BT Enterprise Voice and Collaboration Director Georgina Williams on coronavirus, the channel and the future of communications.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote collaboration tools; and in the midst of another national lockdown the lessons learnt from last year mean businesses are set to look to the future and take a more strategic approach to communications technology – particularly the integration of voice and collaboration tools into the workplace. This is an important step with the shift to all-IP in full swing and the PSTN switch-off just around the corner. Yet the channel has a big role to play in educating businesses so they understand the wider benefits such a move can bring, while making it easier for them to adopt the products and services required.
Coronavirus also dramatically changed the nature of business communications. In the sudden explosion of remote working that occurred during the first lockdown, there was a huge pressure on the IP Exchange to handle the shift from voice calls to video conferencing. Once things began to settle, the focus moved to collaboration solutions with organisations looking to cloud technology to allow employees to work from home.
For a lot of businesses, this digital transformation wasn’t entirely unplanned. The switch-off of the UK’s PSTN network in 2025 meant many were already considering a move to all-IP and the benefits of voice and collaboration capabilities – including calling, messaging, and meeting. The fact is, coronavirus forced it to happen much sooner than expected and it’s here where channel partners stepped up to the plate to provide streamlined access to connectivity, voice and collaboration solution portfolios, as well as the support required for new users to drive the most value from them.
The work isn’t over yet. As we await the impact of the vaccines some companies who have fixed line communications in place at offices may feel that once we are back, in whatever capacity, they still have a working solution that doesn’t yet need to be replaced. Similarly, for larger firms relying on a complex PBX there could be a higher cost to extract and upgrade – which could well be the deciding factor at a time when fiscal responsibility is likely at the top of the agenda.
The key to overcoming such challenges is education. While many businesses will be aware of the switch-off, for instance, they may not be aware that some exchanges will stop receiving support before 2025. CPs need to convince businesses to start thinking about migration sooner rather than later. CPs should also explain that the benefits of hosted collaboration tools go far beyond just voice and video communications alone. Integrating these into an organisation’s everyday business operations and applications can unlock new insights and opportunities.
Voice technology is constantly evolving. Now we’re seeing the full adoption of VoIP which has powered a revolution in IT-based voice communications and services. Crucially, this allows it to be analysed in new ways.
Businesses can search call recordings for specific words or phrases for example, the automation of which will instantly speed up and improve the delivery of more personalised and effective customer communications; while AI-powered real-time analysis will allow companies to better gauge customer experience through measuring sentiment (not simply what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it) – a powerful tool, if sales teams are working in isolation. This capability can be further advantageous by helping organisations to monitor the wellbeing of employees.
The lockdown has forced many to work from home which has its benefits, but it also takes away a lot of human contact. That alongside the uniqueness of the situation means employee mental health has been brought more into focus. With some level of remote working likely to become permanent for many, collaborative tools that measure sentiment can help to monitor employee wellbeing.
Apart from the flexibility and productivity gains from having all comms in a single application, other benefits can be derived from the many standard integrations that come out-of-the-box. For example, integration with CRM allows users to offer simple click-to-call integration or view all of the previous interactions with a contact easily in one place. Free flowing data streamlines the sales process, for instance, automatically setting calendar reminders and entries or locating specific product fact sheets based on what’s said during a prospect call. Other examples include more intelligent IVR routing. This could be through NLP or integrating intelligence from other applications into IVR in order to advise the system why a customer might be calling so that they can be more efficiently routed to the most suitable person.
Looking ahead, integration can go much deeper into office environments too. It’s already relatively common for meeting rooms to have their own email addresses to simplify their booking process but, when setting up physical meetings, if the number of people attending suddenly exceeds the maximum number of seats, the system could automatically find a bigger room or turn the meeting virtual.
All of the aforementioned benefits speak for themselves, but they may not be self-evident. A greater level of awareness and education from CPs will be required. With most people working remotely since the spring of 2020 the situation has highlighted the importance of a resilient, cloud-based communications platform. It’s become increasingly clear that any strategy will need to integrate voice and collaboration solutions, supported by the transition to an all-IP infrastructure. CPs have an essential part to play in helping customers understand what a migration to that environment will mean to their business, and what’s required to achieve it.