December is always a time to reflect on the past year. There’s no doubt we received some real surprises—with the pandemic being extremely disruptive in terms of tragedy, economic displacement, and changes to individual and social activities. Yet, there are a few silver linings to those dreary clouds that seem to be gifts of this season, which I’ll illustrate here.
#1: Remote Collaboration Around the Globe
The first and perhaps most appreciated gift is that almost everyone worldwide has learned to meet online. We’ve been able to conduct business meetings and interactions, continue studies, and sustain our family and friendships with the marvelous online tools that are literally at our fingertips. “Zoom” seems to be a new verb, even though it builds on almost two decades of industry development by Webex, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Facetime, GoToMeeting, and many others.
This gift will truly keep on giving. Sure, we’ll happily rush back to holiday parties, soccer fields, and restaurants, but we’ve learned that the quickest way to have a rich interaction is through click to meet or call. It seems like the transition to online communications in 2020 will go down in history as similar to when we started to have skyscrapers to speed business or economic airline travel to extend our relations with others.
#2: Role-Based Communications
The second reward is that we now have no second thought about asking, “can I work from home?” In the past, most people viewed this practice as a privilege for some and a managerial concession for others. It’s apparent that the answer is, “yes, as much as you can.” However, for many job categories and roles that answer is, “no, not really.” First responders, health care providers, retail personnel of all types (restaurants, stores, shipping services), utility service personnel, and many more can’t do their jobs “at home.”
These questions have brought the design principles of usage profiles to the forefront. Pre-pandemic, usage profiles were valuable for planning and licensing decisions, but most of our consulting clients continued to procure a one-size-fits-all communication system, aka private branch exchange (PBX), with hundreds of configurable features. Now, usage profiles have become a strategic tool to guide functional workflow policies and deployments while optimizing the communication system designs and purchases. It’s clear that as many as 50% of employee roles across industry groups don’t need an enterprise telephone number, a PBX or unified communications license or desk phone.
For many usage profiles, the replacement is cloud-based, job-specific workflow management software. An employee can add voice or video communication to the applications user interface if they need it to be part of their workflow. Note that this doesn’t automatically mean a workgroup software package. Instead, it may be an electronic health record system where communication gets launched and logged from the patient record. Or, it may be a text or call from a sales, or service, or facilities software system being used by the enterprise or organization. Much more can be said about this and will be forthcoming in the new year.
#3: Advances in Software Automation
The third gift is the prevalence of software servants. In almost every employee role in practically every usage profile, we find that artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robotic process automation (RPA) enable us to work more efficiently, more quickly, and more effectively. That’s quite rare; usually, technology advances provide only one of those three benefits, but now we are getting them all at once.
This silver lining can change how work gets done, how many people are required in a workflow or process, and how rapidly a new employee or contractor can get up to the required skill level. Our enterprise communications community has some excellent opportunities to apply that in our own departments and help others find the best path forward.
As tough as 2020 was, we still have received many gifts this year and look forward to using them in 2021. I wish you all a safe, healthy, and transformational new year. Happy Holidays.
This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.