Making the transition from IP phones to software-based unified communications and collaboration tools isn't a daunting experience from just the IT perspective. It's intimidating for users, too.
Unified communications (UC) is becoming predominantly software-centric, and enterprises are training users on new software-based tools crucial to everyday business communication and collaboration needs. Despite flashy features emerging from UC vendors, many employees don't take full advantage of these unfamiliar tools.
"Some businesses might not have desk phones anymore, but they still have keyboards," said Melanie Turek, vice president of research at San Antonio-based Frost & Sullivan Inc. "Vendors need to change the hardware in order to support the software.
Software-based solutions still need some hardware components in order for the employee to work with [the tools] as effectively as possible," Turek said.
Some UC and collaboration vendors are softening the transition from phones and other UC gadgets by offering accessories designed to simplify the experience of using software-based UC tools. But while combining these accessories with new software offerings can create a more comfortable user experience, mobility and the bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, trend are leaving little room for hardware solutions.
Logitech offers Cisco accessories for Jabber
Logitech, a Swiss IT hardware provider, recently released dedicated hardware offerings -- a keyboard, high-definition webcam and mouse -- designed for Cisco's software-based UC and collaboration offering, Jabber.
"We know that end users have a hard time shifting from hardware-based communications to a full software-based experience … but hardware can augment the software experience," said Eric Kintz, senior vice president and general manager at Logitech for Business. "Moving from a phone to clicking from a PC to make a call is a challenging transition for many users, and it slows adoption of UC platforms," he said.
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Logitech designed its Cisco accessories -- specifically, the Logitech UC Keyboard K725-C -- with nine integrated phone and video controls that can bring the user directly to Jabber's voice, video and voice messaging features. "We have integrated the call controls of the traditional desk phone, right in front of the user on their keyboard," Kintz said. The integrated keyboard can manage calls for any user signed into Jabber, an attractive feature for virtual environments where employees may not have assigned desks or telecommuters, he said.
While there is still a strong, continuing interest in the traditional desktop workspace, Logitech's new Cisco accessories are helping to fill in the gaps for Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure , or VXI, users, said Ken Snyder, emerging technology solutions lead for collaboration at CDW, a Vernon Hills, Ill.-based IT hardware and software provider and Cisco partner.
"The hardware is taking how we've been communicating for a decade and expanding those capabilities -- instead of reworking anything. Being able to have familiar capabilities with the new technology is important for a collaborative user experience," Snyder said.
CDW is seeing interest in the new hardware from Cisco customers with large teleworking populations and those using desktop virtualization, Snyder said. "Being able to enable communicate and collaborate from a home or virtual workspace is lowering complexity for IT, as well as the users," he said.
Does the enterprise want dedicated hardware for software?
The enterprise might be moving away from hardware, but virtual environments are a great opportunity for dedicated UC hardware -- like Logitech's Cisco accessories -- to gain a toehold in the predominately software UC market, said Rich Costello, senior research analyst for UC and enterprise communications infrastructure at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.
"Hardware vendors are really competing against mobility -- but there is some opportunity in the UC market because people are still comfortable with their desktop workspaces, and virtualization is growing," Costello said.
As companies turn to hot-desking and virtualization technologies to save money and support a growing mobile workforce, dedicated hardware can offer a working environment that is both flexible but personalized, Logitech's Kintz said.
Hardware offerings also can help to further UC adoption by making new features more accessible to users, IDC's Costello said.