Exploring the World of Collaboration Endpoints

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I participated in my first ever Twitter chat last week, focused on discussing some of the major questions around collaboration endpoints. It was a great experience, and a lot of ground was covered in what felt like a short amount of time. If you missed the live chat, I'm here to give you an overview of what I found to be the highlights of the conversation.

No Jitter asked several analysts and consultants to participate in the chat, myself included, and we were tasked to answer roughly 10 questions that ranged from identifying new and innovative developments in collaboration endpoints to trends in procurement, management, and beyond.

For the purpose of the chat, a collaboration endpoint was defined as anything from physical desk phones, to Web, mobile, and desktop clients, to video room systems, headsets, speakerphones, webcams, and other auxiliary devices.

To me, some of the most impactful and interesting comments in the discussion were around the areas of context awareness, endpoint management, the device-as-a-service procurement trend, and enterprise decision-making.

Context Awareness Discussion

New and interesting innovation in collaboration endpoints are exploding, making it much easier to communicate. Tim Banting, Principal Analyst, Collaboration & Communication at GlobalData Technology, commented that the rise of artificial intelligence and digital assistants could drive the adoption of headsets as more people use voice as an interface.

Alaa Saayed, ICT Principal at Frost & Sullivan's Digital Transformation team, tweeted, "Professional headsets continue to also innovate extending UCC features as well as context awareness to the endpoint."

This comment begged the question, what does "context awareness" really mean? Phil Edholm, President and founder of PKE Consulting, chimed in that, "Context can be sensors, position, etc. GPS for mobile position for a headset, eye tracking, etc." And Saayed answered, "UC headsets are becoming intelligent devices understanding user environment via sensors and other tech."

This was interesting to me to think of all the ways that context awareness via collaboration endpoints can be used in the enterprise, both now and in the future. One example given in the chat was if a user was sitting in an open office and a neighbor was talking too loudly while the user was on a call, a headset with context awareness could automatically adjust the call volume.

Trends in Endpoint Management and Analytics

When the discussion turned to endpoint management, I was curious to see what other consultants and analysts had to say on the matter, because in my work I've been seeing endpoint management topping the list of enterprise concerns. Saayed commented that endpoint vendors today are offering advanced management tools allowing IT professionals to proactively manage device performance. "In customer service, headset analytics is allowing managers to efficiently understand device usage & user behavior patterns," he tweeted.

Edholm chimed in that device analytics are most valuable as part of the collaboration event or for ongoing teams because there is more information in the stream to look at and analyze. Then there was this particularly useful tweet from Robin Gareiss, President of Nemertes Research, sharing data from recent research:


Device-as-a-service

Perhaps one of the more interesting points of discussion was around the topic of the device-as-a-service trend, which is explored in this recent Frost & Sullivan blog.

Saayed commented that device- and software-as-a-service is the main major trend he is seeing in endpoint procurement as opposed to capex models, later adding, "More customers are requesting simple & flexible payment models within both cloud deployments as well as onsite." Banting has observed a trend toward mobile phones and soft clients, with roughly 40% of customers recently surveyed by GlobalData Technology going this route. More specifically, 27% are opting for desk phones, while 15% of those surveyed indicated getting a mix of all three of these endpoints.

Gareiss shared more useful data from recent Nemertes UC TCO research of 723 companies, finding that the average headset price is $128 per headset, while the average handset price is $184. Further, Gareiss shared that 31% of employees use mobile devices for 42% of work calls versus enterprise voice systems, regardless of whether they are in or out of the office. That got me thinking about how wearables fit into all this so I commented that while wearables and smart watches started out as more of a status symbol, they are now finding their way into the workplace.

But it turns out wearables and smart watches might not fit the bill when it comes to functionality and value. Chat participants got a good laugh when someone commented that the best thing about the Apple Watch is that you can swipe away and reject calls more easily. "If only rejecting calls were that easy on every endpoint," Beth Schultz, No Jitter Editor, joked.

My thoughts on device-as-a-service is that the device chosen is ultimately based on the use case and what the user is trying to achieve. There will be better pricing plans for both device-as-a-service as well as purchasing third-party devices from a vendor that is compatible with all systems.

Decision Making

One of the top questions around collaboration endpoints is who should be making these decisions. Should the enterprise communications leaders or the end users be choosing the devices? It's a good question; I am of the opinion that enterprises should be using customer user groups to discuss the use cases and give the user the most input, and for the most part, it seems people agreed with my comment.

"Organizations should survey their users to find out what they want and make a purchasing decision based on that," Banting tweeted. "Otherwise your users could have an under-utilized and very expensive plastic paper-weight!"

Saayed agreed that enterprises should be considering direct input from end users, but ultimately it's the business managers and IT staff who should still be the ones making the decisions.

In my practice, I've seen scenarios where the CIO made the sole decision to give everyone a soft client and told employees that if they couldn't live without a desk phone after one week, then they could have their phone back. With this company having 750 employees, only two people asked for their desk phone back -- that's saying something.

These points are what I consider to be the highlights of the collaboration endpoint discussion, but seeing as how there were so many good points, consider taking a read through the full Twitter chat here . On the surface it might not seem like collaboration endpoint decisions are overly complex, but there are lots of factors to consider.

Barb Grothe is Sr. Consultant with The BAZ Group and past Board member of Society of Communications and Technology Consultants International.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.