By Tim Wood, Executive Head – IS & IT at Vox

The strides made in our industry over the past few years have drastically changed what is possible for business communication, but have also changed what’s expected as a baseline to remain competitive and efficient. Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and the technology underpinning it has made the changes to how business is conducted – forced to a large extent by the pandemic – easier, but they also provide businesses with the opportunity to dream about a super-efficient future. For those brave enough, that future starts today.

The immediate future of unified communications makes real-time collaboration and highly efficient customer service easier than ever before. Contact centre as a service (CCaaS), specifically, allows businesses to reduce IT, integration and support costs while giving up no functionality. Because it is software-defined and run by a vendor that’s an expert in the field, companies stand to gain flexibility and functionality that was just not possible previously.

Tools, such as real-time language translation, voice-to-text apps and chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) can drastically alter customer experience and team collaboration across geographies. In terms of speed of deployment, advancements in developing bots and interactive voice response systems means that solutions can be created without the need for new or bespoke coding. Internet of Things (IoT) integration into unified communications tools brings the theory of real-time connectedness into real-life practice as devices and sensors constantly enrich the collaboration tapestry.

Software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) virtualise wide company networks that join teams and can extend over vast geographical networks. This is vital and a non-negotiable for a modern business. SD-WAN networks are evolving and performance has improved drastically, but perhaps the most important innovation is how security has been improved, which is vital given the sharp increase in cyber-attacks and more vulnerable attack surfaces because of hybrid and remote working.

All of these innovations are being spoken about in C-Suites already because soon a company that’s not on board this train will be left behind. On the other hand, brave companies are already including the metaverse into their strategic plans.

There’s certainly more to be gained from early adoption of the metaverse than the gamification of virtual interactions. Strapping on virtual reality (VR) headsets make collaboration far more immersive and akin to what we are used to as humans. The bravest among us are meeting up in Africa’s very own Metaverse, Africarare. Have you popped into Ubuntuland for a visit yet?

Companies with a forward-looking orientation will want to have a look at collaboration platforms and tools such as Gather, Spatial, Branch, Wonder, Decentraland and Nowhere. The talk of the metaverse won’t disappear because the biggest players in the tech industry have bet their futures on it.

Facebook has shape-shifted into Meta and leads the race with the Horizon VR environment and VR headsets. Microsoft has hit the ground running in the business application race and Microsoft’s Mesh is being positioned as the future of immersive business VR collaboration.

What does this business collaboration look like? This year, Microsoft Teams will allow 3D avatars to replace actual participants in live meetings. The potential for expression and engagement hasn’t even been scratched. Soon we will be able to interact with 3D renditions of participants in virtual meetings through holoportation using HoloLens technology.

The older among us might fear that we have entered a 1980s SciFi movie, but truth is stranger than fiction. Soon we will be overlaying the metaverse on business applications such as Dynamics 365 connected spaces and we will be collaborating, playing games, working on whiteboard solutions, training, and interacting virtually across the world in real-world applications.

This future didn’t start today. It didn’t start yesterday, or the year before. It has been evolving as the cloud, AI and machine learning have come into their own. It requires certain fundamentals to be in place and a partner that helps a business find the best solution for individual company needs. Remember, technology for the sake of technology doesn’t mean much, but technology to solve real problems and improve efficiency and competitiveness is worth its weight in gold. In this world and the metaverse.