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The digitalisation of voice to drive successful collaboration

Article provided by Westcon

The importance of collaborating in an always-on business environment can never be overvalued. With people increasingly working remotely, companies must embrace more effective ways of harnessing digital innovations to drive company value.

Thanks to the cloud and the mobile-first mindset many South Africans have, the process is not as challenging as some may think. It seems the biggest obstacle is changing traditionally-minded views that workers must be in an office to be productive. If the current COVID-19 crisis is showing us anything, though, it is about the need to trust employees to do their work from wherever they have connectivity.

“Fundamentally, a business must be able to combine the skill and expertise of its employees as optimally as possible to achieve its strategic objectives. At a time when people are relying on digital technologies to do everything from watching live streams of concerts to ordering online, more can be done to leverage these in a corporate environment,” says Prebashini Reddy, Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) and Volume Licensing (VL) Product Manager at Westcon-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa.

With an increasingly young workforce who have grown up with technology joining the business ranks, management must be open to creating a dynamic work environment that drives productivity and collaboration in more forward-thinking ways.

“Given the increase of flexible working hours, telecommuting, and even operating completely independently from an office, the need to ensure that employees have sight of the strategic objectives of the organisation, take responsibility for their actions and keep other team members informed of project status has become critical. To this end, communication must be unified across the organisation,” says Pete Hill, executive director at Greendata.

Communication, communication, communication

Unified communication is nothing new. But the tools used to employ this have certainly changed from a few years ago. Today, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) communication is a business standard and integrating mobile phones with the corporate PABX is a familiar tactic for many. This extends beyond pure voice and incorporates such diverse mechanisms as text, instant messaging, video conferencing, mobile presentations, and so on.

“By its nature, unified communication combines all these elements and empowers employees to collaborate from wherever they are by sharing documents and information in real-time. No longer do people have to waste time and other resources in being stuck in traffic to get to and from meetings. Using collaborative technologies can help ensure time is optimally spent, and all team members align to what is required of them for the success of a project,” says Reddy.

Much of this revolves around streamlining workflows and finding better ways of optimising people’s time wherever they are. Some might think this would spell the end of the traditional phone or voice communication as we know it today. While this is true to a certain extent, unified communication can enhance the voice experience by giving users access to a myriad of documents, data sets, and other pieces of information they would not ordinarily have.

“Yes, desktop phones might be on the way out but replacing them will be smartphones that link to productivity solutions such as Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Teams to greatly enhance the way people engage with one another and work in a digital environment. It also does not mean that the old school way of doing things should be supplanted completely. There are still merits in taking the learnings of the past and applying them to the innovations of today,” adds Hill.

For example, instant messaging might work for some users while others still prefer a conversation or looking someone in the eyes. Communication today must be about providing employees with choice and giving them the tools needed to deliver this effectively.

Microsoft Teams Voice

The Microsoft Teams unified communication and collaboration platform is the perfect example of this. It acts as the hub around which collaboration in the Office 365 productivity suite is built. Think about it as an environment where all team conversations, files, meetings, and apps live together in a single shared workspace. Even better, this cloud-based offering is accessible from any device while keeping data secure.

“An important feature in Microsoft Teams is that of cloud voice. It provides the business with PBX capabilities while also giving options to connect to the public switched telephone network. It integrates with all aspects of Office 365 and provides teams with an invaluable resource to drive conversations in more unique ways,” says Reddy.

Essentially, this creates a phone system in Microsoft technology that can not only replace an existing PBX but also delivers enhanced services to the likes of Office 365 and Microsoft Teams. These help make employees more productive and give them the ability to stay seamlessly in touch with one another.

“The power of voice remains its ability to build deep connections with people. Text, email, and instant messaging are wonderful tools but lacks the human touch. And when voice combines with video, even more value is unlocked. Microsoft Teams Voice introduces this in a powerfully, integrated way into software people use daily. It is not about reinventing the wheel with unified communication but enhancing the way people have been working,” continues Hill.

So, while messaging might be less intrusive than voice calls, there are times during collaboration where it is far more expedient to set up a conference call around the project in question and discuss issues as a team. And when this happens in a collaborative environment such as Office 365, people can make real-time changes and get approvals without going through traditional slow-moving processes.

When companies start integrating artificial intelligence (AI) tools into such environments, even more business value can be unlocked. Imagine the potential of AI-based speech analytics that not only keep minutes of meetings and can transcribe discussions, but can pull insights from conversations, the tonality of people, and other components to guide teams in their collaboration further.

“These are exciting times for voice as new technologies continually emerge to enhance something many people have taken for granted. Just as digital is changing the way people work, so too will it revolutionise voice to become even more critical to business success,” concludes Reddy.

Westcon is a proud Partner of the NSBC