- Three forces are driving homogenization of UC&C platforms: common features, a continuous surfeit of bells and whistles, and interoperability between competing platforms.
- The need for in-office and remote workers to communicate and collaborate – and thus demand for UC&C platforms – will remain robust in the hybrid world.
Unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) platforms are becoming homogenized. There are three forces driving this phenomenon: (1) a common set of features has emerged from the major players, including meetings, chat, calling, and events (some players have created an augmented core by also including contact centers and AI); (2) competitors are continually and rapidly complementing common features with a surfeit of bells and whistles (e.g., live reactions such as likes, enhanced lighting for video feeds, and polling); and (3) interoperability between platforms and cooperation between competitors are fast becoming the norm.
Usage of UC&C platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex soared with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the simultaneous transition to a virtually 100% remote office workforce. A hybrid work model has emerged since, characterized by a large presence of in-office workers counterbalanced by a sizable population of workers toiling at locations outside corporate walls, such as at home or somewhere on the go.
The need for both spheres of workers to communicate and collaborate – and thus demand for UC&C platforms – is crucial in the hybrid world. UC&C competitors are cognizant of this. In response, they have committed to delivering key functionality that users are clamoring for while recognizing the reality that interaction between workers using different platforms (within the same and other organizations) will be a necessity. That recognition in turn has driven some competitors to engage in co-opetition.
With demand for platforms percolating and use-case scenarios growing more complex, competitors have felt intense pressure to differentiate. As a result, they’ve unleashed a vast and steady stream of enhancements, which has been accompanied by positive and negative consequences. Additional features make a platform more robust and raise its utility. However, there arrives a point of diminishing returns. With so many features for users to keep track of, a bulk will surely go unnoticed. More importantly, an overabundance of features is bound to generate confusion and create a poor user experience.
Given the broad circle of influences, the question becomes: How can competitors differentiate? A cluster of tools lies at their disposal. User experience, support, simplified pricing, and brand loyalty/equity generated through complementary products are some of the levers they can maneuver. A positive user experience will facilitate communication and collaboration, whereas a poor user experience will throw up roadblocks to getting tasks accomplished. With platforms having so many features being onboarded, the level, types, and quality of support provided can be a crucial factor. Straightforward pricing can be a lure when users are considering multiple platforms equipped with similar capabilities but featuring dissimilar pricing scenarios. Generating brand loyalty/equity through complementary products is a powerful means of differentiation; for example, there is no doubt that Cisco has enjoyed a lift in adoption of Webex resulting from the popularity of its collaboration devices (e.g., IP phones and meeting room suites).
There is no need for competitors to leverage every means of differentiation available. It is fine to choose selectively. The most important criteria are clarity of messaging and the value of the platform itself.