As business becomes increasingly competitive, enterprises are looking for innovation wherever they can get it. Every day, new technologies purport to deliver better ways to communicate, collaborate, and/or correlate. For business and IT, it’s a whirlwind of opportunity that can be somewhat daunting.
It may be counter-intuitive to look at a technology that’s familiar and that may seem almost prosaic -- such as voice – but it’s not. Technology advancement is incremental, building on what has come before, and voice is no exception. Its importance is evolving, for a variety of reasons. For instance, enterprises are deriving increasing payoffs from mobility, from smartphones to tablets. At the same time, they are benefiting from cloud-based solutions; they can substitute unwieldy on-premises voice systems with increasing flexible cloud options. The result? Improved productivity across the enterprise, for both employees and IT staff.
IDG Research recently surveyed IT decision makers regarding what they’re looking for in innovation and how voice strategies tie into those plans. The results were clear: respondents see the links between voice systems (especially those tied into mobility and the cloud) and innovation, and they consider them viable. But there’s a caveat: rightfully, they will not give up the fundamentals of security and reliability.
Importance and Innovation
The survey asked three key questions, the answers to which highlight the importance of these new technologies and their potential for innovation. First: how important are innovations such as mobile and cloud to your business? A strong majority, 74 percent, rank these new capabilities as important, with 39 percent of respondents saying they were “extremely” important and 35 percent saying they were “very” important.
The survey then asked how important these types of innovation were to respondents’ voice communications strategy. No doubt these innovations are important: 21 percent of respondents said innovations are “extremely” important while another 35 percent said they are “very” important.
But this isn’t a question of innovation for technologies’ sake. When asked what capabilities or technologies have the most potential for business-changing benefits, the top four responses all related to mobility and cloud systems. For instance, 70 percent said mobile had a “high potential” to produce business benefits, while 65 percent said business continuity had a “high potential” to produce business benefits.
Two additional capabilities were cited by 63 percent of respondents for their potential to produce business benefits: presence and flexibility. Presence is the ability to see who’s available for voice, instant messaging, or conferencing, while flexibility relates to cloud computing’s ability to deploy new apps quickly.
Other technologies cited included the co-mingling of data and voice to share documents via web conference (59%); the use of big data and predictive analytics (50%); and the integration of voice capabilities with social applications (38%).
Some Caveats to Consider
There’s a caveat to all this enthusiasm, of course. Most IT executives have lived through hype cycles before, and they maintain a healthy skepticism. In the effort to achieve voice innovation goals, respondents cited the need for three things: security (62%), scalability (50%), and reliability (49%). Enterprises clearly don’t want to get away from the fundamentals that traditional, on-premises voice systems have always offered, and they expect vendors to accommodate these capabilities.
Other issues cited in regard to voice innovation included flexibility and agility (32%); legacy system interoperability (29%); and the ability to support a full suite of capabilities (27%). Clearly, respondents acknowledge the need to provide traditional tools while moving forward with new solutions.
What are the underlying goals that enterprises have when it comes to innovation? It all comes down to efficiency and productivity. Because next-generation voice systems align so closely with the way employees work and communicate, they have the potential to fulfill these goals for productivity. That’s why new voice systems have ramifications for both business and IT.
The Cloud and Productivity
Where does productivity come from, after all? For employees, it comes in part from higher levels of collaboration – that is, the ability to find, connect, and communicate with colleagues in order to discuss and determine the best course of action. New cloud-based voice systems support this in a number of ways, by tying mobile communication devices to back-end enterprise systems. As a result, finding someone’s number isn’t dependent on whether it’s in someone’s contact list; employees can access corporate directories and click on a number for faster connect-and-response time.
The same concept can be extended for other benefits. With the ability to view contacts in a corporate system, employees can also see if someone is available (even if they’re working globally). Insight into presence means employees have more options than just leaving voice-mail. Presence provides settings for the recipient, so they can be clear on whether they’re available for calls, or only text messages, depending on their current status.
By extending this insight beyond availability to people’s expertise, employees can use their phones to identify the best source for a question, even if they haven’t met that person previously. The ability to access in-house experts without navigating layers of bureaucracy delivers better answers faster. The ability to make these connections with a mobile phone means that employees don’t have to be in the office or at their desk to collaborate. They can be in a client’s office and deliver the utmost in responsiveness.
