Of all the conferences that have sadly been cancelled due to COVID-19 social distancing measures, Enterprise Connect could be the best equipped (literally) to handle such an unfortunate situation.
Since Enterprise Connect is a gathering of the unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) industry, the organizers of the recent event—originally scheduled to take place at a convention centre near Orlando—had exactly the right kind of technology and expertise needed to quickly shift gears.
So Enterprise Connect went totally virtual, with webinars of the scheduled presentations posted online. When registered attendees tuned in (some possibly wearing pajamas instead of lanyards), they heard plenty of keynote speakers address the theme of the retooled conference: “How to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and adapt to the ‘new normal.’”
What is the new normal?
According to the virtual presentations, the new normal means:
- working from home
- embracing video
- moving to cloud
- keeping contact centres running
Based on speaker highlights from the very first virtual edition of Enterprise Connect, here’s how UC&C can help organizations operate in the ‘new normal.’
UC&C for WFH
Web-based meetings: Some videoconferencing apps require each meeting participant to download the app to their device, which can be a pain when there are several meeting guests to accommodate. You can avoid that hassle by using a tool (like Cisco Webex, for example) that enables meetings via Web browsers rather than app downloads, said Brent Kelly, president and principal analyst at KelCor.
‘Free trial’ fine print: If your organization has signed up for a free trial of a UCaaS tool, keep your eye on the limitations that will kick in once that ‘try-it-out’ period ends. Kelly points out some providers have temporarily removed the usual caps on how many participants can attend a meeting and how long the meeting can last—but those parameters will come back into effect when the free trial expires.
You should also track how much your organization has used the tool during the trial period, then calculate how much it will likely cost per month (or per user) on a long-term basis.
Video: hardware help
Now that video has become the No. 1 mode of business communication almost overnight, it could be worth investing in hardware that improves the WFH videoconferencing experience.
If your team managers are tired of echo-y audio (or developing eyestrain from looking at 15 tiny video boxes on their laptops every day), take a look at equipment to enhance virtual meetings. Kelly said all-in-one video bars and high-quality UC headsets can help team members who require “an executive experience” during videoconferences.
Many video bars include an embedded CPU, camera, microphone and speakers, and can easily be connected, DIY style, to home devices like big-screen TVs, he said.
Using cloud-based videoconferencing and collaboration apps is soooo not the same thing as running your infrastructure in the cloud, warned Melissa Swartz, principal at Swartz Consulting.
“There’s a lot to think about before moving your communications infrastructure to the cloud,” she said. “Is moving to the cloud even possible for your organization, from both a technical and financial perspective? Even if it’s possible to move to the cloud, is that the right choice?”
Here are some key things Swartz believes any organization should ponder before making the move:
- Reliability: Can you tolerate the risk of a cloud outage? She points out the Internet is already strained, since traffic is higher now than it ever was.
- Security and compliance: Do you trust a third party to assume these tasks and responsibilities for your organization?
- Integrations: If you have many proprietary or niche applications, consider the impact of future integrations, upgrades and changes in the cloud.
- Architecture: The architecture of your chosen cloud solution can have huge implications for integration and scalability, so don’t underestimate this factor when deciding whether (or how) to take your communications infrastructure into the cloud.
UC&C in contact centres
Amazingly, customer contact centres are still up and running despite a sudden, dramatic change in the conditions they must operate under.
“We are part of essential services. Customers continue to need support and we’re here to do it,” said Sheila McGee-Smith, principal at McGee-Smith Analytics.
She said contact centres are continuing to function during the pandemic by:
- issuing WFH laptops to contact agents
- tapping into rapid response solutions being offered by some vendors (Cisco’s quick deployment offering, for example, can be deployed for up to 1,000 WFH agents in as little as five days; it’s cloud-based, requires no home VPN and includes software, PSTN for inbound calls and omnichannel routing and reporting)
- deploying AI virtual assistants as part of customer support; Google’s contact centre AI, recently launched in conjunction with Allstream partners like Mitel and Cisco, provides 24/7 customer response by phone or chat using conversational AI
- making longer-term plans to hasten their move to cloud-based CCaaS (contact-centre-as-a-service) infrastructure
By thinking about existing UC&C technologies in new ways, collaborating to tackle business challenges almost no one predicted or prepared for and being flexible enough to adapt swiftly, businesses and IT vendors are finding ways to carry on in this ‘new normal,’ just as the team behind Enterprise Connect did.