In recent times, we’ve seen some incredible collaboration innovations come to life and the nature of work rapidly change. What has been very clear is that significant advancements in ‘anywhere, anytime’ collaboration, and the evolution of workplaces and workspaces are being seen globally. Today’s customers not only have greater freedom and flexibility of choice for their collaboration needs, but open environments have replaced traditional meeting rooms with hot desks and shared spaces. With that, traditional room-based conferencing technology is progressing to service these spaces whether they are controlled, personal, or open environments. Similarly, the very nature of work teams has also changed; projects tend to scale down the number of people involved and this dynamic is driving personal, small group interactions – very often across different locations.
Organisations today have moved away from questioning the need and use for collaboration technology. Instead, it’s proliferation that is high on the list of concerns – how to equip and deploy in every space, how to scale up or down as necessary, how to account for the different modalities required, and so on. The key for vendors here is to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together and provide a customer experience that is consistent, uninterrupted, and as painless as possible.
Some requirements for effective and productive collaboration remain the same: connectivity, rich media, and access to content are a given. Here are my thoughts on what lies next for collaboration in APAC in 2016:
1. Technology will move to the centre of the room Throughout history, natural human collaboration and interaction in most social settings are conducted ‘in the round’ – conversations around dinner tables, team huddles before a game, brainstorms to solve problems and create new ideas. However, traditional video collaboration systems have participants seated side by side at a rectangular conference table, leading to a ‘tunnel vision’ style of interaction. The far-end and in-room experience is now changing; by putting cameras and displays at the centre of a workspace, smaller groups of people can draw together into a collaborative circle. New solutions are developed with this in mind, with human-centred design for use in open space environments as well as traditional meeting rooms. They will also incorporate features such as intelligent 360-degree video, automatic muting and noise blocking, and advanced camera technologies which frame the active speaker, ensuring natural human instincts are a key consideration for improving collaboration tools.
2. Cloud-based apps will converge for simpler workflows A recent research report by Skyhigh showed that a typical enterprise uses over 1,100 different cloud-based apps for collaboration and file sharing. The range of apps is exploding and they are being created to help support how people get work done. New solutions which stitch together workflows that go through these apps –‘cloud on cloud’ solutions so to speak – are set to rise in the future. In the real-time collaboration space, opportunities are opening up to integrate audio, video and content within workflows in the cloud, making it faster and easier to deploy to multiple customers at once. This model would eliminate the need for software distribution and remote support to customers on an individual basis. Instead, upgrades and improvements can be managed from one central data centre as a faster and continuous process.
Imagine a time when a customer can simply call up to sign up for a service that provides a full suite of collaboration and communication tools, that fully integrates with all of the other services, applications and workflows that they use already. Imagine if these services could be provisioned and integrated in minutes, whether using a shared public service or a private cloud instance; this is the speed and flexibility that customers are demanding.
3. Big data and analysis will influence collaboration strategies How many organisations today have invested in equipment and technology that is gathering dust? Far too many, and this is an issue that impedes creating a culture of collaboration. In the not too distant future, we can expect real time analytics on the way people use (or don’t use) the tools available to them, at the click of a button. The data available will be way beyond simple metrics like conferencing minutes or room utilisation. In the world of collaboration, business leaders can analyse all activities related to how people interact: how they prefer to work, what applications and features they use, and what kind of issues were experienced and so on.
Having this type of business insight would enable customers to optimise their operations and improve productivity. Deep usage of data and its analysis will also provide necessary insight to vendors when developing new solutions – perhaps to deprecate unutilised features or introduce new functionality. For example, let’s say a call sequence requires five different strokes to be completed. What if we find that people only get halfway through that workflow and abandon it? This is an indication that the sequence is too complicated and needs to change. These are the types of situations that would truly benefit from the availability of big data.
4. End-users will expect simplicity Today’s workers were raised on technology and require more out of the devices and technology they use than ever before. It’s no surprise then, that user expectations get higher with every new solution in the market. People look for the simplification of products and solutions in order to fully utilise them, and so, collaboration should be as natural as opening a favourite app on your smartphone. Not many people would read an instruction manual these days! Over time it is assumed that end-users will not require training to use technology as they expect it to work the way they want it to work. What would this look like? Some examples are that collaboration solutions will be built to be out of the box and set up within minutes, adding devices to an existing cloud subscription will be seamless, and more employees will have freedom to integrate enterprise applications with the technology or device they choose to work with.