Linking next-generation voice systems to the cloud also produces other benefits. Cloud computing doesn’t discriminate among devices. This gives enterprises the ability to finally enjoy real device agnosticism, by giving their employees the ability to take calls using the device that suits their situation best, whether it’s smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop.
Even better, mobile applications have advanced significantly, becoming both easier to develop and easier to use. For years, enterprises have wrangled with the best and most economical way of allowing employees to use their personal mobile devices for business, rather than forcing employees to carry two phones and enterprises to bear the burden of added cost. Now, to aid enterprises, communications vendors are offering mobile applications that simplify considerably the ability for employees to use their phones for business.
By routing communication through the back-end cloud, employees can maintain a business persona, even while using a personal phone. These applications forego the need to use clumsy partitioning software while still maintaining high-level security. This offloads a big headache from IT as well.
By combining the utility of voice systems, mobile devices, and cloud computing, other advantages accrue as well. Third-party vendors see a burgeoning opportunity in better communication tools, and cloud computing makes it easier to incorporate these applications. Consider new tools such as Slack, which combines the convenience of instant messaging with the corporate need for tracking communications; it improves compliance because all communication is now accessible by e-discovery tools.
Productivity for IT through Innovation
Sometimes simplicity for one group only translates to complexity for another. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the deployment of new cloud-based voice systems for IT. They contribute to more efficiency for IT staff as well, for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost: the cloud infrastructure itself, the benefits of which are well-known. Offloading a new voice system to the cloud releases IT from having to procure, deploy, manage, and upgrade communications systems.
There are numerous additional advantages:
Unified communications as a service (UCaaS). Many of the capabilities cited above for employees come under the umbrella of unified communications. This encompasses the ability to manage availability, see presence, and upgrade one-to-one voice conversations to one-to-many audioconferences. By taking advantage of UCaaS, IT staffers can quickly offer these capabilities to the business without having to become experts in it themselves.
Simplified device management. By relying on carrier-supplied applications and the cloud, IT can reduce the amount of time it spends managing mobile devices. In a world where new smartphones and tablets are evolving quickly, this means IT doesn’t have to be a bottleneck when employees upgrade. That also means IT can reduce the number of resources devoted to end-user technical support.
Single-vendor contact. By aggregating next-generation voice capabilities in the cloud, IT staff can consolidate the number of vendors, in turn simplifying everything from account management to technical support.
API integration with enterprise applications. Cloud computing has all but eliminated the need for tightly coupled integration between applications. Now IT can take advantage of industry-standard APIs to link applications. From the perspective of voice systems, that means they can easily set up links between voice systems and applications such as Salesforce or other tools that require call logging, and have communication logged automatically.
Fixed-mobile convergence. IT can also leverage voice technology to automatically channel on-campus or in-building wireless communications to the WiFi network, as opposed to using cellular protocols and racking up minutes or data usage. This is another means of reducing the cost of smartphone deployment.
IT business process benefits. There’s one other way that IT benefits from better collaboration. It doesn’t relate to end-users, but rather to IT’s own business processes. IT regularly collaborates with developers, whether within their own office or globally. The same kind of voice applications that aid collaboration and communication on the business side provide the same benefits for DevOps teams working with agile technologies – the kind that require quick feedback and turnaround.
Not Your Father’s Voice Systems
Based on the results of the IDG Research survey, IT decision makers appear ready to take advantage of next-generation voice solutions that combine the value that mobility and the cloud for better productivity throughout the enterprise. They’re already looking for the kind of payoff that these voice solutions can provide.
One of the key arbiters for the success of technology is how many people it will help. Next-generation voice systems go a long way in serving not just a few departments, but employees in all facets of the business – and IT. End-users achieve faster communication and better collaboration. IT benefits by eliminating the arcane complexities of on-premises phone systems – complexities that frequently required a set of dedicated IT resources for understanding the arcane nature of such systems.
Next-generation voice systems not only provide a way to deploy cloud-based applications quickly, they provide a means of linking back-end systems that make a wider variety of information available – contacts, insights, conversations. Perhaps more important, they provide a foundation for ongoing innovation as new and better tools for communication and interaction develop.
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