Eclipse Predictions for the Year Ahead!

Hello, and welcome to my annual predictions for technology and telecom article! This is turning out to be an exceptionally long decade indeed. In the past year we’ve had fits and starts of openings and closings, virtual and in-person interactions, and as we enter the third year of the decade the only certainty is that there will be a lot of uncertainty for the foreseeable future.

As usual, the format will begin with an overly verbose prediction with explanation followed by a summary of the key takeaway at the end of it for those who don’t have the attention span for long form prognostication. For example, it will look like this:

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Prediction: The Buffalo Bills win the Super Bowl by blowing out Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. The embarrassing 50-point loss makes Tom Brady realize his best days are behind him and he heads off into the sunset never to take another snap in the NFL again.

Key Takeaway: In terms of fantasies I have, this one seems more realistic than my “Coronavirus-burns-itself-out-by-April” dream.

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As always, my predictions are the sole property of NostraDavus, and I reserve the right to “agree to disagree” Ron Burgundy style when you point out I was wrong in a year.

On to the predictions for 2022! 

Um, NostraDavus, wait, don’t we usually go back and check the prior year to see how clear your crystal ball is?

Well of course we can! If I just made wild-ass predictions every year and never looked back or was held accountable to them, I would be a highly paid analyst, not a leading internet soothsayer. For those of you more excited to leave 2021 behind, feel free to skip ahead, those who want to pick nits and poke holes (you know who you are), read on.

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2021 in Review 

1.Customer Experience (CX) becomes the key business differentiator 

I predicted that the disruptive nature of the pandemic has changed the way that people buy and companies will need to adapt. This trend had been happening slowly and like a lot of things in this era, the pandemic poured gasoline on the fire. Companies that are investing in customer experience are pulling away from peers. This is not just a B2C conversation, by the way. B2B business will be won and lost on the digital and customer experience battle field. The game has changed forever and even if the coronavirus miraculously disappeared tomorrow, both consumer and business purchasing methods and habits will have been changed forever.

GRADE: On target. This one seems intuitive on the surface, but many companies are still resistant to investment in CX under the premise of “that’s now how we do it here”. 2022 will be the beginning of the innovate or die era of customer engagement. I am doubling, no quadrupling down on this point in the year ahead, read on.

2. Get Ready for SASE

Last year, I believed that the industry wonk term SASE would break through and enter the mainstream. Enterprise networking has evolved at breakneck speed in the last few years and it’s my sense that rather than leading to a cohesive standard of security-first networking, a giant pile of noise and customer confusion exists in its place. In the past year at Eclipse, we have seen some of our enterprise customers stand pat with MPLS, move to one of the many flavors of SD-WAN, buy large amounts of network CPE, and evolve to next-gen software defined networks. The moral of the story is that unlike the prior era of MPLS reign, there is no clear-cut “right” way to build a global network right now, so customers are choosing their own adventure based on their comfort levels, experience, outside advice, and vendor relationships.

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GRADE: Much like my college experience I’m giving myself a “C’s and D’s earn degrees” grade here. If you are one of my industry colleagues reading this, you are already sick of the term SASE. If you’re on the client side of network buying, you’ve probably heard of SASE, maybe read an article, but likely haven’t made any major decisions yet. I do believe we are the start of the big telcos and equipment manufacturers pushing everyone into the as a service models of networking, starting now, but this still needs time to sort itself out.

3.Security isn’t everything, it’s the only thing

Last year started with the specter of the late 2020 Solar Winds compromise hanging over the heads of many organizations and governments. The rest of the year brought an endless stream of stories about compromises, breaches, and ransomware attacks. With the new world of hybrid work-from-anywhere and IoT, the attack surfaces continue to broaden, giving the bad actors more and more opportunity to do bad-guy stuff.

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GRADE: Sadly, right on the money. Cybersecurity needs to be priority 1-10 for the IT department and I continue to advocate loudly for it being a C-Suite and Board level responsibility. IT can execute, but the company needs to strategically plan and spend to ensure that data is protected and that there is a good plan in place for the likely day when something bad lands on your digital doorstep.

4.Voice becomes the killer app 

It was my belief that 2021 would be a year of investment and transformation for most organizations as they pivoted from the “all hands-on deck” panic of 2020 which focused on getting everyone working from home, to settling down and building the right methods and tools to engender and enable the new era of work. What happened instead is that we all settled in to a “it’s good enough” mentality” and proceeded to suffer through an endless stream of Teams and Zoom meetings, eventually turning our cameras off and using what were meant to be high powered connection and collaboration tools as glorified audio conferencing bridges.

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Grade: Miss on this one. While I did have good thinking on voice clarity, tool reliability, and finding new ways to work, I wasn’t exactly rooting for an era where I had days with 9-hour long meetings on five different platforms, while never leaving my chair. This development seems to only be good for chiropractors and physical therapists. Remember to get up and move around everyone, and maybe schedule a bathroom break or two!

5.Tech Mergers & Acquisitions heat up

This was a monster year for telecom and tech M&A with over $1 Trillion in activity. Salesforce completed their acquisition of Slack, 8×8 bought UCaaS competitor Fuze, and the indirect telecom channel was flooded with an unprecedented level of private equity investment and roll-ups of companies large and small. Perhaps the biggest story in telecom was the merger that didn’t happen. Zoom and FIve9 broke it off at the altar, leaving both companies with holes in their portfolios (no native contact center for Zoom no core UC for Five9).

Grade: On point. This is just the beginning and large enterprise has a ton of dry powder with historically high levels of cash on their balance sheets. I expect to see some earth shaking moves this year- scroll to point 2 below for more.

