UC Impetus Still Driving Headset Sales

For some time the business market for headsets has been riding on the back of steady growth in the take up of Unified Communications and the rise of the mobile enterprise. Comms Business Magazine reports on how that impetus is changing our view of the sales opportunities.

The take up of headsets in the business market has been linked to or associated with the increase in user take up of unified communications (UC) and that trend looks not only like continuing but quite possibly also accelerating.

The reason for this lies in an enterprise trend for ‘Digital Transformation’, a subject deeper and wider than plain ordinary UC.

Analyst firm IDC predicts that by 2020 30% of the top firms in every business sector will not exist, as we know them today. They will be replaced by new firms, will have merged, will have not kept pace and declined, or will simply not be relevant any more to the business needs of the day.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 10.06.59Firms have been reacting to these predictions for about the last 18 months – some even anticipated this sea change and began their own transformations earlier.

Increasingly the term ‘Digital Transformation’ has been entering our lexicon of terms used to describe features/functions/applications etc. in our sector.

What does it mean? Well for me the process involves a shift in management thinking and structures that are currently steeped in traditional silo based methodology to a new and collaborative way of working enabled by the right mix of technology, applications, and management ethos.

One of the keys is the change from silo to collaboration. Cross-functional management structures and the applications to drive and support them are crucial. But let’s not swap one silo’d way of thinking for another.

There’s no single application or set of technology that can deliver a digital transformation (DT); UCaaS, often a starting point for a DT is not a bad idea to consider at the outset but UCaaS is pretty useless if you leave all the other legacy elements in situ – and that includes the management ethos and employee buy in.

Underpinning the concept of achieving a DT is the desire to create an agile business; one that can deploy new collaborative applications very quickly and change those new ‘configurations’ in any direction – bigger, smaller, different locations etc. – as the need is identified.

Therefore, to achieve a DT for any business, at SME or Enterprise level, you need an overall plan that encompasses so much more than UCaaS.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 10.08.13For example, you need a ‘liquid infrastructure’, a network not necessarily constrained by CPE components but more virtualised or software defined (SDN/NFV), then you need a set of applications that enable and encourage the collaborative working and innovation that brings company services and products more quickly to end user customers.

Buying a UCaaS service is therefore a bit like buying a train set with an oval track configuration. The train will run but get you nowhere. It’s a great starting point but ultimately you will need a bigger box of bits.

Somewhere near the bottom of that big box are the peripheral pieces of kit needed to garner the best out of that digital transformation and it is there you find the headset.

When you unpack the box in other application areas such as call and contact centres the headset is much nearer the top of the shipping list and here we review of activity in the market from the major headset vendors and distributors.

What are the trends in the market?

Nigel Dunn, Managing Director for Jabra UK & Ireland, says he is seeing a huge rise in advanced noise-cancellation technologies right now.

“This comes as no surprise as more and more organisations attempt to tackle the productivity dilemma among knowledge workers. This challenge often stems from the way organisational structures are formed which encourage distractions from email and untimely interruptions and requests from co-workers. We recently carried out a study looking at the pain points that knowledge workers face in the office environment – 69 per cent cited disturbances in the open office as having a negative impact on performance. Such inefficiencies come at a cost to businesses. The loss in momentum caused by initial distractions and the time needed to restart have a significant impact on the output produced by staff. Advanced noise-cancellation technologies help in this regard, enabling greater concentration and focus, which in turn leads to higher quality and higher value work.

This necessity for noise-cancelling headsets is being driven by ‘Generation Mobile’. This new group of employees has transformed the way we think about working environments. Rather than remain confined to one location this new workforce is increasingly mobile, performing duties in off-site facilities such as coffee shops, public transport, rented office space or at home, supported by UC or mobility devices. Background noise is common and uncontrollable in these scenarios which adds weight to the argument for headsets that can block it out.

Finally, over the past 12 months we have seen a steady increase in the number of full UC deployments including Enterprise Voice. Organisations both large and small are starting to see the improvements in collaboration and performance that a fully integrated suite of internet applications can offer. The ability to simultaneously chat, transfer files and share screens through one interface significantly increases the depth and ease of communication. Cloud computing is also helping to reduce CAPEX by freeing up infrastructure costs. For small businesses in particular, this is a powerful incentive.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 10.08.34Tom Maxwell, Head of Dealer Sales, Nimans says all the big orders they have seen from the start of this year have pretty much been around UC.

“We are seeing bigger projects and becoming more involved with resellers in fulfilling large deployments. The top three or four orders have all involved UC. This reflects bigger technology trends and the way the whole comms market is heading, particularly in big business and the public sector. We’ve sold thousands of UC headsets in the last couple of months. UC is leading the way massively now. These trends are only getting bigger. All the major manufacturers are investing their time and money in UC. Integration is key.”

Paul Dunne, Country Manager – UK & Ireland at Plantronics says his company is really starting to see a huge appetite for noise cancelling headsets and this has been driven greatly by the rise of open plan offices and the background noise created due to poor acoustics.

