A smartphone and tablet on a desk, along with a pair of glasses and pens.

Enterprise business solutions have come a long way in a short time.

Communication is key, so they say. The business world has clearly taken that advice to heart, if trends in modern enterprise business solutions are any indication. From carrier pigeons to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), enterprise communications has come an awfully long way.

With that in mind, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane and remember how innovative the past few decades have been. Better yet, let’s also flex those Nostradamus impressions and hypothesize what the future holds for business communications.

Bell Bottoms, Lava Lamps, and the Mighty Fax Machine

Office communication in the ’70s was a bit more involved than today’s digital wonderland. The vast majority of communications revolved around telephones tethered to a base station. Need to get ahold of someone? Voice or sneakernet were just about the only options.

It comes as no surprise, then, that data sharing was also a largely manual process. Remember, computers at the time were prohibitively expensive and cumbersome, so pens and typewriters were the name of the game. Sharing information required heavy use of transcription and snail mail. Fortunately, in the latter part of the decade came a revolution called the fax machine. With it, data could be shared over telephone lines with unrivaled speed, making enterprise communications much more efficient.

Computing in the ’80s

In the ’80s, telephones still ruled the enterprise communications roost. Carbon paper made copying information a relative breeze, while typewriters were the go-to device well before hipsters had a chance to make them cool. However, as the decade wore on, all of this was about to change.

The birth of the computer may have happened many years prior, but the late ’80s lays claim to its coming of age in the enterprise world. From the venerable Apple IIe and its lifelike 80-column monochrome text, highlighted in Popular Mechanics, to the Franklin ACE 2000 series and its gargantuan 128k RAM, the typewriter’s days were officially numbered. Now, if only there was a better alternative to the fax machine …

‘You’ve Got Mail!’

If the ’80s were a revolution in how people created data for communication, the ’90s ushered in the next era in transmitting it. With the advent of local and wide-area networks, as well as the proliferation of the internet as it’s now known, ‘the 90s was a golden era for enterprise communications.

No longer did you have to wait days for mail to be delivered. No longer did you have to make the arduous walk down exactly two flights of stairs to talk to Nancy in accounting. Things were going so well, in fact, that people didn’t mind the alien sounds emanating from their computers’ modems as they connected to the World Wide Web. From email and instant messaging to 28-Kbps modems, it was quite the time to be alive and online.

Welcome to the Present Future

After emerging from the scourge of Y2K unscathed, the new millennium continued upon the successes of the previous decade. As internet speeds exploded, the bandwidth for enterprise communications ballooned. The result was enterprise business solutions that could communicate far more than simple emails.

Voice, data, and rich media now fill the bulk of enterprise communication. From web conferencing to the virtual mailbox, nearly every form of physical communication the business world once relied on now has a digital counterpart. With as much innovation as the past couple decades has unveiled, what could the future possibly hold?

For starters, no one has yet perfected the droid-delivered hologram. Alternatively, augmented and virtual reality will likely position themselves as suitable stopgaps in the near future. Immersive technologies like this will help make enterprise communications more efficient and effective. They say a picture is worth a thousand words — imagine being there in person!

The other technology likely to make a big splash as the future of communication unfolds is artificial intelligence. This will likely take the form of behind-the-scenes analytics platforms rather than walking, talking androids. Nevertheless, these platforms will facilitate streamlined communications, allowing organizations to better understand what truly effective communication looks like.

When you think about it, the leap from carbon paper to virtual reality is pretty substantial. However, enterprise communications has come this far in just a few quick decades. In light of this scorching progress, you might just find a quirky R2 unit delivering holograms sooner than you think!

Speak to a Vonage Business consultant to learn more about the future of business phone systems.

About Joe Hewitson

With a degree in applied computing technology and over a decade of experience in the IT and software development industries, Joe Hewitson has his finger on the pulse of cloud technology. From developing communication applications for the cloud to deploying VoIP solutions in enterprise environments, he’s seen it all. The one thing Joe loves more than staying on the cutting edge of cloud and VoIP technology? Writing about it.

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Typing on a laptop, next to a smartphone and business phone.

The office of the future will still need human brains, no matter how prevalent IT trends in artificial intelligence become.

