When looking ahead at the next three years, IT professionals can expect the shift to cloud-based solutions will accelerate. Supporting a hybrid workforce and defending against cyber attacks will be among top priorities as communications and collaboration applications continue to evolve.
So, what are best practices, when planning ahead? Beth Schultz, program co-chair of Enterprise Connect Virtual moderated a recent discussion on “Your Path to 2024” with panelists Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst, Metrigy; Steve Leaden, president, Leaden Associates; and Martin Parker, principal/co-founder, UniComm Consulting.
“First of all, IT professionals need to partner with their business units,” said Parker. “Get out of your office, and talk with other departments so you can help shape the changes they need.” Here are other recommendations from the discussion.
• Move to the cloud at your own pace. While cloud-based solutions are here to stay, enterprises may still be able to leverage their legacy systems, said Leaden. “A hybrid PBX model with both cloud and on-premise systems could best meet the needs of your users over the near term.”
• Understand user workloads. Not all users may need full-feature deskphones, said Parker. Some may only need a mobile device, while others may come into the office on an occasional basis. “Set up a spreadsheet, look at your users and the volume of calls each day to help determine bandwidth requirements,” he said. “Then, see how much traffic you have currently. Do the math and see what configuration makes sense. It may be that a high percentage of your users won’t need a PBX number any more.”
• Support remote employees and teams. Hybrid office-remote work is here to say, said Lazar. That means communication and collaboration solutions need to put everyone “on level ground” regardless of location. “To support your remote workers, you might need to invest in project and task management applications, or using social tools for sharing information.”
•Keep the user experience simple. Whether users are in the office or at home, they need a simple, consistent experience, said Leaden. That means implementing easy, clickable solutions that don’t require sophisticated training.
• Seek flexible contracts. When engaging a cloud services provider, try to incorporate flexibility into the contract. “Look at how much the communications market has changed in the past two years,” said Leaden. “When you move to the cloud, you are giving away the keys to the kingdom, so be sure you will get the level of performance and support you need. As the market matures, you may see the concept of test-driving a vendor with the customer having an out if the provider does not meet expectations.”
• Deploy AI incrementally. Rather than go for a big transformative project, use artificial intelligence to improve the communications experience for employees and customers. “Think supplemental, rather than revolutionary,” said Lazar. For instance, AI could eliminate background noise or visual distractions on video sessions, or review a transcript for action items or scheduling the next meeting. AI can also add incremental value to the contact center, added Leaden. That could include sentiment analysis, giving real-time prompts to agents and providing better analytics to managers.
• Analyze video sessions. With the dramatic jump in video communications, IT professionals have access to a wealth of user data. “Analyze that information for insights,” said Lazar. “How are they handling back-to-back sessions? Are they turning cameras off so they can do other tasks? Keep thinking about your users as you develop your video strategy.”
• Expand video use cases. As video collaboration becomes the norm, it may replace some voice calls, emails, texts and formal meetings, according to Parker. “Asynchronous video can actually perform the same functions as a meeting,” he said. “You make your point, post it to your team, and then the next person can make a comment. I think the video of the future is message-centric.”
When planning for the next three years, the message is clear: focus on the communication requirements of your users and business units as the foundation for your technology investments.