A forecast of the needs of future business communications users, based on research by Martin Geddes and Dean Bubley. We address the questions: What are the future communications needs of workers? ￼How and where do people work?
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Meet the authors
Martin Geddes is a network performance
scientist, and co-founder of the
Hypervoice Consortium. He completed a
year-long research project into the future
of voice communications in 2014.
Dean Bubley is a broadband and mobility
expert, who has written a pioneering &
award-winning WebRTC report. His track
record of correctly forecasting enterprise
communications spans over two decades.
What will business
like in the year
“Data is the sword of
the 21st century,
those who wield it
well, the Samurai.”
— Jonathan Rosenberg
SVP, Product Management
This presentation is divided
into two sections:
What are the future
How and where
do people work?
What are the future
In this section
Platform-led services Mass personalisation Intuitive computing
A solution to
The ICT world is re-organising around a small number of regional or global
platforms for commerce, computing and communications. These platforms are
controlled by a relatively small number of (non-telco) players.
Examples include smartphones (iOS vs Android); IaaS/PaaS (AWS/Azure); and
ERP/CRM (Oracle/SAP/SFDC). The “winner takes all” nature of multi-sided
markets, technical lock-in and user inertia all favour continued concentration.
These platforms all offer “power by the hour” on-demand business services, with
integrated cloud, business communications and commerce. A good example is
This leaves a role for an “experience integrator” who configures the platform
and related services to solve customer needs. These needs might be functional
(e.g. a particular workflow) or non-functional (e.g. security).
These platforms are the heart of the data economy. Market power will likely
gravitate towards them. Becoming a platform is very hard: most evolve out of an
initial successful product which then gets “platformised”.
The services are pre-integrated for you, so operators have less choice over the “raw
ingredients”, but can still select the “recipe”. As a result, network operators will
have less freedom to act independently to create new platforms and experiences.
Hence they need to sell to developers and integrators as much as end customers.
There will be an increasing rate of change of product needs and purchasing models.
Making good buy/build/partner decisions is critical. A wide portfolio becomes
more important, rather than picking a few winners. This requires cheap, quick
service creation. That in turn implies both internal and external APIs, as well as a
‘DevOps’ deployment model. This diversity places emphasis on service discovery
plus ease of provisioning and integration.
Expect fragmentation of demand
Whilst there is much activity around ‘unified communications’ in the enterprise,
blending many media and forms of interaction within a single application suite.
Meanwhile, there has been an orthogonal long-term trend towards ‘fragmented
communications’ in the general market. Users are selecting applications and
services that suit their individual needs.
In the consumer world, some of these are also monolithic ‘unified’ suites, like
Facebook. Increasingly many are not, and solve specific point issues for users.
There is a notable ‘fashion’ element that is infecting the enterprise. This ‘mass
personalisation’ of communications is allied to a move towards contextualised
services that are embedded into other applications.
of business communications
There are an increasing number of knowledge workers using communications
applications. These seek better collaboration and conferencing tools, including
voice and video. This will result in a continued slow migration: away from PBXs, to IP-
PBX, then UC, and finally cloud communications. This drives the trend for
‘unification’ throughout the upgrade and replacement cycle.
However, there are also a large number of basic communications-enabled
workers. These historically have been “phone-only” users (eg taxi-drivers) who are
now wanting more productivity. These will drive “dis-unification”.
Their changing work patterns mean few will have a conventional UC/PBX “seat”.
Self-employment, contracting, and part-time work combine with mobile working &
BYOD to mitigate against the “seat” sales model.
This will intensify with the growing use of “guest access” and standalone cloud
collaboration, together with “BYO Everything”.
For these users, communications will become embedded into business processes and
applications based on 3rd-party platforms, APIs & components. Adoption will be
driven by application and web-service designers (eg ERP, workforce management).
Future service plans may follow
auto “model years” approach
2014 comms bundle
2015 comms bundle
‘Disunification’ will drive new market
behaviours and buying patterns
We will see a spread of the “iPads + Google apps” model deep into the business
world. More and more services will creep in, expensed on credit cards.
