Three consumer trends that can transform business

For decades there has been a clear line in the sand between consumer technology and the enterprise-class solutions used in the workplace. But increasingly, that boundary is blurring.

According to data published by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, annual business investment in communications systems in Canada has declined by $2 billion over the past decade. In the same time period, consumers have adopted new technologies en mass at home – including broadband connectivity, smart phones, tablets and social media. Technology has become such a large part of our world away from work that we expect our favourite devices and applications to transfer seamlessly to the office.

Businesses are increasingly faced with a disconnect between the legacy systems they have in place and the collaborative tools consumers use in their personal lives. Organizations with the courage to innovate are finding ways to harness popular consumer technologies and transform the way they do business. As a result, they are able to offer less expensive and more effective communication choices and promote faster and easier collaboration with customers and colleagues.

Here are three consumer-driven trends that are beginning to take hold in businesses around the globe.

• Consumer devices are displacing work devices.

Smartphones, tablet PCs and other personal communication tools are making their way into the workplace. In fact, many employers are providing employees with a stipend and telling them to “bring your own device.” It’s a development that’s getting a lot of attention these days, but with good cause. Increasingly employees want the convenience of a single device that meets both their business and personal needs – and they know what they like. It’s clear they prefer the latest gadget they’ve selected on their own.

That’s especially true among members of the “Hyperconnected Generation” born after 1990. These tech-savvy individuals have never known life without the Internet, mobile devices and social networking. They now represent 29 per cent of Canada’s population and an increasingly large percentage of our workforce. Studies show nearly eight out of ten of them want to work while on the go, and well over half want the flexibility to choose when they work as well. Companies who want to recruit and retain younger workers would do well to embrace their interests – helping them work seamlessly from anywhere, at any time, and on whatever device they choose.

The trick, though, is blending personal devices into an enterprise architecture. SIP technology and unified communications can be major enablers, allowing companies to bring enterprise-class applications to a wide range of consumer devices and manage them seamlessly and securely. The result is greatly expanded capabilities – accessible through the device the employee prefers to use.

One example: Unified communications applications can be easily ported from the desktop to a personal smartphone or tablet PC. With the full functionality of the office communication system at their fingertips, employees can easily change gears and slip into work mode from home, the grocery or a local shopping mall. They can answer a call to their office number, send an instant message to a client or colleague, use visual voicemail to prioritize messages, respond to voice calls and group pages, initiate a conference call and record it, and even use presence features to see which colleagues are available to answer a question.

• Consumer applications are invading the enterprise

It isn’t just consumer devices that are making their way into the enterprise, but consumer applications as well. Using multimedia instant messaging to send text, photos, video and contact information to family and friends is commonplace, so why not use the same technology to communicate with colleagues in the workplace? If you can see far-flung acquaintances via a simple video application on your home PC or laptop, it seems normal – even expected – to have the same easy-to-use technology at work.

Even gaming is invading the workplace in new and profound ways, with game-like interfaces becoming central to many business processes. In fact, Gartner analysts say that by 2014, more than 70 per cent of Global 2000 companies will have at least one “gamified” application.

Gaming holds particular promise for innovation processes, customer service, training and other important corporate functions that benefit from a high degree of engagement and interaction. If you make gaming part of your unified communications network, for example, you can connect people in real time for more effective collaboration. You simply build an online environment that simulates a shared office or conference room. Employees in remote sites around the globe can build better rapport and establish closer personal relationships by working virtually as if they were in the same location. They can attend meetings, participate in joint training sessions or even share a private conversation as if they were standing side-by-side.

• Customers are demanding a broader “on ramp.”

For years companies have relied on the telephone for customer service and support. But a recent Global Consumer Preference study shows that well over half of consumers prefer to use email or the Web to contact a company instead of the phone. Innovative organizations are responding by significantly expanding the “on ramp” customers can use to reach them. The result is faster and more flexible service, whether a customer prefers the Web, instant messaging, email, desktop or mobile video, a kiosk or some other channel of communication. New contact center widgets are even allowing companies to build connectivity into online social networks. Using a mouse or the touch-screen of a mobile device, customers can click to reach your company in the fashion they prefer, without having to dial a phone number or type an email address. Your agents can readily share documents and multimedia content online so the customer can make a purchase decision or resolve a problem. It should be no surprise that contact centers are becoming central command posts for this complex mix of media – especially when it comes to social networks. In addition to managing customer contacts, agents are using new applications to monitor the Internet for opinions about their company and its offers. They are tracking trends and proactively engaging customers using including Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media channels. They also are using online video to deliver information across multiple platforms – reaching millions of prospects with a single, integrated campaign.

Incorporating consumer-driven trends into your workplace is not without its challenges – from potential security issues to reliability concerns. So begin by taking a hard look at your underlying infrastructure.

Make certain you centralize your network operations and applications so your security policies can be broadly implemented. Look for platforms designed to integrate multivendor networks, operating systems, devices and applications. Select unified communications and contact centre applications with the flexibility to handle multiple types of communication channels.

Consequently, solution providers have to deliver a wide array of products that cater to these new needs in the enterprise. Offering the kinds of solutions expected by today’s always-connected, on-the-go businesses will ultimately help providers close more business and drive higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Rob Daleman is director of marketing for Avaya Canada, a global provider of business communications applications, systems and services. He is a thought leader on the convergence of IT and telecom in Canada with 12 years of marketing experience at Avaya and Dell.

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