Workspaces of Tomorrow

Comms Business Magazine talks to Jim Barrett, head of end-user computing, at Dimension Data about today’s employees who he says increasingly operate and interact with one another across multiple geographies, working from home or on the road, and via their own or work-authorised mobile devices.

As technology becomes easier to use and services become more consumerised, these developments have been building into a wave of change that businesses need to ride, or risk being swept away. The challenge for business leaders is how to ensure that the multitude of collaboration technologies – whether instant messaging, audio-conferencing, video-conferencing or social media tools – can be brought together and integrated into a unified communications and collaboration (UCC) solution that works, without losing sight of what users need. While there’s nothing new about UCC, and it’s been a decade since the first IP-based PBX, many organisations are still challenged by the different technologies involved.

UCC has not typically been the subject of strategic ICT planning. However, research carried out with Ovum indicates a surprising shift in recent years: 78 percent of IT decision-makers report they have a strategic plan and a budget for at least some components of UCC. This is good news, but will also bring additional pressure to measure and demonstrate positive results from UCC investments. An important element of a future-looking UCC strategy is to support the UCC applications on the majority of, if not all, devices used in the enterprise. Enabling employees to achieve maximum productivity is the holy grail of performance optimisation for both large and small organisations today, and so strategic decisions must be taken to support the workspaces of tomorrow.

From a device perspective, our research indicates that BYOD continues on its upward march: more than three-quarters of UK firms currently indicate support for employee-owned smartphones and tablets in the future. However, UCC is supported on less than 10 percent of BYOD devices in British companies. With this disparity in mind, defining a UCC strategy has to start with seeing BYOD in context – taking a view of what the technical and human implications mobility holds for the organisation as a whole. We know that BYOD solutions can help organisations manage and control a specific sub-set of devices used for enterprise communications or network access, but ideally BYOD should be part of an overall enterprise mobility strategy which treats device ownership status as just another parameter, such as employee type, mobile operating system, device type, tariff plan, and remote access management.

While enterprises have historically trailed behind when it comes to understanding user requirements, in a world where more users bring their own devices to work, this gap in understanding could come at a very real cost. With almost two-thirds of users bringing their own devices to work, on a global basis, employees are in a sense short-circuiting their lack of formal influence in UCC decisions. There will always be some users who pressure the IT organisation to support the ‘newest and latest’, but the Ovum survey revealed that most employees have reasonable expectations of support. In a world in which decision makers are measured on user uptake and business process improvement, it is imperative to at least take full account of user requirements, even if some of them can’t be prioritised.

The danger of seeing BYOD in isolation, rather than as a catalyst for thinking about an enterprise mobility strategy, is that as UCC applications are rolled out to more enterprise mobile devices and organisations adopt solutions, device ownership will become a mere detail. The focus should, therefore, shift towards assessing the entire device estate; based on employee role requirements, more businesses will seek to manage, secure, control and support UCC services, irrespective of the device through which they are consumed. Another interesting point to bear in mind is that social and video have been pegged as two of the biggest disruptors to come over the next three years. Unsurprisingly, as social and professional collaboration tools start to come together, today’s employees increasingly seek applications they trust and are familiar to them in their everyday lives.

Whether these are treated as formal parts of the enterprise communications infrastructure, and governed as such, or whether our data is merely an acknowledgement that employees use mobile applications now for day-to-day work, the result is definitive. While companies have long paid lip-service to supporting remote workers, the reality of working practices can finally be reflected in taking a progressive and open approach to end-user computing trends where intelligent UCC investment choices are made. In turn, when done right, UCC enables more and better communication, increasing business productivity.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine