November 11, 2013

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How customer service impacts the UC and Product Engineering Market?

Unified Communications (referred to as UC) has attained a level of maturity over the last five years or so. OEMs now have matured UC solutions which are quite competitive, having similar feature sets; it is the enterprise customer experience and quality of products which is now the becoming a key factor for success. While UC remains a selling proposition for VoIP and enterprise cloud based solutions, the revenue stream for OEMs, as well as service providers, is still primarily driven by “Voice”. The relatively new entrants and smaller players in this space entered with compelling UC applications, but they are now finding it difficult to augment their portfolio and sustain product quality due to the high cost of maintaining the required quality as well as meeting customer expectations.

Let us look at the key challenges in some detail. First and foremost is the enterprise mobility space, which remains the key driver for the UC market as mobile penetration continues to grow as well as network capacities ability to handle large data speeds using LTE. Cross-platform support, different implementation languages used across Android, IOS and Windows Mobile, and different user experiences with each native application are only some of the key challenges in this segment. HTML5 and Javascript do pose interesting ways to handle some of this, but the success of HTML5 in enterprise mobile applications is yet to be seen. OEMs are seriously looking at either migrating or developing new application suites with HTML5, leveraging common business logic with Javascript, thereby reducing the time to market and overall cost of ownership.

The second challenge which the development community needs to address is the end-to-end quality and interoperability of the UC solution which gets deployed in the cloud. There are a couple of things worth mentioning here: End-to-end quality will require OEMs to replicate user behaviors more accurately inside R&D labs; this requires an extensive understanding of typical deployment scenarios, including virtualization and integration points with the service provider for management software and back-end nodes. In some cases, the self-care and admin portals come from 3rd parties, and only the core “voice” solution comes from the OEM. This VoIP/UC “CaaS” cloud phenomenon is also seen as a huge disruption for Channel. The interoperability remains a critical factor, especially for the cloud, where the end points need to support standard protocols like SIP, and remote provisioning capabilities which are being defined by soft-switch providers like Broadworks. Enterprise hosted service providers are looking for what they call “zero touch deployment,” whereby the customers need not configure anything on their desk phone or mobile phone to make the device work in “office mode.”

The third factor I’d like to mention is the support model for an evolved service mix for SMB and large enterprises. It is interesting to note that small and large enterprise business is poised for higher growth than medium business in terms of the number of deployments as well as revenue. Hence, the first and second line support structure offered by VARs/service providers or OEMs themselves will have to take care of intelligent ways of reducing the customer dissatisfaction, keeping separate databases for size of deployment and hierarchy of knowledge base for the respective streams. Contact centers are also looking at deploying advanced technologies such as analytics, real-time communication through web (especially video) and remote desktop sharing to enhance the overall customer experience.

As the UC market matures, service quality is taking on a higher importance than innovation. This is an interesting trend to watch and plan for, as this shall not only impact customer satisfaction, but also requires a re-thinking of traditional product engineering practices to evolve to more agile practices in order to reduce the overall cost of ownership while assuring the end quality is delivered intact. Read more about HCL's Telecom services here.