The role of unified communications and collaboration (UCC) technology across the business landscape rapidly took on a new element last year with the onset of COVID-19. Since then, the function of such technology in the enterprise has not stood still.
Far from it.
After that initial rush to adopt new technology aimed at enabling remote work last year, a new consideration is emerging for partners: how to keep up with the still-evolving role of UCC technology within clients’ businesses as they settle down into a new normal?
For Datacom product solutions group strategy general manager Peter Stein, the new way of working, post-COVID, will be nothing short of a generational shift in terms of dynamic.
“It is no longer about the technology that we will stand up. Now it is all about culture,” Stein told ARN.
There is no doubt in Stein’s mind that, as the unified comms story for all becomes more cloud-based, the answer for partners will be in specialisations around UCC offerings.
“User experience is always going to kill tech capability,” he said. “Our aim is to get the tech right but also to work with our clients to ensure they are enabled and can make the best use of the tools shared with them. The UC vendors have accelerated their dev strategy, which becomes even more vital as the tool is continually evolving.
“The on-prem PABX [private automatic branch exchange] is dead, and the landline is not far behind.
“The opportunity is endless for the next few years at least: UC as a service, collaboration suites for UC, custom integrations, including CRM [customer relationship management and ERP [enterprise resource planning], Learning and enablement, security and compliance,” he added.
According to Sebastian Maciejewski, SSDL director, demand and consumption of UCC solutions continued to increase from the initial rush to remote working earlier last year.
As a result of the prolonged lockdown measures in Victoria, for example, a lot of customers and their teams were looking at what the new normal would look like heading into 2021.
Echoing Stein’s gloomy prediction regarding the future of PABX in the enterprise, Maciejewski said his company saw many businesses last year further embracing UCC solutions by replacing ageing private branch exchange (PBX) solutions, while enabling full public switched telephone network (PSTN) voice functionality, allowing their users to become truly mobile.
As a result of this new technology, Maciejewski and his team found that user training and feature adoption was in high demand with business during the second lockdown in Victoria.
“Discussions with customers and their teams have started to move toward downsizing offices and enabling remote working as a longer-term solution that benefits both the organisation and the individuals,” Maciejewski told ARN.
“The extended lockdown has shown businesses that they can operate outside of the traditional four walls of an office and that, in most cases, employees are willing to adapt and go the extra mile to ensure that a business survives in such challenging times,” he added.
In terms of what all this means for partners, Maciejewski suggested that the follow-on needs organisations have been reviewing relate to the consolidation of UCC platforms that were first trialled during the initial lockdown.
Part of this consolidation process revolves around the large amount of shadow IT that has crept in over the months. At the same time, workplace occupational health and safety (OH&S) concerns have come to the fore.
“As a result of the global crisis, we are looking at new ways to enable employees the flexibility of working at home whilst ensuring that they are complying with OH&S obligations,” Maciejewski said. “We are also looking at expanding our product offerings to help those in need to be able to quickly and easily access support services.”
Looking forward, Maciejewski suggested that, in the coming year, his company expected to see a greater level of interoperability between the platforms arising, allowing organisations to quickly and affordably interconnect with other business UCC platforms.
“The dramatic rate of change and enhancement in UCC platforms over the last 12 months has been mind-blowing,” he said. “The global UCC players are listening to their users and are fast-tracking features to satisfy customer demand.
“We believe that there will be some acquisitions across some of the UCC platforms in an attempt to increase market share whilst enhancing the user experience.”
Accessing ancillary services
For some partners, the biggest areas of interest in the wake of the initial rush to remote working situations and the associated UCC technology revolve around ancillary services, with cyber security becoming a big problem to be solved and, as such, a major opportunity going forward.
“While there has been a rush in [UCC] products, it’s made companies evaluate other areas of their business to ensure that with the UCC solutions, they take into consideration areas of their business with disaster recovery and security,” Exigo Tech co-founder and sales director Niten Devalia told ARN.
From Devalia’s perspective, having employees on remote collaboration tools opens up the possibility of attacks, meaning it is important for organisations to not rush solutions in and instead make sure they do their testing thoroughly.
Beyond this, once new solutions are considered permanent, organisations will find themselves needing to create systems internally to ensure productivity and engagement levels are sustainable. Meanwhile, training and additional, ongoing support services will represent another area of ongoing interest and demand.
“As we look to adapt new UCC tools, we are also looking at how we provide training and support in these areas to ensure that the products are not phased out early and allow organisations to change the way in which they use these tools,” Devalia said.
Indeed, the company last year started creating training videos for its clients, including Webex training sessions to show customers the tools that were being introduced by the provider.
“We need to respect that there are different levels of education about solutions in an organisation, so it’s important to let users adapt to these technologies and understand them in a way that they can relate,” Devalia noted.
Unsurprisingly, cloud is making up a big part of the new enterprise IT solutions landscape, according to Devalia, with Exigo Tech’s sales team seeing a reduction in commercial building infrastructure requirements and a stronger adoption of cloud solutions.
“As such, all platforms would need to be cloud-ready along with an agile approach to their apps which will integrate to cloud,” he said. “Our sales team is able to be very creative with their customer builds, which is also allowing customers to change the way in which they use technologies.”
Moreover, the Exigo Tech team has seen a change in its application space as customers use collaborative tools to build data lakes and collaboration tools as a means of gathering information about their organisations.
Adding to the ranks of those predicting the demise of traditional PABX solutions, so heavily reliant on infrastructure and office setup, Devalia expects to see such technology decline over time.
Devalia also predicts that, with licence-based models available for most UCC solutions, the industry will begin to see users start to use such solutions not only for work, but also for consumer use at home.
“It’s important that UCC platforms build adaption into CRMs, ERPs etc…so that users can gather data accordingly. UCC platforms that do not build API integration into other cloud platforms will be left behind and businesses will need to update their security policies to ensure users use the environment properly,” he said.
The need for agility
UCC licensing has played a big part in the work Kurt Solarte, EY Consulting lead partner, and his team have been doing for clients both during the initial migration to remote working and as part of the follow-on needs arising as businesses learn to work with the new normal.
“The initial rush was to run up the ‘plumbing’ and licensing of UCC solutions; how do we get people access, working, and productive,” Solarte told ARN. “Now we are seeing our clients look to optimise and institutionalise the UCC solutions – sorting out the right licensing, security and privacy policies, ensuring they have the right foundational elements for a sustainable future of the mixed workforce.”
Beyond licensing issues, as some organisations begin to return to their offices, organisations are facing hybrid working realities, with some of the team at home and some at the office. This has meant that enterprise have had to make changes to physical space in the office and the UCC solutions within those spaces.
“Some of the first changes we are seeing are the replacement of traditional video conferencing rooms with small soundproof rooms featuring webcams, in addition to socially distanced rooms that include multiple cameras and web-enabled shared whiteboard,” Solarte said.
For EY itself, Solarte said the company was staying as agile as possible, making small changes to its physical spaces as it tests and invests in the technical integrations of its UCC platforms with its design, work and meeting technology.
“Right now, we’re also keeping an eye on the ongoing changes and integrations that will allow us to move fluidly between digital and physical working because that is where we will start to enable a truly modern workforce to be efficient; when, where, and how they need to be,” he said.
“We are executing more projects around moving core business applications to the cloud, allowing easier access from mobile and remote working so that our clients’ workforces are less tied to physical buildings and infrastructure to get them access to what they need to be productive,” Solarte added.