The new value chains are still forming, and there will be a “balance of payments”
between the cloud platforms and network operators. It is unclear if network
operators are buyers or sellers, and what that balance will be.
Design can’t be standardised, although interoperability can. The role for industry
associations and standards bodies would require review.
There will be a continued loss of relevance for PCs, but it would be premature to
dismiss the PC or Microsoft even on a 10-year horizon.
when design meets data?
With the earliest communications and computing machines, humans had to adapt
to the limits of the technology: punched cards and switchboard operators are
classic examples. Increasing, the technology is adapting to human limits.
This trend could be seen as ‘intuitive computing’, and comprises three core
elements: An Apple-like holistic design; an Google-like approach to data; and an
IBM Watson-like capability of machine intelligence.
“People with disabilities
are the world's largest minority,
an emerging market on par with
the size of China!”
Quote: Denis Boudreau
Source: World Health Organization
WHO global disability action plan 2014–2021
Network operators will have to help service a wider range of ages and (dis)ability
levels in work: hearing, mobility, vision, cognitive impairments, and so on. This
requires more choices over UX and modalities – just as say MacOS allows you to
speak as well as use a mouse to navigate its interface.
This will no longer be a skill relegated to a ghetto of ‘accessibility’ applications. To
become ‘superproductive’ we must turbocharge our cognitive and social abilities.
Accessibility for all:
we must meet human needs first
Inclusive design is not about ‘being nice’ or a compliant corporate citizen: it is a
basic skill of business.
We are all disabled some of the time: driving a car, in a noisy place, or don’t
have our glasses on. When we interact with people from a foreign country whose
language we don’t speak, we become effectively deaf and mute. When we can’t
understand their script, we become illiterate.
Compared to the productivity superheroes we aspire to become, we are all
disabled all of the time. Augmentation is for everyone, not just the disabled.
The machine intelligence
A world of sensors and sentient machines is a fundamental disruption.
Computers can and will do ever more jobs better than we can ourselves. We take
for granted that a spreadsheet will add numbers better than we can. Soon,
computers will be scheduling our calendars better than any human assistant.
This is already resulting in a mass automation of low- and mid-end white collar
jobs. In its place, it opens up new opportunities for new data-driven systems.
This world of data-driven real-time decision-making implies hugely distributed data
sets and queries with stringent performance needs. These different loads and traffic
patterns will require new network architectures.
It’s not just technology that changes. The business metrics are different, too. For
example, in an M2M world, what is a ‘subscriber’? This means managing to new
metrics. The supply chain of data will create new industry structures. To what extent
will network operators be data sources vs sinks?
Finally, there will need to be new services to manage the data integrity and security
of the complete chain that leads up to a machine-made decision.
“Millennials will be roughly
50% of the USA workforce in 2020
and 75% of the global workforce by 2030.”
Three Reasons You Need To Adopt
A Millennial Mindset
Regardless Of Your Age
The Boomers retire
The ‘GenXers’ are the first computer gamers to be entering senior
management. They have experienced the 1980s and 1990s recessions and
2000s depression. They are relatively low in numbers compared to the
generations on either side. Their ethos is (roughly) to seek security & stability
(“Pay off my mortgage!”)
In contrast, Millennials stereotypically have a different relationship to success and
status. They tend to seek more freedom and meaning from their work (“Who
wants a mortgage?”), and care about social responsibility and personal health.
They don’t like email, but love mobile apps.
There will be a more risk-averse environment among senior buyers. They will want
greater assurances of things being fit-for-purpose and low-risk.
Network operators will need to run hard to stand still. The generational turnover will
require self re-invention, and a continual re-positioning of the service portfolio. This
leads us to a “Fast Moving Comms Goods” type of market, where the enterprise
mobile apps store is the convenience store for communications. Many older staff
(such as those in billing) will leave, creating a loss of institutional knowledge.
