The success of enterprise UC&C is as much to do with a cultural change within the organisation as it has to do with technology, and the focus should be on business need, not IT. That’s the belief of many thought leaders in the UC&C space. So what can organisations do to make it all work?
Peter Quinlan is Tata Communications’ Vice President of Product Strategy and Management, UCaaS Services. He says: “We encourage our sales people to start ‘outside in’. Generally, if we produce a product or service that doesn’t get accepted, it’s because we’ve done it ‘inside out’, starting with technology rather than [asking]what the user experience is, or what the business need is that you’re trying to deliver. Form has to follow function. It’s incredibly important both to how you roll out services, and to adoption.
“The good news is, users now have a lot of options available to them. And the pace of disruption and change in world that’s increasingly software driven is astoundingly fast, so you drive out those inefficiencies and those disconnects between what users want and what they get pretty quickly.”
So how important is the vendor’s role in educating customers in the business, rather than technology, advantages? Andrew Sinclair is Microsoft’s General Manager, Skype for Business Product Marketing. He says, “I think it’s critical. But a lot of the customers are educating the vendors!
“Businesses know they’re moving into a very agile, very dynamic, very networked environment. They have a workforce coming in that’s extremely technically savvy, a workforce that didn’t know a world where you couldn’t videoconference. The workforce is super well-educated and businesses know that they have to transform.
“Having said that, vendors are critical in getting people there. A lot of businesses need guidance as they go through digital transformation: you don’t go home on a Friday with one infrastructure and wake up on a Monday with a new one. Vendors and our partners and SIs out there do play a critical role in helping people get to the modern workplace.”
Collaboration isn’t just about video
A lot of debate at UC EXPO 2016, recently, focused on video – on the technologies and quality issues, and on the business benefits. But are we focusing too much on video, and not enough on other types of collaboration: hothousing ideas, sharing and updating documents in real time, and so on?
For example, a UC EXPO 2016 panel on the future of video collaboration made the point that a lot of people don’t want to appear on video, especially if they’re working from home. One statistic – from Cisco – is that up to 65 per cent of people on an audio-only conference are doing something else while participating, particularly if they’re working from home. That’s one advantage of mobility, after all.
Microsoft’s Sinclair says: “It’s a fair point. Document collaboration, screen-sharing, even the ability to ink remotely, and the ‘huddle’ idea where teams collaborate and work together using a pen and touch device… It’s all about shrinking distance and allowing people to work together.
“Having said that, video is critical as it changes the dynamics between teams. When you can look someone in the eye and build that trust with them, you build much better-performing teams. Our traffic is three billion minutes a day, and 46 per cent of that is video. People are doing a lot of video, because it’s so important to them to build that connection.”
A broader business focus
Tata’s Sinclair adds: “Focusing on any one aspect of the technology is probably wrong. There is a tremendous amount of work on integrating collaboration into workflows. We do a lot of work on the API and the SDK wrapper of the services that we do, which allows people to integrate collaboration into a workflow.
“Say I walk out of a restaurant and someone’s hit my car. I want to place a call to my insurance agent, and the agent can run an application that lets him see through my camera, take a picture or video of the damage, load that into a claim, use location-based services to help him authenticate the location and do fraud prevention, and immediately the claim is processed and I’ve eliminated inspector visits, I’ve reduced transaction time. Video is a part of that, but I didn’t talk about video: I’m talking about a business need and how do I add value to a business process, which makes a difference to a consumer, as well as to a business.
“That’s where a huge amount of work needs to be done for all of us, and we don’t try to guess what our end-customers, our business customers, are going to want. We show them the technology and you can almost see the wheels start turning. It’s like the early days of telepresence, where you showed them something and they told you how to apply it to their business need.
“We have to make our applications and services as flexible as possible to be able to accommodate what they’re going to tell us, as they know intuitively how to make their business better and their customer experience better. That’s not a technology conversation, that’s a business and end-user conversation.”
