What's in store for enterprise communications in 2013?

Experts share their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead
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If some interpreters of the Mayan calendar are correct, then predictions about 2013 are superfluous.

However, assuming the world will not end on Dec. 21, let's take a look at what some experts consulted by FierceEnterpriseCommunications have to say about likely developments in the enterprise communications market next year.

The cloud gets personal

Cloud deployments in the enterprise are likely to move toward the personal cloud, which enables users to access content on any device without restrictions using cloud storage. Gartner estimates users will spend over $2 trillion per year on content, devices and services, all of which need to be synced up.

"Users' expectations for personal clouds will impact IT organizations... IT managers will find that, increasingly, both customers and employees demand access to all applications on these devices--a development that leads to a model in which applications must be able to run on any device," Gartner explained.

"Management tools will need to encompass the cloud storage and sync services that users need. This transition will also require wholesale re-engineering of application user interfaces, which will create opportunities for technology providers in devices, software, services and consulting," the research firm added.

Ross Sedgewick, vice president of global solutions marketing at Siemens Enterprise Communications (NYSE: SI), predicts cloud vendors will increasingly blend enterprise-grade security with personal cloud-based storage and shared workspace products.

Employees will have one entry point to their personal and business data complemented by apps with the ability to begin where the employee left off from whatever location, network or device is at hand, Sedgewick told FierceEnterpriseCommunications.  

"Many of the personal cloud services are beginning to be used more widely in the enterprise space. This intersects with the collaboration part of unified communications… so we see the personal cloud being a major trend in 2013," he said.

James Lawton, vice president of strategic portfolio integration at Siemens Enterprise Communications, added: "Organizations are going to be including personal cloud storage sharing capability as part of their infrastructure… So it will be a combination of personal cloud choice as well as enterprises creating their own cloud storage structure."

The social enterprise

In 2013, video will enable the social enterprise, predicted Eric Burns, co-founder and chief technology officer of video platform provider Panopto.

With more employees carrying smartphones and tablets, everyone in the enterprise is becoming a videographer with a high-definition camera. In addition, PCs and laptops have significant unused capacity.

"Between the two of those, there is a lot of latent capability you can use to capture whatever people are doing… We are finally at the stage where the cost of storing and delivering this stuff over corporate networks is approaching free," Burns told FierceEnterpriseCommunications.

As a result, YouTube-style enterprise video portals, in which employees can easily share knowledge and insights, will become a reality. This can be used to create "tribal knowledge" for the enterprise, Burns said.

"This is what we think is going on with video and the social enterprise. You've got an opportunity for training capture, you've got an opportunity for people who are subject matter experts to relay that information to other experts, you've got a way to preserve tribal knowledge, and then you've got a place where people can upload and distribute video easily," Burns said.

Regarding enterprise use of social media, Brendan Reid, vice president of product marketing at wide area network optimization firm Exinda, related that half of enterprises are monitoring the performance of their social media applications, but only 20 percent have social media use policies in place. "Enterprises are not adequately prepared either from a security perspective or from a policy perspective for what lies ahead in 2013," he cautioned.

"The question for enterprises is: How do I enable social media to be used strategically without losing control of it? The answer lies in the context of its use," Reid told FierceEnterpriseCommunications.

Enterprise on the move

Sedgewick noted that the majority of companies in North America support bring your own device (BYOD) programs at some level. "We are seeing a continuing impact of consumerization as it diversifies into other categories, such as mobile OS [operating system], apps, storage, and so forth. About half of IT usage decisions will be driven by users and line-of-business management outside the traditional corporate IT department," he added.

The logical outcome of this trend is for IT to no longer provision desktop IT setups, but to focus instead on centralized policies, security standards and usage controls over BYOD proliferation, Sedgewick noted.

Burns predicted there will be an ongoing shift in enterprise video to mobile devices and applications. "It is astonishing how quickly mobile and BYOD have overtaken the enterprise," he said.

The most important business feature for video is the ability to access it from any device. With the explosion of video-capable phones and tablets, IT departments will have to reconcile different video formats in order to bring high quality video playback, recording and management to employees' mobile devices, Burns said.

"The other big piece of mobile is that there are finally streaming technologies that can get video to mobile devices in a more credible way. That space has suffered from fragmentation in terms of what formats are supported… and from low bandwidth. Now that we have 3G and LTE devices that are standard, you can have video that is not substantially degraded," Burns said.

Near-field communications (NFC) will add a new wrinkle to mobility in the enterprise next year. NFC will begin to impact not only contactless mobile commerce, but also content sharing and unified communications interactions, Sedgewick said. NFC enables mobile devices to communicate not only with payment devices but also with other mobile devices.

"We feel near-field communications will really start to take off next year," Sedgewick said. "Enterprises are going to leverage NFC technology to automate certain tasks to enable unified communications," he added.

Examples of NFC use in the enterprise include contact info exchange, automated presence setting, social updates and data transfer and new security applications via NFC microchip tags.

Big data and the network

Every phone and conference call, text chat exchange or video and web collaboration session is a potential source of data to be captured and harvested for business value, observed Sedgewick.

"All of that content has the potential to be captured and therefore available. Through these steps, we will be able to capture, record, transcribe, index and tag the content and make it available in smart search to be retrieved," Sedgewick said.

Once organized, filtered and made searchable, contextual communications will start to become easier. Enterprise users will rely on systems to track what is relevant and current, and draw out previously hidden content and people associations to improve team performance and efficiency, Sedgewick related.

"Videoconferencing holds a lot of potential but still has not reached its peak of adoption in the enterprise because of expense, complexity and proprietary silos. A lot of those barriers are going away," he added.

Those barriers are being brought down by a combination of software-based video conferencing servers, cloud-based video conferencing services and the standardized cameras in mobile devices. "The latest remaining challenge will be user adoption, being willing to sit in front of a camera and participate in that video collaboration," Sedgewick said.

Reid chimed in that the "pace of growth in terms of the kinds of network traffic is such that video and collaboration content is the lion's share of the average internet traffic, greater than 50 percent of traffic."

The volume of data and Internet traffic is making a centralized backhaul strategy next to impossible for some companies, Reid said.

"The more enterprises move strategic applications into the cloud, like UC and CRM, the more difficult it becomes to route Internet traffic away from branch through essential security points and then back to the WAN," he explained.

"Our customers tell us that when they start introducing video, voice and data traffic on the same network, they quickly experience problems with their most important applications. When you use unified communications, you put user experience that shares the same bandwidth at risk. You should not implement unified communications without doing a network impact assessment and without creating policies for bandwidth allocation," Reid advised.

"How do I guarantee a high-quality user experience for this type of traffic? By using policy and context, you can solve that problem in large part by being able to guarantee bandwidth to the applications that are strategic. That way you protect user experience when it matters, and you contain it when it is not," Reid said.

The explosion of the cloud, mobility, social media and big data in the enterprise will continue to burden the network and challenge IT staffs for years to come. And the boldest prediction of all is that there will be more enterprise communications challenges in 2013. Stay tuned.