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Not too shabby! A passing grade for sure, and very little in the way of complete misses. Perhaps I need to go out on some thinner limbs.

On to the year ahead!

2022 Predictions 

1.CX Quadruple Down! 

If 2021 was the year where customer focused enterprises outperformed laggards in their industry on key metrics like add-on sales, revenue- per- interaction, CSAT, and NPS, 2022 will be remembered as the year that companies that did not invest in catching up went into precipitous decline or disappeared altogether. Every company, regardless of size needs to be investing in technology that personalizes customer experience, empowers employees to wow customers in every interaction, and seamlessly merges digital, physical, and even fully virtual (think Metaverse) environments. Integration points between internal sources of data and external customer-facing tools will become critical for all enterprises, and collecting and understanding data from every interaction will lead to real-time innovation and pivots for those who are equipped.  I want to reiterate that this applies to Business-to-Business sellers as much if not more than consumer facing brands. Nearly 90% of buyers are willing to pay MORE for an experience that is easy and makes them feel valued.  Those who understand how to leverage technology to please their customers and unleash their people to be their most awesomest selves are already winning, this is the year where those who don’t invest will start to lose badly.

Key Takeaway: Companies that focus and invest their technology spend on empowering employees and delighting customers will continue to win big. Savvy companies will appoint a leader of CX to lead the charge. If you’re not sure where to start, call your friends at Eclipse to help you start the journey. 

2.Some of the Big Boys (Amazon, Salesforce, Microsoft, Google) will flex on the entire telecom and CX industry. 

Each one of these companies has been poking around enterprise communications and mobility for a long time and with good reason, as it is full of spaces where buyers meet sellers. I think this will be the year where Salesforce and Microsoft both acquire a cloud contact center player to integrate into their stacks of products. Salesforce has more information on the world’s customers than anyone else and Microsoft has powerful tools for analytics, AI, and Natural Language Processing.  They both also have enormous resources for acquisitions and integrations. I believe each will have fully integrated UC/CC/AI/analytics offerings by the end of the year. I predict that 2022 will be the year where Microsoft and Salesforce in particular change the rules of the game completely.

Key Takeaway: Microsoft and Salesforce go from interested hobbyists in communication and CX to full-fledged leaders in the space by making big acquisitions and offering integrations to data and analytics that no one else can match.

3.Blockchain finally enters the mainstream 

I know, I know, I’ve been talking about blockchain for a long time, but this time I have a newfound conviction. This may be the high-up, very thin limb I mentioned above, but I believe you will see big moves to blockchain and NFT marketplaces in 2022 for everything from stock markets to video game stores to digital art trading spaces. The commercialization of blockchain and decentralized finance (DeFi) is upon us, it is going to move from being the playground of tech nerds and evangelists to technologies we all interact with every day in ways big and small and sometimes completely invisible to us.

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Key Takeaway: Blockchain is ready for prime time. By the end of the year there will be major shifts in e-commerce and possibly even how stock markets trade as creators, financiers, businesses, and even governments begin to fully utilize and commercialize the potential and power of blockchain.

4.Hybrid Work is here to stay 

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I am currently writing this article in late December in the Netherlands while waiting for a recovery certificate due to a positive Covid test a few days ago. And, you know what, it doesn’t really matter. I am able to stay in real-time connection with my team at Eclipse, take calls from clients, and get important work done all while enjoying extra time with my daughter and the delightful December weather in Groningen (did you know that the Dutch have over 100 different words for rain?).Where, when, and how we work has changed and whether the existing leadership of the business world wants to acknowledge it or not, anyone under 30 right now is prioritizing flexibility and work-life balance over historical motivators like money and title. The great reshuffling is just getting started and we ALL need to learn how best to be productive and fulfilled in our work. We need to keep pushing the boundaries of how work flows, what gets prioritized, and how we deliver the goods to our clients. We also all need to be thinking about how to build culture in an era of disconnectedness and video meeting burnout. Human interaction still matters so much, how we merge our digital and physical work lives will be key. And speaking of the great resignation…

Key Takeaway: Hybrid work is here to stay, but we need to figure out how to maintain culture and human connections. Productivity has been up in most companies in the last two years. So has burnout and reported feelings of depression, isolation, and anxiety. It’s time to focus on the human element.

5.Talent shortages will force companies to think about what can and must be automated and/ or outsourced 

The war for talent in certain spaces, like cybersecurity, is unwinnable. The battle for talent in all of IT and frankly in almost every industry is afoot with companies having to offer more money, better benefits, and more time off, all in the name of convincing people to come work for them. Savvy companies will realize that one of the ways to solve for labor shortages is to start using AI, robots, and machine-learning. Augmenting human employees by automating repetitive and frequently done tasks so that humans can focus on higher order and more complex issues and most importantly key human to human interactions will drive revenue and customer satisfaction (see point 1 above). I don’t think the machines will replace all work yet (no robot that I’m aware of predicts tech trends for the coming year with middling accuracy!) but get ready for terms like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to enter the vernacular as use machines to help us focus on what really matters, being human.

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Key Takeaway: The robots are coming to take your job! Well at least the monotonous and repetitive parts of it, anyway. More and more, white collar employees will have robot “coworkers” much in the same way manufacturing employees have become used to working alongside automation. We are still a few years away from the singularity, but in the meantime, AI can check your bank balance for you!

There you have it, 2022 is here and full of potential. I’m fired up to see what we can all do to turn this decade around this year! I hope that the year ahead brings you joy, health, abundance, and most of all, love.

Have a great year and as always, post your own predictions in the comments.

Dave