Now that we’re at the precipice of a new decade – my fourth in this industry – we have to look back in order to truly appreciate any look ahead.

I still have the toy football that one of the videoconferencing manufacturers gave away at a tradeshow in the 1990s.  In order to win it, you had to pick-up their device’s remote control and successfully dial a videoconference call.  Think about that – video systems were so hard to use back then that they had to give away swag just to get you to try them.  A generation of enterprise professionals had correctly categorized videoconferencing as both difficult and unreliable.  That stigma stayed with collaboration technology for many years.  Whether it was needing to hire an army of AV or IT technicians to start enterprise meetings, or that next trend of over-the-top expensive “immersive” systems that minimized the user interface (and the capabilities), achieving high quality visual collaboration had always seemed to be just out of reach.

This last decade saw that perception begin to reverse.  The consumer trends of wireless internet everywhere and commonly found smart devices began to convince people that successful video calling was not that difficult to achieve.  Even though it was a bit of simplistic thinking at the time to assume large-scale, secure, centrally managed enterprises could have collaborative ecosystems as easy to use as something like FaceTime, the trend was unmistakable.  Every business professional began to believe it shouldn’t be as hard or expensive as it was – and they were correct.

Taking these insights from past decades into account, let’s focus our lens on the future and take a look at six trends I see shaping up to define the next decade of innovation in the collaboration space…

1. User-Friendly Tech is Expected

As we approach unified communication (UC) in 2020 and beyond, this perception has become a reality.  Room videoconferencing systems no longer require tens of thousands of dollars of investment, no longer require expensive programming for complex touch-panels, and no longer require an IT professional to operate them – and that’s all valid today, with us barely dipping our toes into the next decade.  As we really plunge into the 2020s, the improvements will only grow.

Beyond simply working, the standard for collaboration systems going forward will be ease of use.  Manufacturers have begun answering that question with systems that are smart enough to know what to do without being told.  Instead of giving away a prize to people who can figure out how to use the remote, that remote has been tossed in the trash.  And, AI and ML will continue to remove tasks from the user’s ‘to do list’.

2. Improvements in AI and ML Will Set New Standards for Voice and Sound

As AI and ML continue to improve, the automatic features for speaker tracking and noises suppression will get that much better.  For example, the systems Poly will be shipping in 2020 will have NoiseBlock AI.  These won’t just hear background noises like keyboard typing and mute the call to prevent the far ends from hearing it, these will hear keyboard typing and filter it out, leaving the microphones still open for conversation.

3. Systems Auto-Synced to Your Calendar

As we get further into the decade, we can expect systems that will no longer need to be pre-scheduled to enable a single press of a start button.  The systems will be able to recognize you — they’ll know what’s on your calendar, and they’ll just ask you if you want to start your meeting.  The technical challenges to accomplishing that have already been solved, but the social challenges still remain.  Do we want to enable facial or voice recognition on enterprise systems? Or, are we validly concerned about privacy issues?  No one is suggesting that there’s an easy answer there — but the features are inevitable.

4. Systems Will Be Collaboration Platform Agnostic

Additionally, in this decade enterprises will be able to break the chains that bind them to a collaboration platform which may not be meeting their needs.  In the past, if you worked with one collaboration provider, and weren’t satisfied with their services, you’d likely need to consider an expensive forklift to rip-and-replace all the dedicated gear.  The better systems being made today and going forward — like the ones from Poly — are platform agnostic.  Your enterprise will be able to use them as native devices on platform A on a Friday, then can come back after the weekend to find them changed to being native devices on platform B.  Selecting the best service provider for your enterprise will now be only a factor of price and performance — as it should have been all along.

5. People Are Getting More for Less

The great thing about all of these improvements is that the systems that support them are getting less expensive, not more expensive.  You used to have to be a Mr./Ms. Fix-It to install a do-it-yourself room collaboration system at a reasonable price.  Sure, you could spend under $2k all in… But, then you’d have to connect a PC or Mac to a camera, some microphones, a cable harness, a controller, etc.  If you could manage through the spaghetti of wires and the required computer expertise you’d have saved a bundle.  Today though, the new Poly Studio X30 meets that price-point with a single device that you can drop-in, connect three wires (power, network, HDMI to display) and be running (in native Zoom, MS Teams, and soon to be more) in less than two minutes.  It truly is the best of both worlds.  If your enterprise prefers to manage compute devices in your rooms then there are now outstanding and powerful peripherals to use with them.  If your enterprise prefers appliances, there are now outstanding and powerful devices to choose from that aren’t any more expensive to deploy at scale.

6. Devices Seamlessly Connect As You Move About Your Life

We’re also at the precipice of 5G wireless speeds that enable better and faster connections to all of our devices.  We will truly be able to do anything from anywhere.  In our videoconference rooms this will mean “better than being there” experiences, with enhanced views and collaboration possibilities.  During our travels, this means richer and more reliable connections.

As we move deeper into the decade, and people begin to expect these new features and continued ease of use, more and more firms will see the value in partnering with a manufacturer that can provide a wide breadth of seamless collaboration devices.  It will be even more important when traveling from our home to our car to our office to the airport to our hotel for the week, that all of our devices work together and provide seamless hand-offs and actionable metrics.

As Irwin Lazar of Nemertes Research explained in his presentation for The IMCCA’s Collaboration Week Silicon Valley, enterprises have moved beyond just evaluating if collaboration systems and platforms work, and how much they are being used, and now need to understand if they are providing measurable business value.  The only way to know that will be if your metrics measure across all the collaboration experiences.  If your collaboration partner isn’t providing you with tools from a single source that cover the home, the car, the office, the airport and while on the road, then you’re not working with the right one.

While these predictions are just that, one thing we know for sure is that the 2020s will be a transformative and exciting decade for the collaboration industry.  We’ll all be able to seamlessly communicate with each other about how we still don’t have the flying cars the Jetsons promised us.