It used to be the case that enterprise communications systems provided more features than the communications people used in their personal lives. Think of voicemail, call forwarding, recording, and multiple lines vs. the single POTS line you had at home (I know, I’m dating myself). But now, in the Internet era, the tables seem to be turning, with the rate of innovation in personal communications far outstripping what is happening in the enterprise.
I frequently find myself looking at examples of personal communications technologies and wondering what these features would look like in the context of an enterprise communications system. Such features include mobile handsets replacing desk phones; SMS; Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangouts; and social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Each of these technologies has a potential enterprise incarnation, and there are already some examples in the market. But regardless of the examples we consider, there exists a common theme: an increasing divergence between personal and enterprise communications technologies, with personal communications generally leading, and enterprise communications systems generally following.
When I talk about divergence, I’m not just talking about features. I’m also talking about things like refresh cycles and usability. Traditional enterprise communications is still largely centered on the premises-based PBX. And the PBX is still wireline handset and voice-centric, with a 10-year hardware refresh cycle. Compare that to personal communications, which are centered on mobile devices and feature multi-modal communications (voice, SMS, web, social media) with a typical one-year hardware refresh cycle. If you ask me, it’s crazy to think of making a 10-year communications technology investment when game changers like the smartphone have only been around for five or six years.
So what does this divergence mean for enterprises today? For one, end users are bringing personal communications technologies into enterprise environments (think of BYOD and the corporate use of social media). At the same time, businesses are faced with a corresponding reduction in visibility and control as communications start to leave their buttoned-up onsite environments.
One customer of ours complained to me of the reduction in visibility that resulted from the mobilization of their workforce. Previously, sales efforts could be measured in an outbound contact center environment with advanced reporting fed from their PBX. Now that their sales team does most of their business on mobile devices, the visibility into end user behavior is largely gone or has to be self-reported.
Another customer came to me with the challenge that more and more of their customer interactions were happening via SMS directly from employees’ BYOD mobile devices. Unlike email, there was no centralized management, filtering, or analytics to help track these interactions.
A third customer expressed exasperation that they had gone to great expense deploying a large UC upgrade, but their users preferred using Skype to meet their needs as it was more "usable."
These examples are all illustrative of the business challenges caused by this divergence. And while these challenges will likely exist for the foreseeable future, it isn’t, in my opinion, a foregone conclusion that enterprise communications systems are fated to become irrelevant. A lot of the product development work we do at TPN is informed by an understanding of this divergence. Our underlying belief is that closing the gap will allow customers to communicate more effectively and provide end users with the tools they want and expect.
Our approach to date has been to build a cloud-based UC platform that natively includes mobility, SMS, video, and web-based communications. We are using this platform to help enterprise customers achieve end user relevance and management visibility in their environments by closing as much of the personal/enterprise communications divide as possible.