The modern business communications system is not the same as it was ten years ago. There has been more innovation in what’s on your work desk in the past ten years than the prior thirty years combined. Yes, there is still likely a phone on your desk, but Unified Communications has now basically replaced the PBX that was connected to that desk phone. Beyond just voice, these modern communication systems now can handle video, presence, chat, file sharing, conference calling, and they also have a mobile component where your smart phone can behave as if it’s connected natively to the UC system, accept calls, and perform all the tasks of the desktop including collaboration. Much innovation indeed.
But what’s next? Will there even be a need to talk on a phone? Won’t all the collaboration platforms basically take over? It’s been posited that as millennials and Gen-Z’rs enter the workforce, this will spell the end of voice in the business world because much of their communication is via social media platforms (even if they sit in the same office ten feet apart).
There certainly is something to be said about using an instant messaging tool to get a quick answer from somebody, especially when you’re on a conference call. I’ve certainly done that multiple times. And that’s part of one of the key Unified Communications value propositions relating to boosting productivity. In fact, earlier in 2019 a study was commissioned to try and quantify the productivity improvement from instant messaging. The respondents reported a 10% productivity improvement due to decision speed and quality (because of ability to get other people’s opinions faster). This makes sense. It balances the interruptions, with what is good about presence and the corresponding chat.
People take these arguments and say “see, that’s the end of voice, you didn’t even talk, and you got something done”. I see that perspective, but it doesn’t mean the end of voice. It means voice is one of the many options to communication, just not the only option. And besides, that perspective is from a very stove piped viewpoint of just internal employee communications. Yes, I suppose you could go through a day without talking to anyone - just using an IM tool, using collaboration tools, etc. I bet if I tried I could do it. But it would be difficult and not natural. But I’m a tail end baby boomer and not a future worker.
Let’s also remember that your business exists because you have customers, and customers need to communicate with you. Even ones five years from now. While some customers don’t really want to make phone calls and can communicate just fine for their needs via chat and the like, there is not a one size fits all with customer communications these days, and there will always be a need to talk.
Why? Because it’s human nature to talk. Language is an essential part of being human. Bringing this into business, if you revisit the premise of one of the benefits of unified communications, that is productivity improvements, sometimes it’s just faster, more efficient, and well, more productive to have a conversation! How novel. Some of this is just best and more efficient with voice. And that’s what Unified Communications is all about - different types of communications that are unified into a coherent communication platform. So voice is one of the elements.
But who will you be talking to? Certainly, there will be human agents, but speech navigation of IVRs and enhanced additional language search capabilities in IVRs exist today. That’s talking to a computer. Like I said, these exist today, and you’ve probably experienced it, without even maybe knowing it. And some of the computer talking to you may be based on past information (data) you spoke to the computer before. Analysis of that data occurs to make the responses more to the point. This will all undoubtedly improve, so we could be talking sooner than we think to a full Artificial Intelligent Agent, who will listen and talk back. But we’ll still be talking, and you’ll be being talked at, and there will be voice involved.
Because a business needs to record calls, put call information into a CRM, have a way to route calls to the proper place, enable those people (or AI agents) in the proper place to get you the information you need, etc., it needs a business communication system.
Today it could be argued that all business communication systems are designed around voice first. That could be because voice is hard and it’s easier adding the other functions to a voice system than the other way around. But that’s not the only way - one could start with presence and add voice. Microsoft and Slack have gone down that route. But one thing is certain - we’re going to software and we’re going to cloud. Which means we have won’t have a traditional PBX anymore.
But we’ll still have voice.