5. Content will become more pervasive
Facilitating how people manage, interact, edit, produce, work with content and all associated workflows and applications is an area that has become more complex because of the plethora of content solutions available. There is a need to address complexity and fragmentation and make it easier to manage content in a high fidelity way. Content is not just a screen representation – it is the most valuable asset arising from any collaboration as it is the output which knowledge workers produce. In coming years, we will see the emergence of solutions that will allow people in organisations to more easily manage their content files and related work flow tools, and many of these will be cloud-based applications. Envision a room where every wall and every surface becomes a virtual interactive workspace - content can be taken from anywhere (your personal devices, cloud storage, the physical world) and shown anywhere. Additionally, everything seen in a physical room is also seen by participants around the world, and all of the content is fully interactive allowing teams to simultaneously work on content, save the files, and make it available to all team members to access at any time.
Collaboration matters in the workplace of the future CIOs will remain concerned that any investment in technology will need to work today and in the future. If collaboration technology is to become adopted on a mass scale, it needs to be easy to deploy across multiple users, devices and meeting environments. Further, tools need to be intuitive and easy to handle – and as mentioned before, user expectations in terms of quality and simplicity have to be satisfied. As millennials continue to stream into the workforce, organisations will focus on meshing together the young, educated talent across the globe. To bring them together effectively and drive outcomes through collaboration, an innovative, more connected environment – the workplace of the future – needs to be created now.
As 2015 fast approaches, video collaboration has continued its trajectory as an essential business tool, delivering long-term strategic benefits such as increased employee engagement and cost optimisation. According to research, video conferencing is expected to be the world’s most preferred method of collaboration by 2016. The progression of video technology and overall user experience today, reflect this: High Definition audio and video, advanced content-sharing and recording capabilities, interoperability with existing ecosystems, and security protocols, are just some of the features which should define the standard of any video collaboration deployment.
People no longer want to be confined to a desk and video has broken free from the conference room. The continued growth of mobile workforces, cloud-based services, and collaborative workspaces have changed the face of video conferencing, paving its way from being something which was considered prohibitively expensive and cumbersome to an easy adoption, intuitive solution that brings people and processes together. Looking ahead, these are what I consider to be the next wave of developments for the future of video collaboration:
1. Video in the Future Workplace: I like to live by the principle that work is not a place you go to – it’s something you do. There is pressure on organisations to maximise resource particularly talent, reduce costs, and increase productivity. Results-driven productivity becomes far more a priority rather than just the number of hours you put in. In 2015, more than ever, organisations will need to consider larger numbers of employees working from multiple locations and environments like hot desks, from home, project sites, or on-the-go. Video is an ideal tool to create and bring together pools of knowledge, but how do we ensure that user experiences are made better in a less than perfect conferencing environment, and distance technology will match their needs? Workplace innovation will therefore define the future of working; in 2015, noise cancelling capabilities (such as through custom headsets), optimum lighting adjustment, automatic muting are all technology features which should be incorporated into collaboration environments to maintain optimum productivity. Additionally, the future workplace will combine video, voice, and content collaboration technologies within the business workflow and support easy access to information via digital whiteboarding, knowledge management and streaming methods.
2. Subscription-based video: As more organisations realise the value which stronger communication and alignment brings to business, the implementation of video technologies will continue to rise. Already, the traditional conference room has been complemented – or at times, replaced – with video services via desktop, mobile and tablet devices, and in the cloud in response to an increasing remote workforce. Some organisations prefer flexible technology deployments and a pay-as-you-go model to scale up as needs evolve and change; for example adding video conferencing capacity to a site where it is most required by instantly expanding software licenses. This thereby eliminates time delays associated with customs implications and extra shipping costs. This is not just a matter of economies of scale, software video solutions now give you the option of pure cloud-based delivery or on-premise subscription. Utilising existing data centre hardware and IT infrastructure can also reduce the cost of ownership. For now and in the future, the availability of software-based video services on a subscription basis will add to the mix of visual collaboration methods.
3. ‘Supermobility’: Mobile technology has revolutionised our lives and how we communicate. The advent of smartphones and tablet devices has placed the access and dissemination of information at our fingertips. Mobile devices have been evolving from being simple, ‘fit in your pocket’ communication implements to becoming enterprise tools that are larger in screen size, capacity, and capability. And so we will continue to see the rise of ‘supermobility’ – where mobile devices are designed and equipped with all the tools and technology required for productive teamwork and collaboration on-the-go, such as multi-party video conferencing, content-sharing, and integration within an organisation’s existing IT infrastructure. In fact, research has revealed that 1.3 billion people will work remotely using mobile technology by 2015. Supermobility will therefore become the standard for millennials, BYOD policies, and the future workplace.
