Sunday, 3 May 2015

#UCEXPO - Towards unified workplace communications

The enterprise world is going mobile. Many organisations have already grasped the benefits of mobility and integrated it within their communication strategy. This is not only driving collaboration and business alignment, but also efficiency and flexibility by giving companies a fast and easy way to respond and act on challenges from anywhere. 

With all these advances in technology the move to mobile is only going to accelerate and become a de facto modus operandi. This is the conclusion I reached while attending the Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCEXPO) event at Olympia London last week.

Bringing it all together

Mobility is different and more significant than just equipping staff with mobile devices. The latter is only the first step in enabling a truly mobile organisation. Instead, it is about integrating different network technologies to maximise the value and experience of digital communications.

Marianne Calder from Cisco spoke about an "integrated experience from the pocket to the boardroom."

She described Cisco’s strategy as to “bring it all together” - unified communications, conferencing and collaboration. The latter includes collaborating with employees, as well as partners and customers.

"Traditional management approaches have failed the modern agile worker. Employees just want to get things done. For teams to excel they need a platform that is pervasive and provides a seamless, connected experience."

Presently, 95% of Fortune 500 companies and over 200,000 customers use Cisco Collaboration Portfolio worldwide. Among its users we heard about the nurses and doctors at Airedale NHS who are supporting local care homes via video link. That way they have been able to reduce emergency admissions by 35% as well A&E attendance by 53%.

Another example comes from the financial sector. Nationwide is using Cisco Collaboration to empower remote expert teams, who so far, have increased sales performance by 70% while lowering the cost of sale by 66%.

Calder didn't forget to remind us that 'disrupt or be disrupted' is part of a journey. While today digitisation is already enabling innovation and business growth, new models such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Everything (IoE) are also emerging.

In fact, it seems as if they are the future of the enterprise - the value at stake has been estimated to be $19 trillion (£12.35 trillion). Most importantly, people and process represent 60% of the IoE value.

"IoE success will depend on innovative application of technology to improve the "people" and "process" elements of the business."

By listening to Calder it almost felt like the next few years are expected to be game-changing for the workplace of the future.

Digital transformation is thinking mobile first

Another interesting session was by AT&T's Vishy Gopalakrishnan. He shared some impressive statistics to make the case for the pervasiveness of mobility and the cloud in the workplace.

For example, Strategy Analytics predicts that the global mobile workforce will increase by 1.2 billion in 2013 to 1.7 billion in 2018. According to CIO Magazine over 15 petabytes of new data are created every day. Cisco expects video to represent 78% of all Internet traffic by 2018. Meanwhile, IDC anticipates that 46% of all IT delivery will happen through the cloud by 2016.

Those numbers are quite telling. "It’s not the 'tied to the desk' immobile office any longer. The workplace will see many more changes that are coming even faster. This makes having a single user environment that extends across devices and geographies - a necessity to meet the changing demands of today’s mobile workforce."

In fact, the combination of cloud and mobile makes businesses more agile and responsive. Plus, it helps them become more cost efficient, productive and innovative. Businesses have already started to mobilise unified communications to solve business problems - from collaborating on demand in the field, to deploying and managing content in online and secure environments as well as running virtual face-to-face meetings across the globe.

One way AT&T is responding to the need of the mobile market is by extending their networked technology to key cloud service providers including Box, Salesforce, VMware, Windows Azure, IBM and Amazon Web Services.
The company has also launched AT&T Mobile Office Suite, a collaboration solution that combines the productivity applications of Microsoft Office 365 with cloud-based voice from AT&T.

Yet, it is not just about the technology. Similarly to Calder, Gopalakrishnan emphasised the importance of focusing on the people - "empower employees to communicate and collaborate"; process - "automate time-critical and resource-intensive business process into the mobile cloud" and assets - "gain unprecedented visibility and drive utilisation of assets."