“Another reason for this increased demand can be attributed to the growth in mobile working. People are no longer chained to their desks and want the freedom to work wherever and whenever they want with the assurance that they come across professionally. So whether it’s a noisy car park or a busy coffee shop, our noise cancelling products can deliver a great audio experience and take a lot of stress away from the user when they need to ensure they are understood, and that they can manage background noise.”

Craig Herrett, Chief Operating Officer at VoIPon Solutions, says that sales of VoIP headsets are on the up.

“This is predominantly through established brands such as VXi, but we are also seeing more VoIP Headset manufacturers coming to the market, such as Avelle, increasing competition and making everyone strive to be better. There is no question that UC and improving levels of interoperability are leading to more people having a headset with their phone.

There are so many benefits after all. With more emphasis on both productivity and comfort in the workplace, more people are using headsets to keep their hands available to type or take notes, and to reduce the possibility of neck and back pain. Wireless headsets present a huge opportunity to increase productivity in the workplace because users will never miss a call, and can move from room to room without ever having to put anyone on hold.

UC and collaboration is the trend. Collaboration software tools that deliver presence, IM, voice, video and full conferences right from the desktop are helping companies work better, faster and smarter. These solutions support many different entry points, including traditional desk phones, PCs, tablets and smartphones, so users can choose the device that makes sense – even if it’s their own, UC doesn’t just mean the software you use, it includes the headset you wear.

VXi, along with others, build end point solutions that make these communication tools work better. Intelligibility and noise-cancellation advantages help drive better collaboration – whether you’re using a USB headset with your PC, or a Bluetooth headset with your smartphone. The cloud is huge, too. Organisations can deploy these tools to every employee, without having to prepare and pay for onsite hardware. It also helps with redundancy and disaster recovery, which was cost prohibitive for most companies. All of which has really helped speed adoption.”

How are collaboration applications such as Skype for Business and other UC apps impacting business?

According to Nigel Dunn at Jabra these applications are changing the way we work.

“Our ability to effectively communicate with co-workers, no matter where we are based, is increasing year after year. This has a significant impact on lifestyle, which in turn positively impacts professional performance.

Skype for Business and Lync are helping to increase productivity by integrating instant messaging, presence information, voice and mobility features to provide a consistent unified user interface that’s quick and easy to use. Headsets can also be used with these platforms enabling the user to work hands-free and flexibly. They are often the facilitators between UC technology and adoption.

Finally, applications like Skype for Business, with its new cloud capabilities, are helping to reduce CAPEX and open the doors for small and medium-sized enterprises to become fully optimised for Unified Communications. By replacing fixed-line technology costs, real estate and utilities, UC implementation provides quick ROI. This is a significant development that will drive further UC adoption this year and beyond, as it gains momentum.”

Tom Maxwell at Nimans is in no doubt. “UC and collaboration are having a huge impact on the headset market. It’s about delivering quality and performance. End points are crucial and they can undermine the rest of the system if not up to standard. Investing more in the short term is much better for the long term. This message is being understood more now. High quality headsets enrich the whole experience and aid adoption. There can be a resistance initially from some users who are new to UC. But we are finding younger generations are leading the way and almost demanding and expecting more flexible and intuitive ways of working – simply because they have it in their personal lives. This is building further market momentum.”

Paul Dunne at Plantronics says that as collaboration applications proliferate and the number of devices and tools we use for communications grows, the complexity increases both for end-users and IT departments who are managing and supporting them.
“People have at their disposal a rapidly growing number of product features and functionalities, but currently the complexities of integrating and using them efficiently hampers efforts to convert the capabilities to reality. Our customers need to seamlessly and easily connect to a growing variety of devices and applications, and we’re working hard to meet their expectations that “everything just works” automatically, and intuitively, when and how they expect.”

Tips for building sales and making margin

Nigel Dunn at Jabra says the key for the channel is to become their customers’ ‘trusted advisor’.

“Offering a full service adds value to the relationship and supports loyalty to the partner. Therefore, when providing the telephony platform the channel should ensure that all elements are included from the outset, such as the required hardware, including audio devices. By supporting the adoption of the new platform via user training and post-sales technical support, the partner can create ROI for their customers by helping them with this transformation.”

Tom Maxwell at Nimans believes that for building sales it’s vital for resellers to develop relationships with IT Managers much more now.

“Even if a reseller is not their ‘software house’ they should still be talking to their customers about headset deployment. Don’t be scared of asking questions. The key is to offer a diverse product range. We can offer demo units and get them involved in manufacturer channel programmes. Nimans has a dedicated headset team and we can visit resellers and deliver some training around the latest technologies at their premises. Headsets are a key component and we can offer a full diagnostic approach to maximise sales.”

Craig Herrett at VoIPon Solutions, “I think the most important tip is to actually give the customers the information that they need. Make sure you tell them about the key features, benefits, and the compatibility with different applications. We conduct video reviews and give the user a chance to see the product for themselves close up. We also have comparison charts allowing users to decide the best model for them.”

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine