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The meteoric rise in applicability and popularity of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications has resulted in an environment where channel partners scramble to patch together different plug-and-play services. Some resellers are being dragged along reluctantly, wary of missing out on the big, traditional upfront margins associated with on-premise solutions.

But like it or not, partners need to get on board with the new cloud-based market, says Craig Malloy, CEO of Lifesize. “These teams might not be collecting the same sum up front, but with a SaaS model, they can reach 100 times as many customers. That should be a pretty big draw.”

The unified communications and collaboration space is no exception. The cloud is now intrinsic to most businesses’ collaboration technologies. “On-premises deployments are dying, and we can thank Microsoft for hammering the last nail in the coffin,” says Malloy. “In the last couple of years, the company has systematically converted on-premises Exchange customers to Office365 and Skype for Business, showing the world that mission-critical tools can be run in the cloud.”

Vendors are constantly launching new products and technologies that, in many cases, aren’t compatible with one another. This is leading to a chaotic, confusing ecosystem, but our experts say that the UC market will mature and calm down in 2017. As UC continues to grow as the primary voice and collaboration app for enterprises, we’ll see more organizations turning to Skype for Business and other platforms. “Enterprises will also look to blend hosted UC cloud offerings with the on-premise UC infrastructures they have previously deployed,” says Tom Tuttle, SVP of UC strategy and global alliances at Nectar, “creating hybrid environments that require management and insight.”

The rapid rise of UC technology and much of its innovation in 2017 is consumer-driven, says Malloy. Collaboration technologies have to start meeting the same expectations of flexibility and ease of use that is driving the increase of BYOD trends. What’s more, these technologies will have to scale. “Whether the user is in a conference room or using a desktop, laptop or smartphone, collaboration technologies will have to provide a consistent experience and access to features like streaming and recording.”

Tuttle says this increased use in mobile devices will drive the mainstream adoption of communication-platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) as SMS, authentication and telephony enable organizations to send text, pictures and videos to mobile devices, creating a near limitless capability to blend communications with other applications.

“As more enterprises adopt UC applications, the more likely they will need to put interoperability solutions in place for UC applications that will support and encourage large scale collaboration across the desktop and mobile communities,” says Tuttle.

By far, our experts said that increased interoperability stemming from these market forces will be the top trend in 2017. Lifesize estimates that 77 percent of organizations today work with different vendors to cobble together their conferencing and collaboration solutions. Such a disparate and disorganized approach isn’t scalable or sustainable. “Users can expect to see these technologies converge, allowing vendors to offer every person and every conference room a full suite of capabilities right at their fingertips – and at any scale,” says Malloy.

Shelby Cooper, director of wholesale sales at West UC, says increased interoperability will lead to multiple benefits for enterprises, the most important to partners being increased investments in flexible UC solutions. “Oftentimes, interoperability increases the value of legacy technologies because it extends the working life of existing systems for seamless communication,” says Cooper. “For businesses that prefer mix-and-match communications infrastructure, greater interoperability allows IT departments to better tailor collaboration environments to their various end users’ needs.” Partners filling the ‘trusted advisor’ role for their customers have an opportunity to create scalable, flexible solutions that integrate legacy infrastructure with innovative new solutions.

Just as no enterprise IT space is unaffected by the cloud, so too is every solution subject to a demand for analytics. Tuttle says that a side benefit to increased UC usage will be a demand for advanced analytics to determine network performance and user adoption. “This will require UC providers to adapt their offerings and capabilities, enabling enterprises to get an accurate picture of what their network is delivering as well as their UC return on investment (ROI).”

While partners who embrace the cloud will prime themselves for success in 2017, there’s still room for traditional channel businesses to leverage existing relationships. If you’re an AV integrator worried about maintaining relevance in the new as-a-service ecosystem, Malloy says not to worry. “We’re willing to place our bets: Integrators won’t fade into a distant sunset anytime soon. Customers are still reliant on relationships with their AV integrators or consulting firms, which means the channel bridges an important gap in the customer experience.”