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Collaboration: integrator opportunities

In the first part of our collaboration feature we outlined the reasons behind the growing prominence of solutions, here we look at how integrators can add value and the importance of product interoperability and third party technologies, writes Ian McMurray.

Reflex is not the only integrator, and neither are Kramer nor Polycom the only manufacturers, to see the opportunity to add value in collaboration applications. ‘Collaboration’ has become a portmanteau word for working together – yet different industries, different companies, different teams and different individuals are likely to be looking for it to achieve very specific goals to mirror unique ways of working. A recent Polycom press release quoted the company’s senior vice president Ashan Willy as saying that “collaboration technology for the workplace of the future is not a one-size-fits-all proposition”.

“The term ‘collaboration’ is used to describe a number of different means of communication – anything from a simple telephone call and working through a document, to joining an HD video conference and sharing rich media to and from board rooms, laptops, PCs and mobile devices,” explains Richard Middleton, country manager for UK and Ireland at Lifesize. “For some organisations, a simple presence and chat service is deemed as collaboration; it’s all dependant on individual needs and requirements.”

For Middleton, the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in the market place today means that product interoperability with as many third-party technologies as possible is critical for providers to ensure customers have access to a ‘best of breed’ solution.

“End-users are looking for specific solutions that solve their specific issues,” says Baertson. “ I expect that the integrator community will still have to link together different elements in order to build that unique solution, very much like they do today.”

Common denominators

“But,” he goes on, “there are a couple of common denominators. Solutions need to be secure so that confidential information cannot be accessed by unauthorised parties, and to be open towards different devices and operating systems as today’s workplace has become a mix of all types, enabling the BYOD trend. They need to be guest friendly, acknowledging that a third of all meetings have external parties involved. Solutions need to be user-friendly – and they need to be IT friendly. It’s said that an average IT manager runs a marathon per year to solve meeting room problems. The more technology we bring in, the more this poor IT manager needs to run, unless you bring in full remote management and maintenance options.”

“There are indeed common themes,” agrees Edwards, “such as allowing dispersed workforces to work as a team, improving communications, speeding up decision making processes, making cost savings on overheads or accessing new revenue streams. However, every customer conversation is different and, of course, priorities will change according to each requirement based around their particular need. As with any customer discussion, the key is to listen carefully. That way, what we can provide is quite simple – solutions that actually work for that customer.”

As the collaboration market matures, it certainly seems likely that it will tend to fragment, taking those basic underlying principles that are common to almost all organisations, but adapting the solution for specific markets – something that McGroarty foresees.

“There is always going to be a need for specialised endpoints, especially in particular verticals,” he believes. “For example, the healthcare environment requires medical-grade imaging quality as well as specific safety features, or the oil and gas sector looks for ‘tough’ endpoints.”

He too notes the need for open standards, interoperability, scalability and flexibility in the base system, as well as the way that UCaaS – unified communications as a service – is bringing the opportunity of collaborative working to new classes of customer to whom it was previously unaffordable.

Improving business processes in collaboration