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Four technologies impacting enterprise communication

Smartphones, video, messaging and freemium services are shaking up enterprise communications. Enterprises must prepare for the impact of these trends on employee communication and workflows.

Enterprise communication continues to evolve at an accelerated pace. Innovation is occurring faster, and product lifecycles are shorter, though the general public may not realize it. A time-transported Don Draper would be perplexed by the PC and mystified by a smartphone, but would probably feel comfortable with the IP phone.

While modern phones are intended to be familiar, many of the newer enterprise communication technologies are intended to change how, when and where we get work done. Here are four technologies that deserve attention, as they are showing the potential to significantly disrupt the way we communicate and work.

The smartphone becomes the new desk phone

The smartphone has been around for some time, and as it has evolved, so have the networks. Carriers are rolling out 4G networks quickly, and with 4G comes more changes.

Most enterprise UC systems support the smartphone as a client. Support is done in a few different ways, such as smartphone apps, simultaneous ring and docking stations. This is a UC-centric approach to mobility, but that could change with 4G.

Messaging -- asynchronous communications -- has become the preferred means of communication.

Although LTE networks are expanding, most voice and SMS services still reside on 3G networks. 4G will enable a more tightly integrated experience and could enable mobile solutions to completely usurp current enterprise UC solutions.

Rather than call-forwarding gimmicks, we can foresee mobile phones that are truly paired as desktop phones. T-Mobile launched such a service, Cloud & Clear, with Mitel in the Netherlands last June, which offers advanced mobile features and fixed-mobile convergence for small and medium-sized businesses.

Enterprises must talk with both mobile operators and enterprise UC providers about their mobility roadmaps -- inquire about their plans for 4G, voice over LTE (VoLTE), femtocell technologies and voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi). Mobile device management systems will become increasingly important for mobility.

Video barriers are dropping, adoption is rising

Your next conference call will most likely be audio-only, but that won't be true much longer for several reasons.

For starters, video-enabled devices are everywhere -- almost all laptops and mobile devices are video-enabled and most desktops have a webcam. There's also general acceptance, and even preference, of visual communications among younger employees. Even traditional audio-only conferencing providers seem to be embracing video. The real surprise is video conferencing is often less expensive than audio conferencing.

One of the biggest barriers to video has been the cost of bandwidth, equipment or services. But these barriers are falling. Broadband that includes 4G and Wi-Fi are widespread, and there are fewer offline islands. The continued growth and adoption of video is inevitable.

Enterprises must plan for more video conferencing, which requires an infrastructure that supports pervasive video, as well as an investment in more than webcams and clients. Enterprises will probably need to upgrade Wi-Fi networks and will definitely need to upgrade conference rooms to include video conferencing technology as opposed to only speakerphones. Take a look at many of the new low-cost huddle room solutions. Plan to work with facilities management to improve lighting and with human resources regarding policies and best-practices training.

Freemium services gain appeal in the enterprise

Freemium is a proven business model that is mostly associated with consumer services, where basic features are offered at no cost, but advanced features are charged a premium. Cloud-delivered economics are enabling growth in freemium for business services.

While consumers like the freemium model, most IT departments are wary of it because they prioritize support, which is usually not free. However, freemium is gaining acceptance within IT and other parts of the business. Freemium services are very attractive to line-of-business managers who often view them as a simple way to solve their own problems.

Freemium-based business services, ranging from business analytics to collaboration, are growing across enterprises. Suppliers include familiar names such as Evernote, Zoom, Slack, IBM and Microsoft.

Establish suitable criteria for accepting freemium services, and educate business managers on important evaluation criteria, such as data portability and confidentiality. IT teams simply cannot keep up with supporting existing workloads and evaluating the potential services -- view the adoption of freemium as user-sponsored testing and evaluation.

Messaging becoming the main enterprise communication tool

Your kids do it, we all do it. Messaging has become critical to enterprise communication. Messaging services, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, represent seven of the top 10 mobile apps. It's important to recognize that messaging -- asynchronous communications -- has become the preferred means of communication. It is reliable and convenient at a time where there is mounting frustration with email and voicemail.

Messaging through smartphone applications is an obvious means of communication considering we are always connected. We used to walk away from our phones, but now we still have them even if we are busy. Enterprise UC services offer instant messaging, but it is not usually effective for inter-company work teams. A new breed of business-focused messaging apps, such as Slack and HipChat, are gaining popularity, but they don't do a great job at real-time communications.

Workstream communications and collaboration (WCC) is where asynchronous messaging-based solutions combine with UC. Services are already available from several vendors including Cisco, Interactive Intelligence and Unify, and many more are coming.

These new services will become central to workflows because they provide contacts, conversation history, real-time communications, asynchronous communications and content in one place. They also reduce email use, foster mobility and increase collaboration.

WCC services are coming. Check with your UC provider regarding their roadmap and watch for new entrants. Many of these services are available under a freemium model and adoption of workstream services tend to occur quickly.

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