Donald McLaughlin is Cisco’s Director of Collaboration for the UK and Ireland. He says: “We should focus on the areas that continue to provide most value. The feedback we get from customers is that they actually don’t want UC applications, they want business applications that have UC embedded in them. That’s where a lot of the effort is going in.
“Many of the tools now have a much more natural feel to them. Video can add a massive amount of value in many cases, but it’s about understanding that people want to work in the way they would naturally work, in the optimum way.”
The customer experience
“Companies differentiate themselves much more on the customer experience than they ever did,” McLaughlin continues. “Gartner noted this year that nine out of 10 companies now have a customer experience measure. So this whole thing is about understanding the most expensive resource that companies have, which is their people, and how they can make things better for their employees and how they can improve employee engagement.
“At the end of the day, a company is only as good as the people who represent it. And if you’re going to measure yourself on customer experience or customer service, then it’s about how motivated and engaged your employee base is. And this brings us onto millennials, as the proportion of the workforce is changing rapidly now. Understanding how your company works, and how your people can best represent your company, is key.”
But while we talk about millennials, we’re all millennials now: we all use the same technologies. Some of us might still use email or landlines more than most teenagers, but the core of cloud technologies is the same. So what are the practical steps that organisations, IT strategists and business strategists, need to take to get ready for this more collaborative, digitally enabled future? Not only to compete in hard business terms, but also to attract and retain staff?
Listen, listen, and listen
Cisco’s McLaughlin says: “The first thing an organisation has to do is listen: listen to their employees. You might argue that we’re all digitally familiar and comfortable using the technology, but there is a distinct mindset difference with millennials and how they think and what they want from a job.
“For example, millennials wouldn’t worry too much about losing their wallet, but they would worry a lot about losing their smartphone. And they would be prepared to take lower salaries for a more flexible role within a company, and that’s something that a lot of people would be quite frightened about doing. So the first thing a company has to do is make sure they’re listening and [thinking about]how much value they can add to [millennial employees], as in 10 years’ time they will be the majority of the workforce.”
Tata’s Quinlan: adds “I agree with the point about listening and user experience first. There is also a large amount of work to do in terms of how do you replicate the kind of experience that millennials – and we all as consumers – enjoy as we choose an application from the app store, and so on. How do you provide that on demand and that kind of self-service, auto-provisioning thing?
“Very few people enjoy calling up a bank and going through IVR to talk to an agent. If I could get it done with an app, I’d be much happier. And so changing that mindset in terms of how you provide services to your internal users and well as your customers is going to be super-critical.
“With our contact centre customers, the conversation has gone from ‘How do I reduce transaction cost?’ to ‘How can I transform the end-to-end experience for the customer and the consumer?’ To really think about the form following the function and getting the technology to serve whatever the business purpose is – while keeping those principles of having things on demand, having things flexible, having things self-service and consumable – is going to be super-critical too.”
The long-suffering IT professional
The roles of the IT manager, the CIO, the IT team leader, and/or the communications manager are all very much at the nexus of these shifting cultural and technology changes. How difficult is it going to be in the years ahead for IT professionals to balance this mix of customer experience, BYOD, officially sanctioned IT within the business, and so on? What skills are they going to need in the future to make all this happen for the enterprise?
Microsoft’s Sinclair says: “They have to learn, and your business has to learn, how to learn from customers. The extreme of this, which I like to quote, is: Don’t do focus groups any more. Learn how your customers behave.
“You have to start building systems, building business processes and products that have feedback loops built in, so you can learn exactly how consumers are actually using it, rather than how they tell you they’re going to use it, That’s one aspect. You’ve really got to train and change your culture and your strategies and your business so you’re learning from your customer all of the time.
“And then from our [Microsoft’s/the vendors’] point of view, we have to give them the tools to be comfortable. We have to give them the ability to both learn from customers and be able to manage them.”
• Chris Middleton spoke to these thought leaders at UC EXPO 2016, where he hosted a keynote panel on the future of UC&C.