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Unified communications is the next digital frontier

By STEVE DAVIES, CTO at Telviva

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With the global pandemic having prompted the biggest work-from-home experiment in history, many businesses have now fully embraced the benefits of a ‘distributed’ or remote workforce. Yet as the South African lockdown revealed, business continuity and the ability to continue to serve customers has been highly dependent on technology and ‘digital readiness’ within companies. 

Without doubt, business leaders have now recognised the critical importance of having seamlessly integrated digital communications, which enable both internal collaboration and external efficiencies in reaching customers and quickly resolving queries. Also, with more emphasis being placed on customer experience in the age of digital and data-driven business, savvy companies are ensuring that every customer touchpoint is integrated and coordinated – and are therefore investing in unified communications (UC) platforms, or what is known as Communication Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS). 

According to a recent IDC survey, enterprises have been exploring increased investments in UC & Collaboration tools, network management, and datacentre networking since the pandemic began – with almost half of respondents (48%) reporting they will be increasing investments in UC&C tools. In addition, the UC EXPO reported that in 2019, zero companies viewed UC&C as business-critical, but in the wake of COVID-19, that number went from zero to 7% (and is likely to increase dramatically).

Removing the friction in virtual working 

Prior to the pandemic, many businesses were already embracing mobile working tools and harnessing innovations such as Cloud PBX systems and softphones. Yet with the influx of new tools and the use of various digital channels such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc, many businesses have experienced challenges in coordinating these channels – which has often resulted in the inability to capture important customer data and provide customer-facing teams with the context required to respond to queries with both speed and accuracy. In addition, having too many platforms that don’t ‘speak’ to each other and coordinate can inhibit internal collaboration and productivity. 

Having recognised these barriers to both internal and external engagement, companies are turning to new solutions that coordinate and bring together the benefits of digital communication features such as instant webchats, softphones, and videoconferencing (all in one, accessible web interface that doesn’t require downloads or onerous integration processes). So, instead of having one platform for a softphone, one for video conferencing, one for voice calls, etc, businesses can turn to one integrated tool that offers all of these capabilities (and therefore drives more efficient processes and communications). 

Increasingly, these emerging unified communication solutions combine the best in South African telephony services with the benefits of moving to Cloud-based, fully mobile working environments. 

On such a platform, you can ‘dial’ a colleague’s extension and reach them immediately – even if they are out of the office. It also becomes much easier for customers to reach the right person within a company, and leave messages within a streamlined chat function that captures all the key contextual data. In addition, by harnessing small but important features such as the integration of contacts from various sources (Google, mobile phones, company directories, etc) this type of platform can quickly enhance both productivity and collaboration by removing friction points and inefficiencies that have usually been associated with remote working and distributed teams. 

Local solutions for SA companies 

Looking ahead, as more SA companies become dependent on videoconferencing and virtual collaboration tools, having local providers that can tailor UC platforms to specific company pain points will become increasingly important. As we can see with Microsoft Teams, for example, this doesn’t offer an easily integrated telephony solution at all, particularly given that it would require the input and help of local providers to turn this into a telephony offering. Moreover, as business needs grow and leaders look for scalable and responsive digital solutions, those who choose local providers will be far better positioned to get immediate and personalised feedback. In developing our own UC solutions, for example, we welcome customer and employee feedback as to what features or additional capabilities would make internal and external communication both more seamless and engaging for users. Having recognised that many employees need to save on data and voice calling costs, for example, our UC solution enables colleagues to place mobile and company inbound calls that don’t use up mobile data minutes. Overall, SA businesses can save up to 40% on voice call rates by harnessing local PBX and pioneering UC offerings. 

As both companies and individuals adapt to the post-pandemic world of virtual working and digital communications, success will arguably be defined by the ability to engage in quality conversations (and to capture every customer’s context and pain points with ease). This will place unified communications (UC) solutions at the very forefront of business growth and sustainability – and an opportunity for local companies to become global competitors in their respective markets. 

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