The future of collaboration is here already – businesses just need to embrace it

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The innovations that mobility is driving, the cloud is enabling and voice quality is supporting are all creating a more intelligent enterprise, as companies transform to succeed and stay ahead of the competition. The cloud is driving digital transformation for the intelligent enterprise. While initially hailed as a cost-saving tool, many enterprise IT teams recognise that the cloud can deliver speed and efficiency to businesses, so they can move more quickly and generate faster outcomes.  In nearly every scenario, the speed of the cloud is a competitive advantage. 

Voice is rapidly becoming the next wave of cloud innovation, as proven by Amazon Echo, Google Home and what others are creating with their huge voice datasets. Through powerful communication analytics and algorithms, new innovations and applications such as smart meetings and virtual assistants will arise.

The cloud, coupled with the exponential growth of smartphones globally, has transformed the way we live and work.  However, the quality of a voice or video connection remains critical.  

Mobile’s Momentum

Everyone needs to communicate and collaborate today, and this will only become more pressing as the trend to remote working accelerates.  Remote employees can often be the most engaged workers when their organisations are able to provide the right collection of personal tools such as a laptop, huddle room or mobile and smart device.

Use of the right technology will help people to be more efficient and connected in the intelligent enterprise of the future.  However, without using collaboration tools to engage with remote workers, the danger of having a team of dispersed employees who rarely connect is very real.   Technologies such as hosted voice and video conferencing can help to avoid this.   

In some organisations, cutting the cord to the desktop phone will be the norm as desk phones join typewriters and phone booths as antiquated technology.  Many organisations will still retain or evolve to a mixed environment, but the prominence of desk phones is declining. We predict that voice communications capabilities will continue to move to a mobile phone, to a desktop app or to a video endpoint, and voice will undergo a series of innovations.

Considering communications via the traditional office setting, research from analyst firm Wainhouse estimates that 70 percent of end users have at least one conferencing account and that 50 percent of enterprise voice traffic ends up on a conference bridge. In other words, the majority of digital workers have some sort of collaboration tool and there has been a decline in desk phone usage to join up with that collaboration tool.   Our own research finds that mobile access and VoIP to virtual meetings will increase year over year and that 66 percent of our audio traffic will come from a mobile access by 2020. 

Voice Quality Reigns Supreme

While mobile is becoming the default voice access tool for a conference call, all collaboration isn’t created equally.  In fact, our research shows people are “audio only” while using a mobile device which makes sense since there is not enough real estate on a smart phone to view slides or content.  But there are times when audio isn’t enough. To get work done, users need to flip on a web cam, share a presentation or show a live spreadsheet. In those situations, a laptop or desktop represents the best device for web meetings because of the richness of the experience and multiple sharing options.  Through this web meeting experience, people are becoming more accustomed to using their desktop for voice applications. Additionally, the improvement of VoIP audio performance and the proliferation of headsets has significantly improved the experience of voice on the desktop or in the browser. 

Without clear audio, productivity and communication can break down. In an enterprise setting, clarity of communications is crucial – people need to hear each other clearly whether they are in a quiet meeting room or a crowded airport terminal.  They also need everyone on a conference call to maintain a continuous connection so that a conversation isn’t interrupted by people dropping out and coming back in. The content of the call, not the connectivity itself, needs to be the focus of each communication, especially if the goal is to transfer knowledge accurately, breakdown organisational silos and engage different mindsets to drive enterprise productivity and progress. 

Messaging Takeover

Messaging is morphing from a consumer application to a powerful way for businesses to connect with customers. The richness of texting on the phone is providing more personal ways for enterprises to connect with customers, especially if customers prefer to text rather than speak. Understanding customer preferences – in this case for texting over voice applications – is crucial, and is already leading to new customer service applications for messaging. According to a Medium report, phone calls are 10 times slower than texting and texts have a 99 percent open rate compared to an average open rate of 20 percent for email. Texting support models could also deliver cost efficiencies if automated workflows streamline labour costs from the contact centre.

Ubiquity is critical.  To speak with someone external to an organisation, the simplest thing to do is send a message to their mobile number.   There are no apps to download, and no conversation is necessary about the right tool or app to use.   Even the most sophisticated cloud businesses and applications now have an SMS text option. With more than five billion unique mobile subscribers at the end of 2017, mobile has a greater reach than any other technology. People use on average only four to six apps on their phone regularly. By reaching customers natively via messaging, businesses could break through the app monopolies control over the smartphone.  

There is a lot of noise around “Mobile First”, but when you peel back the covers it’s nothing more than having a mobile app.  Providers of collaboration tools need to be mindful of being authentically mobile when building services that are natively integrated with mobile networks. Instead of trying to build bridges or more apps, it is possible to reach users through messaging using the mobile network. UCaaS can and should work across devices – whether they are messaging on a desktop or from a mobile, users are connected to colleagues and are able to message any mobile device, anywhere in the world, out of the box.   

People often text for work purposes, whereas several years ago business and personal phone usage were separate.  For general acceptance of mobile as a work communication tool, employees will demand the ability to control and manage their reach-ability outside of normal business hours. 

Messaging is improving, with Google building a global standard (RCS) into Android that will bring the richness of iMessage to all two billion Android devices in the world. This provides even more opportunities for businesses to connect with customers without forcing them to download an application.  As the role of mobile at work and for work evolves, we’re experiencing a virtuous circle of improved experience and increased usage by making it frictionless for people to communicate across organisations and without needing to download any one specific application.

The cloud and smartphones are enabling innovation, with still untapped and undeveloped applications for today’s enterprises and technology teams. In today’s fast paced world, business leaders and IT executives face a myriad of human, cultural and technology challenges to be successful.  The future of business collaboration is already upon us, and it’s the organisations who embrace it that will create more efficient and productive workplaces than ever before.  

Patrick Harper, Chief Technology Officer at PGi   

Image Credit: Startup Stock Photos / Pexels