Plus, "don't forget the ecosystem!" What he meant is that an organisation can also benefit from collaborating with their suppliers, customers and partners.

Indeed, as Gopalakrishna finally put it: "Possibilities are endless. Transformation is happening now."

The intelligent enterprise starts with collaboration

It is always a pleasure to listen to technology professionals talking passionately about workplace creativity and relationships. Stuart Cochran, the CTO of the London-based enterprise content collaboration platform Huddle, is one of those people.

He spelled out from the start that a digital workplace should be "social by nature, trusted, easy to use, mobile and secure in the cloud." Most importantly, his talk reminded us that successful transformation needs effective change management: "Remember, collaboration is about greater transparency and innovation among teams.  Beyond the technology, ensure adoption through wider policy change, effective change management and communication."

He is spot on. Cochran spoke about articulating clear objectives, forcefully considering all the people involved in the change - "champions, preachers, blockers and sleepers" - and nurturing adoption with dedicated support and guidance. He also talked about having a customised plan, which also includes defined content and measurement. Those elements are the pillars on which Huddle's services are built.
An example I found particularly interesting comes from the Department for Work & Pensions. Their platform is enabling them to communicate quickly and effectively with key stakeholders such as the local authorities. That is great news from a government organisation that requires saving time and resources. Since the tool is very intuitive to use, all staff have easily adopted it.

Another business that is benefiting from this platform is Centrica. From finance and project management through to HR, Huddle has made them much more focused and efficient by reducing the use of emails and streamlining processes.

Mobile meetings

Today, a meeting has become much more than a 30-minute group-call; audio, web and video collaboration services are expanding to serve the needs of the entire organisation. Just think of how easily colleagues can join a web conference through their mobile from anywhere in the world.
This is the power of Universal Communications and Collaboration (UCC) described by PGi's Mike O' Boyle. UCC is empowering workers through the combination of devices and end points (e.g. mobiles, headsets, tablets, touchscreen interface); UC applications (e.g. voice email, IM, conferencing); infrastructure (e.g. Wi-Fi, cloud, network switches) and other applications (e.g. BYOD management, document management, call recording, ERP).

Perhaps, one of the best examples is the recently announced Skype for Business. Microsoft's new technology brings together the best of both Lync and Skype, it gathers groups of people from anywhere in video and audio meetings and integrates with Office, connecting to the full enterprise communications full set. 

Yet, "UCC is not about technology" said Boyle. "It is about bringing together different communication modalities to create a more productive way of working, improve business processes, reduce costs and enable business transformation."

Ultimately, despite all the techno-jargan it is all about human change. Boyle highlighted some of the biggest threats to success including lack of a business case, silo thinking, IT-led projects, business not engaged, lack of skills and knowledge as well as of manpower. "Many company focus on the technology and underestimate the impact of the cultural and operational change."

While understanding the technology requirements is a prerequisite for realising the vale of UCC, so it is for having buy-in up front, involving all teams, identifying business value, ensuring executive sponsor, recognising cultural aspects. The same applies to governance and measurement.
Indeed, it is about recognising that UCC is there to improve the productivity and efficiency of the user.

UC - This is not utopia

For many people unified communication (UC) may still be a promise of utopia or a beautiful dream rather than something actually achievable inside the enterprise.

However, UCEXPO showed not only that these new working practices are already in place but also that their adoption is increasing at exponential speed. The rapid adoption of digital technology as well as the demand of more agile and flexible working practices are clear drivers. Certainly we have just scratched the surface of what is possible. Wearables are also entering the world of work and disrupting the way communication happens.

What the event proved is that the vendors and system providers are doing their job to build a more integrated experience inside the enterprise. Big players have invested many millions and are betting that we will be using their tools on the go and every day - and even wearing some of them too.
The question will be whether such unified communication and collaboration will be our slave or our master in the future working lives of all of us.

I am hopeful of a positive outcome.

 

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This article originally appeared on simply-communicate