UC&C's Future Is Closer Than You Think: A 'Star Trek' Holodeck Conference Room Isn't For A Galaxy Far, Far Away

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Does having your own personal virtual chief of staff sound far-fetched? Or how about conducting a business meeting in a setting similar to the Holodeck in "Star Trek?" This type of technology is not a century away but, rather, a decade, say unified communications and collaboration experts.

Instead of walls in an office you’ll see display screens enabled with communications functions. Think the Internet of Things is going to be a big deal? Just wait until the lines between IoT and unified communications and collaboration blur.

"If we were in a room 10 years from now, we would be able to bring someone in from any other place in the world and have them essentially show up almost like a hologram and have it be very realistic to all of us," said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Systems' IoT and Collaboration Technology Group. "It's no longer limited to a screen or a wall or a 'thing' -- it's actually like transporting or teleporting people almost like the Holodeck from Star Trek. That's going to happen and you can already see that beginning with augmented reality. … It's not great yet, but it will be."

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The technology being conceived of today in the UC&C arena will lead to significant changes in how businesses are run and how solution providers operate, according to experts such as Cisco's Trollope, as well as solution providers and analysts involved in the space.

A New Digital Best Friend

The next big UC&C transformation will be the entrance of virtual assistants into businesses. As machines begin acting and looking more like humans, each person will have his or her own programmable virtual assistant with vast amounts of capabilities.

"It's only a matter of time before [Apple's] Siri or [Amazon's] Echo gets a face and a personality and then it's only a matter of time when Siri or whomever learns -- and learns you over time - and starts to really look like a friend," said Trollope. "It might know you better than anybody else in the world knows you because you're constantly engaged with that thing. Those will enter businesses."

The virtual assistant -- or "digital best friend," as Trollope dubs it -- will help an individual find information about a client or subject matter, schedule reminders, automatically set up appointments and even act on a person's behalf to marshal resources similar to a chief of staff. It will basically remember everything you say and who you said it to, said Trollope.

The programmable capabilities inside the virtual assistant theoretically will be limitless. Businesses will be able to purchase different capabilities such as a master forecasting ability or the ability to download information about a certain technology. It also will automate various manual tasks we conduct today, such as checking which emails are important and which are not.

Chris Bottger, chief technology officer at IVCi, a Hauppauge, N.Y.-based solution provider, said the future virtual assistant will make organizations and employees extremely efficient. Sales representatives, for example, will get a helping hand in customer responsiveness, which can sometimes make or break a deal, he said.

"Imagine it as all the tools in your tool belt today put together, but in a more automated, seamless, smarter way," said Bottger. "So you wake up and this virtual assistant says, 'Good morning, Chris, it's Monday. Here are the five calls you need to make today to these customers. Here are the three follow-ups from that. There's also a quote you need to do, and here are your two most urgent emails this morning.' And it then tracks your progress throughout the day."

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