‘Data spills’ are
for digital businesses
Confidence and trust
are the currencies of the future
Data is a business asset when put to use, but data is also a liability when misused.
That liability is not fully costed, and the risks are rarely insured.
If current trends continue, then the next decade will see numerous systemic
crises of trust in cloud services, broadband operators, and communications
We are also already de facto in an ongoing low-level cyberwar with organised
criminals and foreign nations, with the two being hard to distinguish.
Enterprises will seek “cyber-integrity” services, and will turn to trusted sources to
find them. This will be a global, multi-industry game. That possibly puts some
markets and players at an advantage. For example, the GSMA represents the
political and economic interests of mobile operators as well as developing technical
New alliances and partnerships will be needed to create the chains of trust. New
identity services will be needed. Managed security (both physical and virtual) will be
a major market need.
What if sitting still too long
is the ‘new smoking’?
Rising costs of healthcare and workplace stress are likely to lead to tighter
regulation of workplace safety and wellbeing. Enterprises and governments will
want to manage social & health costs of work. This will cover a wide gamut of
issues, although basic physical and mental health will be paramount. Endlessly
checking emails will be the next vice to be addressed. We already see early signs
of this, e.g. German companies turning off email servers outside working hours.
Forms of stress and anxiety measurement and management will eventually become
commonplace. Communications services will have a part to play in this.
The geographic & cultural dispersion of teams leads to social isolation, which is a
health killer. This will drive demand for translation services, video windows, social
robots and co-presence objects. These give a sense of feeling connected to combat
isolation and loneliness issues.
There will be demand for next-generation public safety systems.
This all involves a change in focus from “pure logic” to “ethics and feelings”. It
implies new skills sets and new value chains. It is an area of high uncertainty.
The crisis of
abundance of information
With data being the ‘new oil’, we face analogous problems of abundance. Users
will increasingly become overwhelmed by processes of securing and managing
data across many devices, places and services.
For example, if you start to record all of your conference calls, how do you index
and search that data? How do you manage permissions to access it, or rescind
access to your recorded voice? What happens when people leave, retire or die?
This opens up new opportunities. At the lower layers, we will see an evolution of
‘software-defined storage’. At the higher layers, management services will
automate how processes of access control, workflow, and archival.
These will require the application of machine intelligence to automate a large
number of authorisations. The enforcement of data privacy, retention and
destruction policies will be a growing part of the value of enterprise
The portfolio career of the 2020s
It is well-known that traditional employer/employee relationships are in decline as
work moves towards a more ‘free agent’ model.
That means workers don’t want to be tied down to particular places, devices,
services or commitments. And certainly not to one employer.
This will result in a ‘portfolio’ lifestyle, with many people being self-employed, or
having multiple employers working part-time roles.
According to PwC*, already “31% of HR professionals are building their talent
strategies around the rise of the portfolio career, hiring a diverse mix of people on
an affordable, ad hoc basis.”
What does this mean for
communications service providers?
36*Source: The Future of Work – A journey to 2022
‘Anywhere, anytime for anyone’
virtual workplace solution
The virtualised workplace of the near future can be thought of as ‘telework++’.
Virtualised tasks will be structured more like games, with clear ‘wins’. A new
discipline of virtual leadership is emerging. The ‘telemanager’ of the future will
be aware of both the power and limits of her tools. In this environment, there will
be a blending of productive tasks and ‘permanent education’. New skills will be
constantly learnt, with that self-education built-in to knowledge work.
Workers and enterprises will have greater dispersion of income and ability to pay
for such services. The high-end is higher, and the low-end is wider. You can think
of it as being like the HiFi or watch market (or even higher education).
To make this happen users will need not just connectivity. The market will evolve
to also emphasise resilience and performance of the network access.
This will require the use of multiple bearer technologies. The dynamic nature of
demand will make enterprise telecoms more like the military, with networks
being erected and torn down where demand is to be found. You can think of it as
being like the Superbowl or Olympics coming to town everywhere, every year.
