week indicated that the cloud will be the key driver in the growth of both unified communications (UC) and video conferencing as businesses look for more flexible and cost-effective ways to deal with such trends as an increasingly mobile workforce.
According to analysts at Infonetics Research, a survey of 162 large and midsize organizations found that by next year, more than 50 percent will be running at least some of their UC applications—such as voice, email and instant messaging—on a private or public cloud.
In another report, analysts with Global Industry Analysts (GIA) said the market for cloud-based video conferencing could hit $2.9 billion by 2020, with the growth again driven by a more mobile enterprise and workforce as well as the move to 4G networks and the proliferation of IP-based video conferencing systems.
For more mobile end users, the move to more cloud-based collaboration services is important. Employees are using a wider range of devices during the workday, from smartphones to tablets to notebooks, and are looking for the same ability to collaborate with colleagues, partners and customers that their co-workers in offices have. They want to be able to collaborate from anywhere, at any time and from any device.
Cloud-based applications make it easier for businesses to meet those demands, according to Diane Myers, principal analyst for voice-over-IP (VoIP), UC and instant messaging at Infonetics.
"Businesses continue to migrate their unified communications applications to the cloud, citing flexibility as the key reason," Myers said in a statement. "Cloud solutions are inherently more flexible than premises-based solutions, offering businesses the ability to scale users up and down, centralize management, and deploy new features and applications quickly."
Infonetics analysts noted that the top UC device used by businesses cited in the survey is the smartphone, which came in ahead of such systems as laptops and desktop PCs.
Most UC vendors, from Cisco Systems and Microsoft to Avaya, IBM, Unify and Mitel, offer some of their UC applications in the cloud. Later this month, ShoreTel officials are expected to announce a common platform that will give businesses access to the same services via the cloud or on-premises technology, creating a hybrid UC environment.
Infonetics also pointed to other changes in user behavior, including an increasing use of Web conferencing, video conferencing and text messaging in collaboration, and said that when evaluating UC vendors, businesses said the two most important criteria were product reliability and technology innovation. When talking about selecting a cloud or hosted provider, the top criteria is security, according to the analysts.
In addition, the survey found that by early 2016, 93 percent of respondents said they had plans to implement video conferencing into their UC solution.
Over the past several years, IDC analysts have followed the transition occurring in the video conferencing space from primarily on-premises equipment to cloud- and software-based solutions. In March, Rich Costello, senior analyst for enterprise communications infrastructure at IDC, noted that 2014 marked the third consecutive year of declining revenue for video conferencing equipment, adding that "the results are reflective of the ongoing market transition from a primarily hardware-based technology to one impacted by the growing interest in software-based solutions and video subscription services."
In their report, analysts with GIA said there were a number of drivers of the growth of video conferencing services, from the increasing use of video collaboration in the government, health care and education fields, growing mobility and the launch of 4G networks. However, they said in a statement that "while [on-premises] video conferencing continues to account for a major share of revenues, future growth will be driven by increased adoption of cloud-based video conferencing services and managed video conferencing solutions. A key factor driving the adoption of cloud solutions is the need to curb infrastructure spending."
Established video conferencing vendors such as Cisco, Polycom and LifeSize Communications are growing their software- and cloud-based offerings, as are service providers such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom and NTT Communications. In addition, a growing number of vendors that are offering only software- and cloud-based solutions—from Vidyo to Blue Jeans Network to Zoom Communications—are gaining traction in the space.