At the outset of this tumultuous year, nearly three-in-five companies told IDC that their top communications challenges were inefficient or manual processes. Now, late in 2020, high-tech organizations tell us they want communications platforms to solve two key issues: maintain business continuity and improve virtual team collaboration.
For tech-savvy organizations, even those with widely dispersed teams, the pandemic inflamed an already significant set of challenges. To see how tech companies are adapting, we convened a roundtable with luminaries from leading hardware and software companies on the theme of The Current and Future State of High-tech Communications and Collaboration.
Collaborative communications planning insights:
Communications platforms are thriving
Wayne Kurtzman, IDC Research Director, presented new data showing that North American enterprises have increased the investment in their conferencing platforms as a result of COVID-19—and will continue the investment through 2021 (IDC Collaboration Focus: COVID-19 Impact on Spending Survey, Doc #US46997220). He believes these platforms hold collaborative appeal because “It’s a matter of trust and openness. No one’s going to share their best idea if they don’t feel safe.”
Virtual team collaboration works
Jim DiMaggio, VP of IT Infrastructure and Platform Services, Lumentum, said that when travel was ruled out, his team stress-tested their recently installed RingCentral Office platform by using it to replicate an important series of collaborative, multi-day business process improvement events. The adaptation worked, and now he forecasts less travel across Lumentum in the future.
Hybrid workforce is the new normal
Trevor Schulze, CIO, RingCentral, who moderated the virtual roundtable, said he believes that organizations should optimize their communications stack for a “hybrid” plan, where workers alternate between home and the office. Video alone doesn’t get the job done. “There’s the asynchronous and synchronous nature of collaboration,” said Schulze. “You have to have both.”
Less “me” space, more “we” space
Mason Sanders, Senior Director, IT Experience Group, Red Hat, said that even prior to the pandemic, 30% to 40% of the open-source software company’s employees worked remotely. This year, the IBM subsidiary has been so successful collaborating remotely that they’re reimagining the purpose to many of their 130+ global locations.
High priorities after the recession
High-tech organizations, like everybody else in 2020, are navigating through economic peaks and valleys that have spurred rapid digital transformation and a rethinking of strategic investments. The impacted economy can be mapped in a five-phase enterprise recovery model, explained IDC’s Kurtzman, indicating that many organizations are exiting the trough of recession—and returning to growth.
Kurtzman calls the final phase “the Next Normal,” but said that a relatively few companies are there yet. From the aforementioned research, the business focus helping to drive this recovery includes targeted enterprise investments in areas such as team collaboration solutions (96% U.S.; 56% global); video conferencing applications (90% U.S.; 53% global); along with content sharing and collaboration apps, too (77% U.S.; 44% global). Team collaboration investments help enable technology parity for more members of the workforce, he adds.
How have team collaboration apps become such a high priority for tech organizations? According to data presented by IDC, the highest-rated collaboration benefits tell the story:
- Real-time information 45.5%
- Increased personal productivity 41.1%
- Saving time 40.3%
- Increased group productivity 39.5%
- Feeling more informed/connected 36.4%
There are multiple ways to use communications platforms to help replicate analog meeting processes. Beyond group meetings, Lumentum’s DiMaggio explains that RingCentral enables virtual conference rooms, which can improve both individual and group productivity. “People that attend can participate in the same meetings that people will do at their desk, at home, or in the office,” he said.
Collaboration rollouts require champions
When a hardware vendor pivots from in-person to virtual collaboration, it may require at least a brief transition—or a healthy push. Before the RingCentral Office rollout, Lumentum’s DiMaggio cultivated and sought buy-in from a range of “champions,” seeking their help to demonstrate and evangelize the platform.
“We want to go to the people that are excited about technology, excited about collaboration,” he said. “If you just try to blast out some technology based on IT’s point of view, at least where I work, you’ll run into a lot of resistance, right?”
Undoubtedly, many workers seem more receptive to change given the COVID-19 pandemic. And IT must also listen to communication ideas that trickle up. Red Hat’s Sanders said that he has embraced chat capabilities within the Google suite of apps, partly to achieve what he terms “the network effect.”
Is a pandemic the time when everyone should come together on a unified platform? “I’m not a hater on shadow IT,” explained RingCentral’s Schulze. But sometimes there are just too many apps, and too many choices, and “you will win if you have less confusion about what to use for certain modes of communication.”
Choosing chat vs. video
What’s the most helpful communication tool right now? We asked our panelists and webinar audience to chime in on this, and surprisingly, two-thirds said that chat is helping them the most now, and video placed a distant second, at 17%. Sanders said he believes that you really need voice, chat, and video working together to “run a business in this century.”
The key question, from Sanders’ perspective, is this: “How do we get better at using all three in concert to drive the right interaction, at the right time, to deliver the right business result?”
Originally published Nov 20, 2020, updated Jul 22, 2021