It may seem like something from a cheesy body-swap comedy, but end users and IT are trading places in enterprises today, at least when it comes to the way we do our jobs. Not so long ago, it was IT that decided what technology to adopt in the workplace, telling workers what they could have and what was forbidden. Users simply had to make the most of the situation, despite limited productivity. But the consumerization of IT means that consumer-grade technology is now being rapidly adopted into businesses. It’s the end users who are now determining what needs to be supported, and it is up to IT to make it happen. From executives using iPads to salespeople checking their work e-mail on their personal smartphones, this is a huge shift in the way business relates to technology. The end result is that the mobile workforce is a reality.
In the traditional, office-based work environment, communication was straightforward: if you needed something, you simply interacted in person with your coworkers. This made it easier to collaborate with other members of your team and work productively. In today’s more distributed workforce there are many different methods of communicating just using a smartphone, including instant messaging, e-mail, social networks, audio and video conferencing. Even when calling someone on the phone, there are office extensions, home phones and mobile phones. Meanwhile, IT doesn’t always know what’s happening on the network, as employees increasingly use their own devices and mobile applications for work. This bring your own device (BYOD) environment means that the UC community needs to rethink its strategy for providing effective communication solutions.
Mobility is the future of communications; in fact, it’s the present. By the middle of 2013 it’s expected that the user base of smartphones and tablets will be larger than that of PCs and laptops. And we in the UC industry need to shift our focus from IT to the end user. They are the new decision makers in technology, and as we design applications to embrace mobility, we need to address the real challenge – our true competition is not other enterprise solutions, but Facebook and Skype. These are the solutions people are already accustomed to, and truly effective business communications must be that usable, but with the security and reliability of an enterprise-grade product. And we’re not there yet: a recent survey fielded by Siemens Enterprise Communications revealed that less than half of employees feel their virtual interactions are as productive as in-person discussion. Moreover, 72 percent feel that video would improve teamwork, but only 34 percent use it.
What does a truly unified mobile communications environment look like?
In the ideal mobile work environment, quality communication software removes distance as an element from employee communication. The seamless user experience enables more effective collaborative efforts. It also provides streamlined tracking of information to keep media organized, moving communication easily across different devices, and even networks. Importantly, it would also prioritize communications to keep distractions to a minimum, as three-quarters of people believe virtual team members are likely to be distracted. And finally, it should tie in other applications such as security, to further improve the work process.
The ideal UC environment is one that is built specifically for the mobile platform, rather than being built for the PC and simply modified for a smaller screen. Mobile devices are becoming the primary means for personal and business productivity, and UC providers must make mobility the priority when it comes to product development, and then port solutions to other platforms. These solutions must also be accessible in the way users are accustomed to – they should be available through app stores, for the users to install themselves rather than relying on IT. And most importantly, they must provide a consistent user experience across devices and platforms in order to support the users’ device of choice.
How do we get there?
In order to develop a more natural communication experience we need to rethink our perspective to unleash the power of our employees. Our emphasis on communications should be the people rather than the technology itself: enabling users to connect more effectively leads to more efficient, higher quality work in today’s distributed work environment. The user experience comes first, bringing together a variety of communication tools into a single package that users will turn to rather than unsupported or insecure applications. These applications need to work together seamlessly, to route important communications to the user wherever they are automatically. UC providers are responsible for creating an experience that is as intuitive to the user as the social media tools they are accustomed to, but secure enough to trust with potentially sensitive business interactions.
Today we have an opportunity like never before to support a new generation of employees who can get work done anywhere, at any time. By shifting our focus to usability and collaboration, we are giving our teams the ability to reach their potential and drive continued business growth. The onus is on UC providers to recognize the technology consumer as the driving force in IT today, and make mobility work for us rather than against us.
Edited by Rachel Ramsey