With the lockdown of countries around the world due to Covid-19, businesses have been forced to suddenly and dramatically adapt working practices to allow them to continue operating. Technology has naturally been at the heart of this worldwide adjustment to the pandemic, with communication and collaboration solutions seeing huge spikes in demand: at CenturyLink we've seen audio conferencing usage alone jump by more than 200% globally.
Some businesses that already have flexible working technologies in place have been able to add new users and extend their capabilities with comparative ease to deal with the new conditions. Others, however, have scrambled to adopt new technology at short notice to enable their staff to work from home, which means freeware and consumer-grade products have seen massive adoption.
This 'make do' approach can lead to organisations taking a more relaxed attitude than normal on issues such as security and integration. In a bid to keep the business running, disparate platforms can evolve. with shadow IT becoming more prevalent across different locations and areas of the business.
A strategic look at the future
Businesses with more mature UC&C offerings might have found that the pandemic has accelerated the evolution of their solutions, such as migrating sooner to different collaboration tools that better meet the needs of the workforce. Organisations with more disparate UC&C services, however, may be spurred by the events of 2020 to review their technology choices more strategically for the future.
Soon, we expect to see and anticipate that organisations will start asking themselves critical questions about their current set-up. Are these solutions sufficiently robust for enterprise use? Are they future-proof? What are the implications of lack of integration? How can UC&C be standardised across a global organisation? Can the move from usage-based products to the greater predictability and control of fixed monthly UC&C charges benefit the organisation?
There are a whole host of questions, then, that need to be raised to move forward more strategically with UC&C, but three of the most critical ones are security, telephony and user experience.
Tackling the security issue
The security element of the UC&C conversation is raised when employees are, for example, sharing documents and recording meetings, and the hosted service they’re using is in the public cloud.
The potential issues here are whether this hosted service is compliant with guidance from your security team, where your data is stored and how it's processed, and whether you can trust the provider to delete that data. Can you meet your commitment to data protection legislation and to shareholders, customers and employees to make sure that data is safe and being treated appropriately?
Major enterprise-grade solutions address these issues appropriately, but other services that have been implemented as quick, short-term solutions might not. For global organisations, there's also the question of applying worldwide policies to the platform. If you're using disparate services in different regions, can you manage these from a global security perspective and apply the same policies to all those different platforms?
The issue of whether or not to integrate telephony into UC&C can be a thorny one. Some choose not to do so, because it can potentially be a tricky process if the organisation has a traditional on-premises PBX estate with complex configuration.
From a user perspective, accessing all forms of communication - including telephony - from one client can mean mobility is easier and that staff can choose an appropriate method of communication with each other depending on what they're doing, helping reduce potential loss of productivity. However, simply asking the question of whether telephony should be integrated is helpful to drive a conversation about what technology an organisation currently has and how it should be pulled together.
One of the challenges of creating a standardised UC&C environment is how to move users from one solution to another; essentially, it makes for a difficult migration if staff arrive on a Monday morning to be told that they are now using one solution when they’ve been used to using another.
As we've learned with our own experiences at CenturyLink, the key to making that move smooth and painless is an effective user adoption campaign which needs to begin well before migration. It's essential to educate employees about what changes are happening and why, but including them in the decision-making process also makes a significant difference to user adoption.
Moving forward, then, companies will begin to look at longer-term flexible working strategies, and consider how they can build on the changes in working practices that have been forced by the lockdown. Asking the right questions can, as we've seen, help businesses mitigate the problems caused by implementing short-term solutions and begin to build a UC&C strategy that will truly help them thrive in the future.