In 2015 businesses of all sizes have access to an extensive range of communications systems. Mobile and cloud infrastructure, using lightning-quick broadband capabilities, have inspired countless inventions in hardware and software, all coming together to create a vast and varied landscape.
But “comms 2.0” remains in its infancy. The cloud, for example, has been a recognisable business tool for just a few years, and the services that help companies benefit from it are fragmented and often conflicting.
There is a long list of providers, manufacturers and developers at work, only a handful of whom are consciously collaborating, while many are actively plotting the destruction of the rest. Creating a system bringing these together is a bit like trying to unify magnets when they are poles apart.
Meanwhile, adding to the complexity for businesses, employees everywhere have shunned enterprise technology in favour of simpler and more attractive consumer grade solutions, some of which fail to prioritise top business challenges such as security and interoperability.
It means building a fluid communications network incorporating fixed line, mobile, data and other dimensions is far from plain sailing. In fact, it is the corporate equivalent of breaking up a mass brawl and then asking the perpetrators to shake hands.
And that’s just getting the technology mix right. Companies have to adopt the right combination of tools for their own unique DNA and integrate the package seamlessly to optimise workflows without alienating groups of employees.
Cost is of course a factor, but then so is return on investment, the latter being a notoriously difficult thing to calculate when assessing the way people talk and write to each other. For instance, just what is the monetary benefit of giving everyone a smartphone?
The prize for getting the answer right is huge, especially in a 24/7 business environment where the workforce is increasingly mobile and “always on”. Communications were so much easier when working hours were predetermined and everyone sat at the same desk day in day out.
Many in the communications business are frustrated by the seeming inelegance of various channels, despite the tantalising technology available.
“The communications business is still not what it should be – a single seamless solution to cover all mobile and fixed line, data and voice services,” says Paul Leybourne, head of sales at Vodat International.
“Sure, there are some solutions that cover aspects, but not seamlessly without compromises. Put another way, there is no unified solution on the market that covers best of breed in all areas. As a result, businesses still procure solutions from different vendors.”
Nevertheless, a growing number of businesses are adopting a strategic communications approach. It’s not just about individuals being able to contact each other, but what this means more broadly for the organisation.
Organisations have stopped thinking about efficiency among individuals and moved on to “business process efficiency” with a close eye on what it means for the bottom line.
Graham Bevington, executive vice-president at Mitel, says: “Businesses are increasingly focused on improving the efficiency of their business processes, to the same degree that mobile technology has given individuals tremendous efficiencies and conveniences, such as personal banking, calendar and e-mail on the go, and mobile video-conferencing with family and friends.
“The key to process efficiency is applying an open-integration approach that allows a variety of third-party applications to be integrated easily and quickly. Some industry players are looking to build an ‘uber-client’, where efficiency has more to do with everyone working from one interface.”
A snippet of positive news on this score is that the industry is waking up to business concerns and working to create solutions that fit easily into portfolios. Over the next few years the focus will be on better integration, as well as increasingly powerful tools.
The need to bring together various technologies in sophisticated deployments has never been more real
“Communications products are getting better across the board. They continually offer better user experiences and are easier for the IT function to deploy,” says Mark Furness, chief executive of essensys.
Yet Mr Furness adds that organisations will continue to rely on their people to put thought into procurement, consider the pros and cons of each integration, and devise an umbrella strategy for future changes to the communications mix.
“The onus is generally on the IT function to educate users and decision-makers on the benefits of a unified communications strategy and the products they recommend,” he says.
With increasingly powerful technology out there and many businesses scrambling to find the most appropriate solutions for their requirements, the need to bring together various technologies in sophisticated deployments has never been more real.
Companies adopting mature approaches will be able to reap the benefits before their rivals, while those taking a head-in-the-sand stance will find themselves at the mercy of a multi-headed communications monster.