It’s happened — robots are taking over the world. According to MIT Technology Review, recent studies of IT trends suggest that 45 percent of American occupations will be automated within the next 20 years. It’s no surprise, then, that many IT pros are caught in the throes of Isaac Asimov’s “Frankenstein Complex” — the belief that as robots become increasingly sophisticated, they will eventually make humans obsolete. Recent advancements in both automation and artificial intelligence (AI) seem to suggest this isn’t so far-fetched, so how do companies light a fire to foil the Frankenstein Complex?

Pink Slip Paranoia

A century ago, John Maynard Keynes described current IT trends in two words: Technological unemployment. In other words, it’s the replacement of multiskilled laborers with machines designed to perform a specific set of tasks. According to MarketWatch, the “de-skilling” of many professionals may lead to a world that sees workers simply trying to make a living rather than prosper as autonomous robots take on more and more corporate responsibility.

This is already happening in many factories, with semi-intelligent machines performing particularly dangerous, monotonous, or detail-oriented jobs. From a business perspective, there’s some solid logic here: workers enjoy reduced risk, tasks are completed with fewer errors, and total revenues go up. The next step? Kicking IT pros to the curb. As technological advancements produce “thinking” machines capable of referencing historical and current data to make quick decisions, the need for human expertise will dwindle. Already, IT pros are adapting to the presence of big data software systems, intelligent security monitoring tools, and devices capable of extremely accurate voice recognition and response.

Think about the role of a front-line IT admin. If robotics companies can produce a bot capable of monitoring network performance, predicting user issues, and resolving IT tickets autonomously — all without the need for a salary or benefits — what happens to the hardworking IT pro who earns a six-figure salary? Even if staff members stay on after the robot revolution, no one wants their boss to be a cold, unfeeling machine (any more than the existing human counterpart, at any rate). Plus, it’s not quite as much fun to spite the boss with the occasional under-the-breath expression of subordinate fury if all you’ll get back is a polite, robotic reply should the snark be overheard. Automated managers just aren’t any fun.

The New Market

Fortunately, the reality doesn’t favor Frankenstein. Here’s why:

  • Substitution vs. Complementation: As noted by The Wall Street Journal, one reason the rise of robot workers hasn’t killed the labor force — and never will — is the balance between substitution and complementation. Substitution occurs when a technological process completely eliminates the need for a human worker. Good examples here include attaching car doors, inputting rows of data, or monitoring network traffic. However, most jobs encompass more than a single function, and many require human oversight to make key decisions at critical points. In the majority of cases, technology complements the position rather than replaces it outright. Consider the rise of cloud infrastructure. While offsite hardware and support lessens the burden on IT pros, it doesn’t replace the need for human oversight when it comes to purchasing decisions, implementation timelines, or access requirements.
  • The Social Safety Net: It’s also worth noting that there are some positions robots are uniquely unsuited to fill, specifically those that revolve around sociability and creativity. While it’s possible to mimic the bare-bones processes of social interaction or creation, the randomness and subtlety required make machines a hard sell here. Meanwhile, for IT pros, this means tech skills alone may not be enough to guarantee future employment.
  • Mind the AI Gap: Hollywood informs the ideal of AI with machines that walk, talk, and think like human beings. In reality, this isn’t cost-effective. Instead, companies are investing time and money to develop project-specific AI that excels at certain tasks or when bounded by specific parameters. This type of broad-spectrum Lt. Cmdr. Data- or Terminator-type AI is often used as a scare tactic and is nothing more than sci-fi fantasy.

All Hail the Robot Executive?

Not quite yet. New IT trends mean that robots are great at menial, repetitive tasks and are starting to excel at more complex thinking challenges. However, a combination of complementation, a lack of programmable social skills, and the AI gap means IT pros aren’t in danger of pink slips anytime soon, and they’re better served making friends with rather than fighting with Frankenstein’s monster.

Want to know more about how to empower IT? Talk to a Vonage enterprise specialist today.

About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is an award-winning freelance writer with a passion for technology and innovation. His ability to create compelling, thought-provoking and timely content helps empower the voice of corporate vision. From UCaaS to VoIP to cloud computing, Doug has experience covering all aspects of evolving digital environments and their effects on both people and policies.

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