In the first part of this feature we detailed how shifting office demographics and advances in technology have brought about the digital transformation. Here, Ian McMurray looks at the significance of the cloud and what impact this has on the traditional integrator.
The technologies that go to make up the digital workplace are already fairly well understood and in place – mobile/portable devices, unified communications, videoconferencing and audio conferencing, interactive screens are the primary hardware elements. Software – notably Office 365 and Google’s G Suite – is playing an increasing role in making it all play nicely together. “It’s all about technology, access, communication and security,” says Neil Marshall, client solutions director at Dell EMEA.
“The underlying technology that has proven pivotal is unified communications (UC), though the development and adoption of these multi-faceted systems has been a gradual process,” believes Anne Marie Ginn, senior category manager at Logitech Video Collaboration. “Now that many companies and employees are comfortable with their UC systems, we’re increasingly seeing collaboration move into workflow applications such as Slack and Microsoft Teams – the chat-based workspace in Office 365 – which acts as a sort of ‘UC 2.0’, in place of traditional communication channels, such as email.”
“The adoption of Skype for Business, Cisco Spark and other UC platforms has made it very easy for employees to communicate via chat and video, and share information across any device,” echoes Alex Couzins, marketing manager at AVMI. “To me, this is what the virtual/digital workplace is all about.”
There is, however, one technology that is easily overlooked but that is perhaps the key enabler for what the digital workplace is and does. “Cloud is a significant factor,” nods Lieven Bertier, global marketing manager for collaboration and meeting experience base at Barco, “because it makes it possible to have access to and share data from anywhere, from any device.”
“Cloud is the key, and how it has changed how we consume technology,” echoes Michele Durban, marketing director at Starleaf. “It has no barriers and knows no boundaries.”
Michael Helmbrecht, chief product and operations officer at Lifesize agrees. “Perhaps the most significant shift has been a cloud-based approach to videoconferencing,” he says. “This dramatically decreases the time to deployment, management efforts and cost for both IT departments and end-users. In addition, cloud-based videoconferencing is ideally suited for today’s mobile and dispersed workforce, who can use videoconferencing virtually anywhere and across any platform – desktop, laptop, mobile device – while integrating it seamlessly with their other productivity and collaboration tools and processes.”
Ginn sees things very much the same way. “A major factor has been the advent of cloud-based UC and collaboration platforms,” she notes. “These platforms have made the digital workplace infinitely more affordable, and significantly more flexible than the fixed systems that came before.”
As technology proliferates throughout all levels of an organisation, and especially a technology focused on improving productivity, it’s inevitable that ease of use becomes a key selling point. In fact, it would be all too easy for prospective end-users to be led to believe that creating a digital workplace is something they can do for themselves. If they do indeed believe that, where does it leave the integrator community?
“While this may seem to take traditional responsibility away from the integrator, they are still vital in the deployment and maintenance of the back-end technologies that deliver the employees’ ultimate end-user experience,” claims Ginn. “For instance, many companies will turn to integrators to manage the integration of hardware and software, the actual deployment, the cabling, and ongoing maintenance once the solution is in situ.”
“As easy-to-install ‘plug-and-play’ endpoints and downloadable cloud-based apps have gained pace, it has driven different expectations for the buyer’s experience, which requires business adjustments for many integrators,“ believes Helmbrecht. “Whenever there is a fundamental change in technology and customer buying behaviour, integrators face the question of how they add value for customers in a rapidly shifting market.
“As solutions and markets change, revenue opportunities do as well,” he continues. “It is more important than ever for integrators to develop their sales and marketing engine to facilitate customer acquisition and to enable expansion opportunities. In addition to project-based services to design and deploy, there is the opportunity to build a recurring revenue stream and develop more business by working with customers to expand their user base and the scope of their solution over time. This requires a strategic conversation to understand customers’ broader communication and collaboration needs and plans.”
He has an ally in Marshall, who is also a proponent of a consultative approach based on a deep understanding of the customer’s business and objectives. “The opportunity for integrators lies in consulting about an appropriate workplace transformation plan for an organisation – it’s rarely as simple as just putting in some new laptops,” he smiles. “Often, room design and layout, meeting space reshuffling, implementation of interactive projectors or displays in collaborative workspaces and the creation of huddle rooms will feature in the transformation of a workspace. Integrators are ideally suited to sell consultancy packages that support this process based on their intimate knowledge and understanding of what their customers’ business rhythms feel like.”
The really good news for integrators, however, may turn out to be the size of the available market – because the industry is agreed that the digital workplace is not only appropriate for small and medium businesses: it may even be easier to sell to.