Most organizations were already moving to the cloud and exploring unified collaboration solutions before the start of the pandemic. Then, in March 2020, everything changed as non-essential workforces were forced to operate remotely.
Now, a year and a half later, those same organizations are planning a return to their physical locations and considering options for hybrid workforces that include elements of work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA).
In many cases, the pandemic accelerated digital transformation — and that transformation continues to evolve as we move toward the ‘next’ normal. With many uncertainties still ahead, however, establishing new hybrid models can be challenging.
We talked to Rebecca Lynch, VP of Product for Allstream, and David Beaman, Director of Product Development, about Allstream’s product evolution, how the pandemic affected digital transformation and the future of hybrid work.
How has Allstream evolved over the years?
Rebecca: Allstream’s solutions have evolved over time but we’ve always been about meeting the communication needs of customers — even if you go back 170 years. The way that our customers communicate has changed significantly over the years and our solutions have evolved with our customers.
What happened when the pandemic hit?
Rebecca: Pre-pandemic, our assumption was that our customer base was primarily in a physical location, like an office building or a retail store. But that changed overnight. Many of our customers were already moving to the cloud, but that accelerated during the pandemic. Also, we were using our Webex videoconferencing solution internally, so we quickly rolled that out to customers right after the pandemic started.
David: We also saw an increase in bandwidth requirements for Internet connectivity and in some cases for IP-VPN connectivity for existing and new customers.
Rebecca: And we had an increase in voice usage — we added a lot of SIP trunks to our customers’ networks. And we sold a lot more teleworker licences for our UC service.
Now we’re transitioning back to the office. What are you seeing now from customers as they’re looking to support a hybrid workforce?
Rebecca: A lot of companies are still in the process of figuring out their future workplace but we believe the hybrid workforce is here to stay, which requires strong collaboration tools that are easy to use and manage. We’re focused on improving our customers’ digital product experience, making sure our customers have the right communication tools and a customer experience that’s simple.
We don’t believe that our customers’ needs will go back to the way they were before, pre-pandemic. We’ll continue to support and develop a broad range of solutions to help our customers communicate and connect to their employees and customers.
David: We’re certainly looking to broaden our UC offering, both by advancing our UCCV and UCCV/CS as well as a UCaaS play. In the SD-WAN space, we’re looking at teleworker-focused CPE, which would allow teleworkers to enjoy the SD-WAN experience and features.
How can Allstream solutions address key business problems for hybrid workforces?
Rebecca: We’ll continue providing both managed and unmanaged voice and collaboration solutions for this new hybrid work environment. So regardless of whether the customer has their own phone system or not, and regardless of where their employees are located, we can help with a broad range of voice and collaboration solutions.
We also have Internet and connectivity solutions that allow our customers to connect to multiple sites and to their cloud assets. We’ll continue offering our network connectivity products, but we’re also expanding our offerings to support hybrid workforces and allow our customers to support workers anywhere.
David: We saw an increase in bandwidth requirements at the start of the pandemic because remote workers suddenly needed VPN connections to access applications hosted at headquarters or in the cloud. So I think we will continue to see the need for connectivity, but with more and more focus on supporting work from anywhere.
There has also been a trend where some things are moving back to the edge from a compute perspective, so a lot of businesses have on-prem compute and also want or need some AWS compute or Microsoft Azure compute. So I think hybrid support and managed IT will be important going forward.
Looking forward, how will Allstream continue to adapt to changing market needs?
Rebecca: We will continue to evolve as our customers’ needs evolve. Our main focus is empowering our customers and making connectivity and communication easy for them, because that’s our expertise.
What’s always top of mind for us: what are our customers’ needs, what are their pain points and how can we help — and we focus our development efforts around those. Going forward, we’ll have more in our toolbox to support the hybrid workforce model, and we’ll always keep an eye on evolving customer needs.
For more information, please visit us at allstream.com.