4. Browser-based video: Imagine how the world of customer service, for example, could be revolutionised if a web user can initiate video chats via a browser and receive instant assistance. All this, with no plugins or software installations required! Emerging technology such as WebRTC (Web Real Time Communications) are seen as a potential solution to delivering browser-based video. However, it is as simple as it is complex. We’ll start to see WebRTC apps continue to emerge in 2015, and it is an exciting development for the mass adoption of video collaboration. However, the application is also at risk of reduced uptake if unable to interoperate with traditional collaboration environments and UC solutions, such as Microsoft Lync. Therefore, any WebRTC deployment will need to consider vendors who offer easy integration and varied scope for users, whether via a browser on a desktop or tablet device.
5. Video-enabling workflows and business processes: Incorporating video as an essential part of workflow rather than considering it a separate business application is another trend which will increase in relevance. What this means is that people will take a new view on video collaboration – it becomes a natural extension of day-to-day business, rather than something which requires a conscious effort to utilise. Accessing real-time video, whether through IM or streaming video via a business application, should be the next step in intuitive face-to-face collaboration. Web-based healthcare solution, Eceptionist has already adopted this approach; the organisation supports telehealth, referrals, scheduling, and reporting by connecting with video collaboration infrastructure to manage all aspects of virtual collaboration. More organisations will choose to incorporate video into familiar business tools and enable tasks to be done better.
For me, video collaboration is a way of life. In my responsibility overseeing diverse markets and teams across Asia Pacific, time zones and arduous travel schedules hardly factor any more. What remains as priority is that I am connected to my teams and seeing the positive results a connected, collaborative workforce brings to an organisation. I firmly believe that employees do their best work, and are most productive when they are empowered to meet and collaborate face-to-face – and this of course impacts the bottom line. The progress in the industry has been encouraging so far and I am excited by the growing adoption of video by professionals in every industry. I look forward to being a key player in continuing to push the boundaries of human collaboration.
Geoff Thomas reflects with us on his first three months at Polycom in this revealing Q&A. From explaining what we do as a company, through to underlining the importance of strong partnerships, Geoff lays bare the opportunities and challenges of doing business in this region.
The first 100 days as a new leader is a crucial period. What have you learnt so far?
There are two areas in particular: the importance of great people and our ecosystem of partners.
The first thing I’d call out is the Polycom APAC team. As I’ve travelled out to the regions meeting and having conversations with the team, it is highly evident we have a group of passionate people who really love the company, and I have been highly impressed with how much talent we have here.
Secondly, my first 100 days as President really reinforced for me that having the right partnerships is absolutely crucial. We are a partner and channel-led company, and if we look at our projected direction for the next few years, without a doubt we need the right partners to take us there. Also, as you would expect with a region as diverse as Asia Pacific, all of our six major markets (Australia & New Zealand, China, India, Japan, Korea, and South East Asia) are unique. In many ways, there is no one strategy for success in the region – APAC is a combination of micro strategies that are distinctive to different opportunities and challenges in each unique market.
I’ve also learned that the opportunities for Polycom in APAC are massive, going way beyond only the enterprise. Opportunities lie in vertical markets like education, healthcare, and manufacturing, in working with partners and applying different use case scenarios with Polycom technology. If we look at it from a customer perspective, I think going downstream into segments like SMBs represents a huge opportunity for us.
Has anything in particular surprised you?
What has surprised me the most is APAC’s contribution to the company, which regularly exceeds 25 per cent of the business. That’s actually quite unusual, compared to industry benchmark companies in APAC. What this shows is that in this region, we punch above our weight, contributing over a quarter of the numbers and therefore the APAC business is critical to the success of the company. We need to continue doing well with the support of our partners.
I would also call out the success of our business in China as the other thing which surprised me. The Greater China performance has been astounding! That’s not to detract from other areas, but if you look at the market share we have garnered in China, the partner ecosystem that the team there has built, how they run that business, I’ve been very impressed and it’s a huge credit to them.
What has inspired you most about the UC industry?
