Foreword: We live in an ever-changing society. Data and applications are growing exponentially. The boundaries between the enterprise and consumer goods industries, between the communications and Internet industries, and even between industries with clear lines of demarcation in the past are becoming nearly indistinguishable. New-generation employees who have grown up in the Internet-driven information age have disparate work modes and habits. Amid these changes, how can unified communications and collaboration play out in enterprise environments?
In the face of expansive technological transformations, cross-industry convergence, and innovative models, it is necessary to explore the core target of enterprise unified communications and collaboration (UC&C). Simply put, the core target is to allow everyone to easily access any equipment and network anytime, anywhere to collaborate with others through voice, video, and data services. From another perspective, the target is to enable people to collaborate freely in a way that is independent of obstacles raised by differences in time zones, locations, equipment, networks, and organizational boundaries. As such, putting people first is the key to moving enterprise UC&C forward.
“Putting people first” practice No. 1: Keeping employees’ collaboration habits and improving experience
Take voice services, the most traditional means of communication, as an example. Platforms for soft clients (personal computers, smartphones, and tablets) and even web-based clients must allow employees to enjoy the same experience offered by IP phones, such as dialing, hanging up, and volume control. It is important to empower employees with equally familiar experiences across multiple devices. To that end, enterprises must design consistent dialing interfaces and operating functions.
Armed with increasing numbers of devices of their own, employees expect to use their devices anytime, anywhere for work. This work mode is called bring your own device (BYOD) or bring your own application (BYOA). To keep up with this trend, enterprises are finding it important to respect and support employees’ existing habits by moving enterprise applications to multiple devices. Doing this not only improves efficiency and reduces learning costs, but also significantly reduces energy consumption and increases overall benefits. Security issues can be addressed with the help of mobile device management technologies and functions.
Growing up in the highly social environment of the Internet age, new-generation employees are accustomed to interacting and collaborating with others on forums, blogs, Wikipedia-like websites, outsourcing websites, and the like. These employees take pleasure in creating and sharing their own content on these platforms. By establishing online communities, team spaces, and other new suites for social and collaborative purposes, enterprises can keep employees’ socialization and collaboration habits and accelerate information aggregation and sharing, thus maximizing the value of collaborations for enterprises.
At the same time, collaboration faces another challenge: finding ways for employees to smoothly collaborate with partners in the industry chain while continuing to enjoy the convenience of existing unified communications (UC) services. For example, to manufacture a Boeing 737 plane, Boeing uses approximately 367,000 components sourced from hundreds of suppliers. Employees of these suppliers use their own companies’ UC systems. To synchronize product development, it would be impractical to force all supplier employees to put aside their existing UC systems and use Boeing’s UC system. To resolve this problem, Boeing employs the UC Federation technology that ensures interoperability among all UC systems, allowing all teams to collaborate as one team. Using this technology, Boeing manages to boost efficiency and slash costs in addition to maintaining the existing UC experience for all Boeing employees. In 2014, Boeing expects to manufacture 42 737s each month, an increase of 20% from its 2012 delivery capacity of 35 planes per month.
In addition to focusing on the basic principle of finding ways to support employee collaboration habits, enterprises should consider how to improve existing collaboration experiences. Here are two important propositions. First, enterprises should continuously improve the overall experience based on employees’ actual collaboration needs, particularly the needs in specific scenarios. For example, high-bandwidth audio (24 or 32 Kbit/s sampling rates) allows employees to hear a fuller spectrum of sound. Three-dimensional and holographic technologies enable employees to interact through more realistic video environments. Somatosensory designs enable employees to experience environments in which the senses of touch, pressure, temperature, and proprioceptive feedback are true-to-life. Second, enterprises should optimize the collaboration process based on employees’ specific roles. For instance, sales employees who are always out of office visiting customers need a good mobility experience that helps them resolve problems quickly. Mobile devices can do this by connecting employees to presales technical managers and experts worldwide through technologies such as telepresence, instant messaging, and mobile conferencing. Achieving such convenient connectivity will boost sales by keeping sales people supplied with vital information for their prospective customers.
“Putting people first” practice No. 2: Improving customers’ collaboration experience
Customer collaboration is integral to contact center services, and market demand for such services is driven by customer interactions. Telephone services are the typical means of interacting with customers, but customers now expect to interact through a variety of means made available by Internet technologies. Customers want to communicate through email, instant messaging, social media such as Facebook, and other online channels. Customers have varying expectations for collaboration experiences. As a result of the digital divide, for example, some elderly customers and customers in less-developed regions prefer to access contact center services by phone, while people who are part of the Internet age favor familiar social media channels. Customers’ existing preferences should be supported for business collaborations.
How can customers’ collaboration experience be improved? Recognizing customers’ background information is crucial. With insight into customers’ basic needs, previous needs, characters, and other background information, agents in contact centers can communicate with customers in the most appropriate way and efficiently resolve customer issues. Recognizing a customer’s preferences and expectations requires non-sensitive customer information to be transmitted, accumulated, and utilized with the intent of better serving the customer. Multi-channel integration is an effective way to share this type of information. Agents using customer information that is integrated and shared from multiple channels can foresee and respond to customer needs more accurately. In addition, agents can use this type of information to telemarket services to a select group of customers who are likely to be interested in the services. Such telemarketing approaches fuel the transition of contact centers from cost centers to profit centers.
Humankind is in constant pursuit of better ways to collaborate regardless of boundaries.
Therefore, enterprise UC&C must put people first and focus on user experience. To succeed, enterprises should decide on collaborative developments by studying and exploring the needs of people rather than merely following technological trends. Technology is just an enabler that helps satisfy the collaboration need of putting people first.
By Liu Meigang, senior UC&C strategic planning expert from Huawei’s Enterprise BG