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Q&A: How unified communications is disrupting the way we work

The last 50 years has seen work alter faster than ever. The causes of this are numerous, but there is a simple explanation that is oft-overlooked: communication.

Because it has become so integral to our everyday lives, the technology has become invisible. The fact is that communication and collaboration systems are set to further shape the world, making the future of employment one that benefits everyone.

We spoke to Jon Pritchard, the CEO of Atos’ communication and collaboration brand Unify, about the rise of the “anywhere worker” and how the future of work will be ushered in by communication technology.

1. You’ve recently been appointed as CEO, what initially attracted you to the company?

Before being appointed CEO, I spent nearly two years leading Unify’s global channels. I was drawn by the company’s unique and very strong business-focused product portfolio, built on the principles of enabling collaboration within teams. I saw a real opportunity for Unify to challenge the status quo within a mature market and sell solutions to companies that would positively influence productivity and deliver new ways of working to employees who are genuinely seeking flexibility and a better work-life balance.

I was also excited at the opportunity to drive the company’s shift to a channel-first strategy, aggressively driving growth through its partners. As the head of channel at the time, this was a unique opportunity to create a winning strategy to see this vision come to fruition. Today, as CEO, I am pleased to continue Unify’s evolution as part of Atos.

2. It’s interesting that you used to be in charge of the channel. In your experience, is it unusual for companies to appoint CEOs from within their channel leaders? Why did your company choose to do this?

Unify has committed to being a channel-centric business. So, while it may be a unique move from heading up the channel strategy globally, it proves the business’ commitment to this strategy.

Today, more than half of Unify’s business is delivered through the channel. In addition, this strategy of channel growth – which Unify was pursuing prior to the acquisition – continues uninterrupted. Even more, its new affiliation with Atos Group significantly accelerates it towards being one of the world’s leading software and services companies. Atos is fully supportive of developing the channel business with our OpenScape and Circuit portfolios. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be at the head of a dynamic communications business.

3. There’s a lot of talk about flexible working and the technology that drives this. How, in your opinion, has the way people work altered?

Industries the world over are going through massive disruption. A lot of this is led by the desire of employees to find a better work-life balance and flexibility in the way they work. At the same time, companies of all sizes are finding themselves facing the realities of digital transformations, dealing with its consequences, the growth of the on-demand economy, the “appification” of the enterprise, and the continuation of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend. 

These changes have had a massive impact on enterprise IT professionals, particularly those that rely heavily on vendors to provide solutions that not only solve problems but add value to the business. Unify recently released the findings of the Way We Work Study – an independent study that surveyed 9,000 knowledge workers in the US, UK and Germany. More than half of the knowledge workers (52 per cent) surveyed revealed that they now work virtual teams, and 69 per cent agree that having a single office as physical workplace is less important now than it was in the past. It’s our belief that knowledge workers will increasingly want to define how, when and where they work and the per cent that work within virtual teams will only continue to increase.

It’s up to businesses to enable this behaviour and manage further disruption and change. In the context of this changing landscape, where employee productivity needs to be increased or at the very least maintained, while businesses cater to the desires of mobile workers, unified communications (UC) is more relevant than ever and will be for decades to come.

4. Has this changed the way people communicate?

Given the greater focus on flexibility and catering to the “anywhere worker”, there’s definitely a greater reliance on collaboration tools. But employees, much like consumers, are tough critics. They want tools that ensure that communication is seamless and consistent across all platforms – and that these genuinely provide them the ability to work in the ways they choose, whether that be via video, a phone call or instant messaging.

5. Do today’s communication and collaboration technologies measure up to employee expectations?

Not all communication and collaboration tools are created equal. Some of the technology built for enterprise purposes is still very clunky, not taking individuals’ communications needs into account.

The best communication and collaboration tools out there will be purpose built for today’s cloud-based lifestyle. They are easy to access, easily customisable and give access to multiple channels of communication from a single platform. At the same time, a great tool will do all of this with the right security and compliance measures – such as being able to track changes to documents or record conversations – in place right from the start.

6. How do you expect these technologies will evolve over the coming years?

Personally, I think there will be an increasing focus on developing vertical solutions. Each industry and business will have specific needs and smart vendors will start catering to meet these them, all the while working with partners that can genuinely help clients get the most from their solutions.

In addition, I believe there will be an increased link between collaboration solutions like Circuit and traditional UC such as OpenScape. As new generations enter the workforce, the enterprise needs to be ready to help them engage with their colleagues, on whatever channel they choose to do so.

7. If you had to advise a business on how to invest into future proof communication and collaboration technology, what are the things you would tell them to ask potential suppliers?

The unified communication and collaboration market continues to evolve with multiple technology and consolidation acquisitions. These partnerships present great opportunities for businesses to find synergies with existing solutions in their portfolio. At the same time, businesses have be aware that in a mature market, such as UC, that once thriving businesses are fast becoming financially encumbered, and that the stability and longevity of communications and collaborations set up could be tied to this.

Atos and Unify bring something different to a table, together we’re set for the evolution to services-based communications and IT.

Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.