Go back just 15 years and communications in the workplace amounted to a desktop computer, a landline and face-to-face meetings. Advances in technology have changed this drastically. The model that modern businesses use includes video conferencing, instant messaging, screen sharing and presence, and using an array of devices to communicate such as laptops, mobiles and tablets. This allows remote working, making work something you do – rather than a place you go.
This is why unified communications has been such a growing area of enterprise technology. If a company is to truly empower its employees to work when and wherever they wish, then their experience must be consistent regardless which platform or device they choose to use. Working in a café, on a train or in the office on any device shouldn’t impact on someone’s ability to do their work. That is the core tenet of all unified communications strategies.
But, that is also why they can be so difficult to get right. The classic ‘mobile’ devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops are often the main focus, and can be the easiest to integrate. However, the old staples of the office environment are still incredibly important for most businesses. Landlines and desktops might be declining in numbers – the drop in PC shipments in Q2 2017 was the eleventh straight quarter of decline according to Gartner – but they still play a key role in the average enterprise’s technology estate.
For unified communications strategies to succeed there has to be a focus on uniting all devices, bringing the more traditional together with the cutting-edge. And when new technology finds its way into our offices – whether it’s wearables or robotics – it’s important that the strategy is futureproof. Succeed in that and you’ll reap the rewards.
However, not everyone in the first instance understands how a unified communications strategy would work for their business. We often speak with companies that at first don’t understand the benefits on offer through a unified approach. Each individual feature of a typical unified communications platform – be it in missed call alerts being sent to email, or ‘click-to-call’ buttons for colleagues – might not seem ground-breaking in isolation. But once they are all working together the impact can be really significant.
The idea of disruption is very much in vogue at the moment. Commentators are urging enterprises to look to Uber and Airbnb for inspiration. The reality is that the sort of disruption they represent is era-defining which can change entire industries. That’s not the sort of thing that the average business can aspire to, or would necessarily want to do.
However, internal low-level disruption can deliver huge benefit. Instead of trying to redefine how your industry operates, look instead at your everyday processes. Scrutinise them, and question why things are done the way they are. This is how you find ways to drive efficiency, and the ‘disruption’ you opt for will almost always be driven by technology.
This is exactly why a proper unified communications strategy can be so successful. It can change the way you work and make communication between colleagues and customers a seamless experience.
When building this strategy, it’s important for businesses to choose technology that can seamlessly fit in with their existing systems so that they can maximise their investment and create a seamless experience for their internal users.
It makes things much easier for organisations to create and carry out a strategy that doesn’t feature a mismatch of complex and incompatible technologies. Maintaining a hybrid unified comms environment, with multiple vendors and a mix of cloud and on-premise solutions, can be challenging. It requires a knowledge of how all of the different parts work together and which vendor is responsible for which element, which can take up a lot of time and resources.
This prospect alone can prevent many organisations from implementing unified communications solutions. Another common concern is the cost of hardware, which can prevent businesses from evolving as they are unable to scale their technology up when necessary. This is why there is an increasing demand for lighter, cloud-based solutions, which are flexible and scalable and can be upgraded with minimal disruption when necessary.
Having a flexible solution is incredibly important. The idea of a traditional workplace has changed dramatically in the last decade, and this trend may continue, meaning that businesses can’t predict the resources that they will need in five or ten years’ time. Having flexible infrastructure in place means that any business can adapt to this changing landscape and collaborate in real-time, no matter where its employees are or which device they are using.
Maintaining a truly unified, scalable solution can have plenty of benefits for the customer, too. First impressions count, and providing a seamless user experience and service, whether it’s over the phone, online or via an app, means that customers will know that they’ll get a consistent service every time. They might not realise that their file and past conversations with the company are available, regardless of the location or device the employee is using to engage with them, but their experience will be improved.
For colleagues, proper collaboration – regardless of time or location – will become possible. Video calls, screen sharing or instant messaging won’t be neglected or passed over in favour of a simple email. All of these options will be there on a plate whether they are at their desk or on the move. Giving them the ability to work remotely – just as successfully as they could in the office – will no doubt improve morale and be an added incentive for potential new joiners.
The right unified communications solution will also allow IT departments to get the benefit of complete control and visibility of all users and devices, making support much simpler.
Different industries are at different stages of technological maturity, and businesses within those industries could be in wildly different positions too. However, unified communications is one area that if executed correctly will deliver gains from a commercial perspective. Make sure you take all of your legacy and next-generation devices into account, and see what efficiency savings you could make by wrapping all your communications into one single system.
Lisa Healey, Director of Unified Communications at Intercity Technology
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