All services will need over-the-top and offline modes, and not just on-network
operation. There will be a need for graceful degradation across boundaries.
Forms of multi-tenancy will be everywhere (cloud, core, access network, CPE). All
assets will be shared among many users and uses. For example, an on-premises
connectivity hub may be hosting services for many partners and users.
“Bring Your Own Everything” means Be Your Own Chief Security Officer. This will
drive more demand for managed security, and cause changes in buying patterns.
The consumerisation of enterprise communications will continue. What
began with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) will extend to applications,
network service providers and identity.
CIOs will have reduced power to dictate solutions, and the traditional
enterprise sales cycle will be disrupted.
Bring Your Own Everything
Where’s the nearest coffee shop
(with bicycle parking & good WiFi?)
We are seeing a re-urbanisation of the US, and an urbanisation of China and India.
In the US, there is an absolute and ongoing decline in car miles being driven: The
US per-capita peak was in 2005, and is 9% down on that level today… and still
dropping fast. (Source: US DoT/Business Insider.)
The future involves more public and shared transit. Autonomous cars and smart
cities will only serve to accelerate this trend.
Operators need to design services appropriate to this opportunity. “Mobility” has
been seen as taking existing fixed services (voice, broadband) and delivering them
This will no longer be enough. “Seamed” communications will outgrow “seamless”
ones, because they offer contextually-appropriate experiences, and manage the
boundaries between environments. A private car has different properties to a
shared car, which is different again to a bus.
(As a tiny aside, I am in Amsterdam as I write this. Lots of people are cycling about whilst fiddling with their phones! MG)
The telecoms industry has been marketing “seamless communications” for many
years. This refers to maintaining sessions during hand-offs between bearers.
“Seamless” assumes the notion of a “session”, and that one session is necessarily
better than two separate ones.
It is impossible for every place and time to have the same idealised performance,
cost, battery usage, policy control and privacy. The real world is full of “seams”
where there are such transitions. Indeed, all bearers have different properties. We
can’t eliminate all these changes to create a homogeneous communications utopia.
“Seamless” communications thus overestimates the importance of “continuity”
relative to maximising the benefits from two (or more) separate domains with
We should embrace the seams. For example, the entrance to a tunnel is a “seam”. If
there is going to be a predictable change of coverage ahead, how can the service
adjust and adapt appropriately rather than pretend it doesn’t exist?
In the 20th century, we satisfied basic
needs for clothing, housing and food. A
‘mass luxury’ industry emerged for
In the 21st century, we will blend the
physical and virtual. The integrity of the
data at rest and in motion will be taken as
basic digital hygiene.
The ‘luxury’ virtual goods will be
experiences that meet needs for privacy
and social status.
What is the virtual equivalent of
the ‘corner office’? It is an
environment that offers similar
levels of privacy. This means
managing the integrity of the
communication at the points of
creation and consumption, not
just in the middle.
Users will want to find spaces to
work from when they are ‘on
the go’ that offer them quiet,
and freedom from being
overlooked and overheard.
What does the ‘phone booth’ of
the 21st century like?
• There will be a much greater mix of synchronous and asynchronous voice
communications. Users want freedom from calendars, scheduling and
appointments. That requires time-shifting of communications.
• All services will give off valuable data and metadata. Voice cannot be assumed
to be ephemeral any longer. This is a structural shift in value-added away from
transmission networks towards data storage and processing.
• Users will need services to manage security, identity, privacy, data liability in
all environments. Their ‘personal communications bubble’ will need to follow
• As users move around, services will need to be context-aware and adaptive:
make your service work for me, not me for your service.
• There is high complexity to deliver these experiences: the data gathering and
decision-making implies many partners and interfaces with long supply
• There are many tensions and boundaries in those chains which complicate
experience design and delivery: unified/disunified; managed/unmanaged;
private/public; integrated/fragmented; and secure/insecure.
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