Three months into my role at Polycom, what has inspired me the most has been the use case scenarios of how together with our partners, Polycom technology is changing the way business is done and people collaborate. Telemedicine and distance-learning are great examples of how the power of video collaboration can address challenges to healthcare and education. In rural areas particularly, in places like Australia or India, video collaboration starts to have a profound impact. In such cases, the benefits are far reaching. An inspiring customer story, that we will be sharing publicly very soon, shows how a large volunteer organisation has changed the way they respond to emergencies by embedding video in their operations. That to me is very inspiring – there’s a lot more to video than only saving money on travel costs.
What do you think is a winning formula in achieving success for the company and your partners?
For me, ensuring ongoing success lies in four key areas:
Outside in vs inside out: Certainly for our team here in APAC – and this would be relevant for our partners as well – is taking an ‘outside in’ point of view. Where I’ve seen companies struggle is when they become very internally focused and become guilty of navel-gazing; they lose sight of the customer and partner. So driving a culture of staying externally focused on our customers and partners is very important.
Building a world-class channel: This may sound obvious, as we are a channel and partner-led company with great existing relationships that we continue to strengthen and leverage. However, we have work to do in terms of recruiting new partners if we look at the areas in which Polycom is headed. We need to look at which partnerships are going to take us there, whether that be with partners who specialise in particular verticals like healthcare, or those that focus on specific geographies or segments of the market.
Fine-tuning our go-to-market: What that means is really examining the way we segment our market, how we align customers and partners, and how we deploy resources to make sure we are fully optimised.
Service providers: They are a critical stakeholder, particularly in APAC. In this market arguably, they play a more important role because they are far more than just telcos and typically, no other channel has more customers or more reach in a country.
What do you see being the biggest business challenges faced today across APAC?
In Asia Pacific today, there are huge initiatives for the development of existing telecommunication infrastructure, improved broadband connectivity and network reliability. However, technology innovations are fast getting ahead of the infrastructure and the challenge then is ensuring that the infrastructure can keep up.
I’d say the other challenge is really thinking about collaboration across borders and boundaries. For companies that want to invest in and do business across Asia Pacific, productivity and collaboration across multiple countries is a big consideration in the face of different policies and government regulations. This is where a lot of the solutions from Polycom can help organisations enable a collaborative approach and operational efficiency.
What are the biggest market opportunities for Polycom in Asia Pacific?
I’m bullish about all our markets and believe that we have big growth opportunities in all six of our operating areas. I would specifically call out South East Asia as an area that has tremendous potential due to several elements such as the burgeoning middle class in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, large populations, very big telcos and service providers, infrastructure developments, and the pervasiveness of mobility for a generation whose very first experience with the internet is not on a PC but on a mobile device.
Also, our opportunities in and importance of the service provider channel in SEA are even bigger. Whether it’s selling them capability in terms of software and infrastructure to deploy their own services or sell through channel, service providers can be really important to us and we’ve got work to do in building on this.
Polycom offers so much, how do you describe what we do?
I think that our mantra of ‘unleashing the power of human collaboration’ describes us very well, that’s fundamentally what we are about. Polycom is the best in class, pure play video, voice and content collaboration solutions provider, and what we do is what’s most interesting to me. In days gone by, a lot of the value proposition of video conferencing was around the cost equation: less travel, saving time and resources etc. But actually the solutions that we provide with our partners, are increasingly driving top line and solving business problems. Through the power of our collaboration solutions, we can enable a bank to write more loans through faster applicant screening, or an insurance company to become more efficient with assessments reducing bottlenecks in claims, or reach more students through distance education. It’s not just about bottom line anymore – it’s about driving top line. Video collaboration today is ultimately about driving revenue growth through increased engagement, and has become a very compelling business tool for companies.
What do you think are the biggest myths about video collaboration?
Probably the one which I just talked about – that it’s no longer just about reducing travel cost, but about a lot more than that. The other big myth is that video collaboration is only something which big enterprises adopt, whereas it goes all the way downstream to SMBs and SOHO (small office, home office) users to run business.
You frequently state that work is not a place you go to, it’s what you do. What does this mean?
This thought ties in with work-style innovation and new ways of working. Mobile and home office workers are driving a cultural change that accentuates work as something we do versus a place we go. I really believe that the way you work does not depend on a physical location or turning up to the office every day, but is more about driving tangible outcomes; While physical presence and clocking a certain number of hours are still important or necessary for many organisations, my belief is that work is not a ‘place’, it’s more a verb.