Collaboration at its best

As 2020 rolls on in what seems like a whirlwind of activity there are a few markets which are currently underpinning the entire economy. Collaboration technology is helping businesses tackle their daily tasks in new, more efficient, ways. In this feature, Comms Business explores this super-connected world.

Over the last three months I have been having a recurring conversation with business owners about their collaboration strategy. That conversation generally starts with business owners exclaiming they managed to get everyone up and running using one of the many great tools out there, and it ends with them telling me they are now wondering if they should be going back to the office at all.

The current crisis delivered an ultimatum for many businesses – cease operations or deploy technology to enable employees to work from home for the foreseeable future. There are, of course, several industries where working from home is not an option, but for the majority, there are ways to simply facilitate it – demonstrated by the fact that more than 39% of adults in employment are now working from home, compared to around 12% last year (according to Giacom). 

Many employees are thriving working from home. And the hours they have gained back while working from home are not going to be something they will want to give up easily –  two-thirds (63%) of workers said they are open to full time remote working and never going back to the physical office once the crisis is over. It’s becoming clear that the future will not be a permanent office-based workforce, but will shift to a hybrid model combining both remote and office working, allowing for a larger degree of flexibility. This approach of working fueled by the pandemic is clearly favoured, as 77% of UK employees believe a mix of office-based and remote working is the best way forward post Covid-19.

Will Emm, CEO of Oak Innovation, commented, “In the late 1990 and early 2000’s, VoIP fuelled the convergence of voice and data. Similarly, collaboration is fuelling convergence with the computing industry. Typically, traditional voice vendors are strong in call control features and contact centre whilst vendors entering from a computing perspective are better able to deliver value through desktop integration and business intelligence.

Oak can help by collecting voice data from multiple sources to support customers with hybrid solutions. We’re also able to integrate with Microsoft Dynamics Customer Insights, to provide users with a 360 degree view of customer experience, support better decision making and drive process improvement.”

Differentiators

With so many solutions on the market it is important to establish a firm understanding of where vendors are choosing to differentiate will be important for any partner looking to onboard a new solution.

Justin Hamilton-Martin, Director Centile and Swyx UK, part of Enreach, commented, “Integrations and mobility are the two battlegrounds for diff erentiation right now. Both help to put people at the heart of the user experience, which is a definite trend we are delighted to see happening not just in the UK but in mainland Europe too. APIs are one way for resellers to build packages that target specific markets, while mobility has been a strong trend even during lockdown, with people using their mobiles even more for collaboration, even when working from home. As the ‘work anywhere’ workplace revolution continues, mobility is going to be where the smart money goes.”

Jon Dailey, Channel Director, NFON UK said, “Most vendors are going down the route of APIs for third party apps, such as CRM systems, ticketing systems, planning systems etc, and incorporating meetings etc. The key differentiator is usability and flexibility to integrate with other systems. There is a big opportunity to sell wrap-around and managed services. A lot of resellers don’t just sell telephony and would be selling IT services into customers. Also, most of the larger vendor sell via the channel from a license perspective, so the channel can still be involved in the sale.”

Mark Smith, Chief Marketing Officer of Atos UCC, commented, “In terms of collaboration products themselves, there are few differentiators – basic feature sets are relatively on par and pricing can often be similar. Where we can identify differentiators, these are mostly surrounding the openness of platforms. Those with the most friendly API environments, or that can extend support for alternative use cases, are easily differentiated from those locked to desktop, mobile devices or specific ecosystems.”

Iain Sinnott, Sales & Marketing Director of VanillaIP said, “Collaboration is one of those words that means different things to different people. It starts from a ‘meeting’, which in post March 23rd 2020 means a virtual meeting, and is essentially a bringing together of minds in a huddle.

“For some organisations this expands up to formal project and task management with visible tracking, integrated messaging and document management and progress reporting.

“Different products suit the different depths of interest organisations have in the collaborative process so resellers may need to carry multiple options. The differentiator might fall into this concept of depth of use across meetings, document share and remote control, recording and storage of recordings, transcription of recordings and key word search or project and task management with stage reporting.”

The elephant in the room – Teams

Microsoft Teams is the talk of the town right now and as businesses look to consolidate the various tools in their estate it is likely that Teams will be high on the list for consideration. Microsoft touches virtually every business in one form or another and given the integration into the Microsoft application estate, and now an increasingly competitive Direct Routing landscape, the meteoric rise of users was always coming with, or without, the pandemic.

Andrew Dickinson, MD of Jola, commented, “MicroSMEs are using Zoom and Teams, SMEs and Enterprise are mainly using Teams, with Google Meet and Slack growing due to Lockdown, but are considered also-rans in the business scheme-ofthings. Microsoft Teams has the advantage that it has built conferencing and calling into the existing Office stack, so it does everything. With recent licencing changes it is much cheaper and easier to turn Teams into a phone system and this is where resellers come in – adding dial-tone to Teams by selling Direct Routing. As businesses return to their offices we are seeing a spike in hosted seats but one of our fastest growing products is Direct Routing. The challenge here for resellers that didn’t sell their customers their Office licenses is provisioning. Jola has solved this problem by automating the provisioning process, however resellers will still need to get their customers to enter their MS credentials themselves, or give them admin rights to do so.

