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7 Clues to the ‘New Normal’ for Enterprise Communications

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New Normal
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What are we learning from this current communicable disease crisis? No doubt, enterprises will ask this question from many perspectives as they seek to understand what happened and to make the optimal post-crisis decisions. The answers will shape the way we work in this decade, and perhaps far into the future.
 
Here are some thoughts about the answers and about the likely “new normal.”
 
  1. We’ve learned which jobs can be done remotely, which cannot be done remotely but must still be done, and which jobs just aren’t feasible in a “shelter in place” environment.
     
    For example, the need to deliver care (clinical workers), provide specific services (first responders or airline flight crews), or keep the supply chain working (production, warehouse, and delivery personnel) doesn’t disappear just because the job can’t be done remotely. Will we learn new ways of doing this work that reduces communicable disease risk? Likely, yes.
     
    For another example, if a retail store or restaurant is closed, the salesclerks or servers won’t be required and are unable to perform their jobs remotely, though the production (chefs) and logistics (pickup or delivery staff) may continue.
     
    Other roles can move to remote work but doing so usually requires access to the business applications and data resources that make the work possible. For example, CFOs note that most of their workers, who are in the Information Processing Usage Profile, can successfully do their jobs from remote locations. Communications technologies will have to follow the lead of business processes and business application software. Perhaps this will accelerate the shift to communications tools that are built into business application software.
     
    On balance, as my colleague Blair Pleasant pointed out to me, 74% of 317 CFOs who participated in a March 30 Gartner survey said they plan to move at least 5% of previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions. The average was about 10%, with some 23% saying they would move 25% or more of the previously on-site workers to permanently remote assignments.
     
    Usage Profiles and related industry analysis provide a proven framework for analyzing and then acting on the lessons learned about remote work. The framework clearly indicates what communication tools each Profile needs, adjusted for vertical industry differences.
     
    2. Businesses will be able to serve customers in new, more flexible ways that may actually be better than the old processes.
     
    It’s already clear that many customers can receive service without the need to visit a physical location. They can pay a bill, shop for clothing, see a doctor, or fill a prescription remotely, online, or via an app, for example. When this crisis is over, will business leaders choose to slash the number of physical sites and shift to the online model?
     
    Enterprises will have lessons learned from their contact centers and other customer-facing departments. They’ll also have many opportunities to reinvent their customer-serving processes. Perhaps we’ll see a boom in contact center as a service (CCaaS) with broad and deep deployment of natural language processing and artificial intelligence (across channels) to make a dramatic improvement in customer services while also reducing the labor content of the customer interaction.
     
    In this area, we should anticipate a new normal that makes a quantum leap in the architectures as well as in the cost and profit margins of customer care.
     
    3. Operational workflows and supply chain management are key to most businesses, in any situation.
     
    It’s worth looking carefully at what’s happening in these core areas during the current crisis. Very likely, employees have abandoned traditional telephony-based communications tools. Likely, they’ve increased their use of email and, possibly, workflow messaging tools such as WhatsApp or simple SMS texting.
     
    There may also be a shift to communications via the business software applications that drive workflows and supply chains, such as those from Salesforce, Oracle, and SAP.
     
    Or, perhaps ad hoc workflow redesigns have or will move the work into secure team-based sharing methods. If so, then it will be interesting to see where communications-based technologies such as Microsoft Teams, Google G Suite, and Cisco Webex Teams will come into play versus workflow-based technologies such as Slack, Monday, and Workfront.
     
    The risk is that enterprise communications technology managers won’t be part of the conversation in this area. Getting senior management attention right now will help you have a voice in this part of the new normal.
     
    4. Maybe managers and executives fall in love with unified communications and collaboration.
     
    Perhaps this is just a dream, but managers and executives have often been the most resistant to changes in their communication technologies. Now that they, too, have had to conduct business from a social distance and without airline travel, maybe they’ll like what they found in software-based communications with significant video content via computers, tablets, and smartphones.
     
    It may be worth capturing some data about how they’re working at this time and be ready to bring their remote office experience into the physical C-suite when things return to (the new) normal.
     
    5. Communications tools agility requires advance planning.
     
    This is pretty obvious but has to be on this checklist. If videoconferencing is part of remote working, then how do you adjust network bandwidth? If all possible remote work is done remotely, do you have the necessary licenses? If remote work must be encrypted over virtual private networks (VPNs) in order to protect company and customer information, will the communications technologies work properly over those VPNs?
     
    The looming question is whether this communicable disease crisis is the final tipping point to move communications infrastructure to the cloud. What if the new normal is to have remote work to the greatest extent possible such that the current office buildings are simply one-day-per-week team meeting hotels?
     
    We know how to answer all of those questions, but will need to anticipate the changes, educate IT and business unit management, and then fund the chosen transformations.
     
    6. Consumer technologies are increasingly important.
     
    In this sudden “work from home” situation, many workers have used the tools they normally have at home: cellular phones, cable or DSL networks, home computers or tablets. This is especially true if your enterprise didn’t fund broad deployment of laptop computers or business-grade tablets.
     
    Yet this produces many problems, such as remote workers using consumer technologies outside the enterprise umbrella of compliance, reliability, and security. The number of free videoconferencing and workflow software offers springing up in response to the crisis just makes this worse.
     
    Clearly, a refresh and expansion of your enterprise’s remote work policies is necessary.
     
    7. Automation is a key to flexibility.
     
    In this crisis, it was uncertain as to which employees would be able to work, even if working remotely. Also, with social distancing, it may not even have been possible to come into the data centers to interact with communication technology systems manually.
     
    It looks to be very important to look at the software packages that can automate communication system monitoring, moves/adds/changes, reconfigurations, and similar daily processes. Fortunately, many of those packages exist (you’ll find some among the 2020 Enterprise Connect Sponsors and Exhibitors). Also, there have been really impressive gains in robotic process automation (RPA) in the past few years.
 
Bottom line, a new normal is emerging and it will be defined by what we learn during the current crisis. This is an opportunity! Carpe diem!
 

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