Competition in the unified communications (UC) market has heated up. From solutions specialising in specific features or niche areas, to those looking to provide a ‘one size fits all’ offering that wraps together voice calls, videoconferencing and document, many organisations have shifted their attention to this increasingly crowded space.
Recently, Amazon launched its Chime service to compete with established players in the market, while Cisco released its Spark platform in the Asia Pacific region. To differentiate from competitors, Amazon has championed its noise cancellation technology.
However, competition between services is intense and many providers now offer similar levels of file sharing, videoconferencing and instant messaging to push employee productivity beyond the limits of email.
While the ability to offer extra functionality is important for vendors, they must remember that a big driver for CTOs and IT departments is simplicity, as many have been burned in the past implementing new technology too quickly. As such, adding one more piece of software to the mix won’t necessarily come as music to their ears.
Business and key IT decision makers must agree on what new technologies make sense, and take a conscious approach to their adoption. This means making sure that the right capabilities are in place prior to adoption.
To do so, organisations first need to think of the business benefits they are looking to achieve and then ensure they have the network infrastructure and processes in place to deliver these across the organisation.
Collaboration is the killer app
UC is now finally able to achieve what email has been struggling to so far – real time collaboration. Once the Holy Grail for enterprise organisations, consumer demands for instant messaging and videochat have driven the technology forward and now UC tools offer a variety of collaborative features.
Some vendors have introduced security features such as encrypted chat. While reverse engineering consumer features for business purposes might appeal to cautious enterprise customers, this can also limit the scope of use for other enterprise organisations.
For example, financial service companies in the UK are regulated by the FCA to track all customer communications to counter the risk of insider trading. Having a clear audit trail is essential for these businesses. This is why UC tools need to balance having the latest killer app with delivering the most benefits for organisations.
Ultimately, the aim of UC technology is to enable employees based anywhere in the world to work as effectively as, or better than, they could if they were sitting around the same table. The latest features of Cisco’s Spark platform, for example, allow teams to make notes on a digital whiteboard that can be shared via video conferencing, enabling them to deliver a presentation wirelessly.
A growing trend in UC tools being welcomed by businesses is the increased multifunctionality being tempered with ease of use. Rather than needing hours of training or reading through volumes of instructions, staff can then actually make use of the features right away to improve their own creativity and productivity.
The employees of the future will be completely at home with holding video calls, transferring large files and editing documents in real time, all simultaneously. Telecoms operators need to recognise this and build robust networks that are ready to embrace the working practices of the future.
Up in the clouds
As better connectivity becomes available and collaborative working practices become more popular, an increasing number of organisations are adopting cloud services. To do so, they have replaced in house PBX hardware, dedicated lines and licensed software with on demand cloud services.
While these services can make the business more agile to make the most of UC capabilities like instant messaging, telepresence and videoconferencing, organisations also need to ensure that other essential business functions reliant on the network can still perform seamlessly.
For example, PCI DSS standards require retailers to encrypt customer card information securely, so there is little point having an instant web chat facility on your website to drive customer sales if it connects to a database on an unencrypted cloud server.
This could mean the chat app has to redirect customers to call the switchboard to facilitate card transactions, by which time the sales opportunity has been lost.
From an internal perspective, organisations also need to ensure that new cloud capabilities dovetail with existing working practices. Sharing documents over a cloud platform can improve collaboration between different parts of the business, but if the organisation cannot control the levels of access or retain version control, then the UC tool can end up being counterproductive.
In the face of rapidly increasing competition in the UC space, CTOs can be forgiven for being torn between the need to invest now to prepare for the wider roll-out of UC services and waiting to see which products win out to deliver the best long term value for the business.
However, an unfortunate fact of any technology roll out within a large organisation is that trial and error is still a significant part of deciding the tools to best equip employees with.
What organisations can do, however, is ensure they have a robust network in place to deal with these increased demands, and one that is flexible enough to accommodate the different technologies that employees adopt.
By improving the user experience, organisations can also reduce the risk of shadow IT taking hold and employees defaulting to using insecure apps and services on their own devices.
In the future, all communications providers need to offer a full suite of features on their products to ensure that the clients get the best UC experience possible. However, companies don’t just need to find the widest feature set. They also need to work with a provider that delivers value for money, continually focuses on innovation and is consistently reliable in order to deliver lasting benefits to employees and the business as whole.
Sourced from Guy Miller, director of next generation voice, TalkTalk Business