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Technology – the key to the UK’s productivity puzzle?

This October the UK’s productivity rate returned to its pre-crisis levels for the first time, according to the Office of National Statistics. However, it still lags behind the rest of the G7 group of leading economies. Although output per hour has increased, the gap between the UK and the other countries remains wide, at 18 per cent in GDP per hour worked. Moreover, even if the UK’s productivity has improved, so has that of the other countries – the gap has stayed the same since 2014. UK productivity was 27, 30 and 35 per cent lower than in France, the USA and Germany respectively. 

The ongoing failure to get UK productivity going again since the financial crisis has been called a “productivity puzzle” by economists. It is particularly puzzling given that the UK is one of the more technologically advanced countries around the world and technology in the workplace was meant to increase productivity. 

Siloes and challenges

In the grand scheme of things, it has succeeded. A report by O2 Business and the Centre of Economic and Business Research (opens in new tab) (Cebr) from 2013, found that by that date, technology had already contributed to an overall increase in productivity of 84 per cent per hour for office workers since the 1970s. Moreover, they expected the growth to continue, anticipating further growth of 22 per cent by 2020. A significant contributing factor to this was the decrease in the cost of technology – with one gigabyte of hard disk space costing £120,000 (at today’s rate) in 1980, compared to 5 pence now.  

However, the way that unified communications (UC) technology in particular has evolved has resulted in siloes and more challenges than anticipated. The vision for unified communications has always been a streamlined, user and IT-friendly experience that enables work to proceed without disruption but this has not necessarily been the reality. The multitude of real-time and non-real-time communications methods used by workers typically requires a disruptive two to three-step process of leaving a business application to communicate. All of this hinders productivity and increases stress. Integrating the wide variety of forms and methods of communication into a single flow has been an unmet challenge until now.

Evolution of unified communications

When thinking about the evolution of unified communications, we refer to three eras, starting with the Unified Communications era. Historically, unified communications was largely about IT cost savings and desktop consolidation where you needed to have all these capabilities in one desktop app. The desktop team had control over the user experience, with the expectation of improved employee productivity. 

Then came the mobile era, which started when everyone was coming to work with at least one mobile device. Organisations leverage the power of these employee-owned devices and employees expect to be able to access their enterprise services anywhere with the same intuitiveness and simplicity of their consumer apps. This of course is very different to a traditional enterprise, IT defined desktop environment. This is also a rapidly growing market and IDC expects the worldwide market for mobile unified communications and collaboration applications software to grow from $696 million in 2015 to just about $1.8 billion in 2020. 

Now, we are embarking on the digital transformation era. Rather than being product-focused, IT is becoming, and needs to become, outcome-driven. This is at the heart of the change we are seeing in communications and the foundation of how organisations stay relevant in the future. This digital transformation is driving the need for an evolution in unified communications. Customers, employees and partners are demanding a user-driven communications experience, defined by users and line of business leaders, which fits into how they work instead of changing how they work. The rigid experience historically driven by IT is becoming a thing of the past.

The ROI and the KPI

Accordingly, this era is line of business focused and about driving contextual experiences and outcomes, hard dollar ROI and KPIs. The capabilities from the unified communications era and the mobile era are still required in the digital transformation era, but this new era will make UC natural and a part of how we communicate every day: on our device of choice, within a browser or embedded in the applications we live in. Simple, transparent, in context and user defined. 

In this era, employees need to expect more from unified communications.  

  • Single UC view Workers should be able quickly see all scheduled meetings, messaging updates and communications history in one place and take immediate action with a single touch. 
  • Collaboration within a browser – Having to download apps to collaborate slows down the working process and a best-in-class browser experience with full collaboration capabilities eliminates migration challenges for organisations in the process of transitioning desktop business applications to the web and/or shifting applications to the cloud. 
  • Messaging with continuity – Having a messaging application on the desktop is only useful while the employee is at their desk. But persistent, multimedia messaging for text, audio, video, images and files allows employees to access and send team messages in real time. A conversation initiated on the desktop in the morning can be picked back up on the mobile device at lunchtime, for example. Workers can even message those who are offline for more efficient team interaction. 

These expectations are at the heart of our work and the recent launch of our Equinox (opens in new tab)solution aims to deliver streamlined, mobile-first communications within the applications and browsers employees ‘live in’ for their work. An example of how this works is at Humber River Hospital. This is North America’s first fully digital hospital based out of Toronto and they are using Equinox for a tablet-based application for remote patient monitoring. The solution uses sensors to monitor patients and if any vital signs increase to an alarming level, the application automatically communicates with the hospital team, and sets up a video conference bridge that connects the patients with the doctor monitoring the situation. 

The age of clumsy, siloed unified communications solutions is over. It is finally possible to have a streamlined and smooth one-stop solution for employees. Hopefully, evolutions like this will mean the UK’s productivity puzzle is about to be solved and that the gap between the UK and other countries will shrink soon. We look forward to what this new era of digital transformation will bring to workplaces around the country.

Simone Bini, Video Sales Leader – Europe, Avaya (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Sean MacEntee / Flickr

Simone Bini is Video Sales Leader - Europe at Avaya. An experienced manager using, promoting and empowering new technologies in the Unified Social Communication's sphere.