“The channel has never relied on the measly commissions for selling MS Office. Instead they have made their margin from support – charging per seat, per month. As a chunk of the market port their numbers into Teams, this opportunity will grow. Traditional IT support companies have mainly avoided ‘mucky minutes’ due to billing/numbering/porting capabilities and here there is an opportunity for collaboration and consolidation. The SME market is ‘owned’ by the channel and I am optimistic that this will continue.”

Julien Bertheuil, Managing Director EMEA, Spectralink says, “With workers becoming more and more mobile, remote workers [need] to be able to access the same phone system features, regardless of whether they’re working from a desktop or a mobile device. Teams makes it easier to stay connected to customers and prospects from any location, and from any device.

“In a retail setting, Teams gives workers on the shop front access to tools to help them respond to customers more rapidly and efficiently: helping them check stock availability or locate the nearest branch with the specific item available, for example. Customers benefit from better levels of service, while employees feel empowered by being able to provide accurate information on-the-go.

“Hospitals and other healthcare settings are also a good example as using Teams enables them to orchestrate resources and care across departments, digitise clinical workflows, and enable coordinated care with instant access to people and patient information. This means clinicians can spend more time with their patients, where it matters the most.”

Will Emm commented, “Microsoft Teams has been improving every month with a wide range of voice enablement options ranging from integration with on site or hosted telephony through to Microsoft Calling Plans and Direct Routing.

“The recent introduction of a Microsoft Teams recording interface has expanded their available market to include heavily regulated industry sectors like FinServ, as well as organisations that focus on customer experience and reputation. Oak are one of the first recording vendors to announce the availability of a recording solution for Teams.”

The longer term

In the recent crazy period companies scrabbled to adopt their collaboration tool of choice, as we look ahead there is likely to be continued activity as companies realise what they implemented the first time isn’t quite fit for purpose, or another platform contains enhanced favoured tools. I asked the market what they thought the collaboration space would bring us over the next 12 months?

Mark Smith from Atos commented, “Firstly, accessibility. No matter how you collaborate, the need to make it accessible to all should be top of the list.  Secondly, automation – it’s fair to say that a good portion of nearly every knowledge worker’s day is taken up by tasks that could be automated. This would free up more time for the strategic thinking and tasks required in this rapidly changing environment. Finally, augmentation – the era of disparate unorganised information is over, we now expect to be able to interrogate information in data in a detailed and precise manner. Augmentation and integration of existing tools will enable this.”

Justin Hamilton-Martin said, “Certainly, from our own experience, we are seeing a new generation of resellers emerging who are totally focused around APIs, realising that these give them far more opportunities to diff erentiate, with bundled features and targeting diff erent verticals. People used to talk about the app economy, we are now in the era of the API economy. The explosion of APIs across the entire technology stack is only going to continue.

“Another trend we are seeing is the channel making common settings for different markets accessible via apps and portals, putting key features directly in the hands of users to create a customised experience. This is far beyond product selling: this is about pre-packaged solutions-selling based on deep market knowledge. Th is is attracting a new wave of partners with a healthy focus on customer experience.  

“Regardless of how partners are delivering services to their customers, we are defi nitely seeing far more focus on the customer experience, putting users at the centre, and towards a mobile-fi rst UX.”

Jon Dailey from NFON commented, “First: More and more people and companies will take team collaboration for granted. Cloud technology, especially telephony from the cloud, is becoming more and more established. Second: Further integrations with other tools, such as contact centres and email etc. There will also be further capabilities to route calls via other carriers, such as direct routing. As more people work from diff erent locations the use cases and thus opportunity for the channel will continue to scale.”

Will Emm from Oak Innovation said, “Organisations will be taking a step back, learning from their experiences and preparing for the ‘new normal’. For many, working from home necessitated compromises, particularly in the areas of risk and customer experience. Th e importance of call recording, call analytics and card payment systems really come into focus when managing a highly distributed workforce.”

Iain Sinnott of VanillaIP added, “I think we will see customers heavily using the meeting elements but being slower to develop a hunger for the more workflow driven application adoption. It has been a big shift in technology adoption for most of the SME world and they will need to complete their move to flexible communications technology and consumption models, and stabilise their own ship before exploring further into the idea of technology = productivity.

“Telecoms players beware however, the IT Crowd will not be looking for your customers to slow that progress and as the HPBX becomes just part of a 30 day application licence mix, they will be looking to eat your lunch.”

The following two tabs change content below.

David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine