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The Next Big Thing in UCaaS: You!

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What we now refer to as UCaaS started as a hosted version of the PBX. The scope of UCaaS has expanded throughout the years and today generally includes voice, messaging, and meeting capabilities. It’s early yet, but the next big trend in UCaaS appears to be analytics: specifically, how services are consumed.
 
UCaaS providers intend to help their customers (organizations and individuals) communicate and collaborate more effectively. The offerings and capabilities have been expanding over the past several years, as analytics capabilities and AI are combined with usage metrics from cloud-delivered services.
 
Remote work technology existed before the pandemic, but there was limited adoption due to real concerns and objections like concerns to managing and supervising remote employees. So, like everything else, management is undergoing a form of digital transformation for distributed workforces. Whether it’s teachers on the playground or managers at the office, supervision has historically involved visual proximity. However, visual supervision is not particularly effective with knowledge workers. How do we know what they are thinking?
 
The emerging approach is to tap into usage data. Traditional software vendors had very few ways to know how/if their products were used. Cloud-delivered services know much more. An online word processor provider can likely determine working hours, typing speed, education level, which features are used and missing (what gets searched in Help), and more.
 
Most of the collaboration vendors had already developed capabilities to evaluate usage patterns of their services. Now they are making these tools a feature and developing applications to help users and managers benchmark and improve their productivity, efficiency, and collaborations. These new applications have intuitive front-ends, which make them suitable for general managers.
 
It’s not just UCaaS. These monitoring and productivity tools are getting built into general office suites and are emerging as standalone products.
 
The Suite Approach
The suites use a variety of different signals to evaluate usage, including email, productivity apps, and browser usage. This provides a very comprehensive view of user behaviors. However, external apps can create a void. A user that might appear to have few meetings may in fact be using a third-party meeting platform.
 
Here are a couple of examples of the suite approach:
 
Microsoft: Organizations that subscribe to Microsoft 365 have access to several tools that reveal details on usage and activities across its entire software suite. MyAnalytics provides individual users visibility into their time management and cross-team interaction. Workplace Analytics uses similar data to provide management visibility into employee and work team productivity. Microsoft’s Productivity Score provides organizational-level assessments of collaboration and communications, including aggregate data on meetings, teamwork, and application adoption.
 
Microsoft recently announced Viva as an optional employee experience platform. Viva’s Insights module combines elements of Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics and is designed to help individuals and managers improve productivity and wellbeing. Individuals will have access to personal insights with tailored recommendations to improve effectiveness. Managers get visibility into employee work patterns that could lead to burnout and stress.
 
Google: The Google Workspace solution offers some similar capabilities. Administrators can (manually or automatically) search for content across Gmail, Chat, Voice, Classic Hangouts, and Drive. Workspace also tracks various activities such as messages sent, calls placed, and devices used.
 
Google offers an organizational reporting suite called Work Insights that examines organizational-level metrics including the adoption of Workspace apps. Low adoption could, for example, indicate a need for training or use of alternative applications. Insights also offers visual charts with visibility into time and collaboration patterns that can identify which apps and activities are consuming the most time and reveal non-collaborative silos.
 
Communications-focused Approaches
New monitoring and usage analytics apps are emerging as both a feature in existing communications products and standalone applications. Some examples include:
  • Cisco recently announced an improvement to People Insights, which will leverage Webex Graph data to deliver personalized insights and actionable recommendations to promote wellbeing and foster inclusiveness.
  • Slack Enterprise Grid users have access to robust message search capabilities. Also, the Discovery API enables advanced queries and also supports for third-party management tools.
  • Prodoscore is geared toward sales teams and can track omnichannel communications across different providers. The application analyzes interactions for voice, email, chat, and other applications commonly used in sales. A manager can drill-down on an employee’s score to see a detailed timeline of all interactions. Prodoscore was featured in the Enterprise Connect Innovation Showcase in 2018.
  • Observe.ai takes a similar approach, but it’s optimized for CCaaS. It allows supervisors detailed visibility into agent interactions and identifies coaching opportunities. Powerful search features allow supervisors to locate interactions with low sentiment scores, gaps, or even those with or without a verification event such as an address or (PCI compliant) credit card transaction.
Bossware, which are utilities specifically designed to supervise (remote) employees, is another emerging category of applications. Solutions such as Hubstaff, ActivTrak, and Time Doctor fall into this category, and many of them reported a significant sales boost due to the pandemic.
 
Hubstaff, for example, can be configured to grab a picture of the employee’s monitor every few minutes or to track physical locations via the mobile app. Managers don’t need to guess which apps are being used or if an employee actually made that customer visit or not. These apps can be intrusive and are not recommended for use on personal devices.
 
Rather than monitoring, another approach is to mimic some of the aspects of a shared workspace. Sneek.io, for example, offers persistent video. Think of it as a form of visual presence, but instead of a green dot, contacts appear as a live, video image. Sneek updates the image only once a minute, but mousing over it creates an instant, live video chat. The experience is comparable to starting a conversation with a cubicle neighbor.
 
Employee monitoring tools such as these bring unprecedented visibility into employee work habits and productivity. They can certainly provide valuable insights, and employee wellbeing is commonly cited as a benefit. However, there is a thin line between monitoring and surveillance. These tools can also be used to find and fire low performers or detect undesirable workplace activities. Many of these tools cannot be detected and are envisioned for enterprise-wide monitoring. It should be no surprise that enterprise tools are becoming more analytical. Many consumer applications, websites, cars, and cell phones track us now. New monitoring tools are popping up everywhere from doorbells to delivery vans. Advanced workplace monitoring was inevitable.
 
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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