People are slowly becoming desensitized to the term “unified communications and collaboration,” better known as UC&C. As the buzz fades, the next generation of products and tools is beginning to enter the marketplace — bringing a new set of benefits to both users and facilities.

At Biamp, we view “unified communications” as every aspect of the term’s technology, including communication tools and associated applications. This can include a wide assortment of embedded tools, ranging from IP-based audio and video capabilities to recording apps downloaded onto handheld devices. As people surround themselves with these advances, the “collaboration” portion of UC&C translates into the many ways in which users leverage technology to cooperate effectively with clients, colleagues, or personal contacts.

How Did We Get Here?

In the past, capabilities such as videoconferencing simply meant providing fixed camera shots of people talking on a screen. Over the years, this evolved into camera automation, video switching between additional sources, and eventually, the ability to add participants from various locations. In a globalized economy where organizations must connect talent from across the world, the ability to collaborate has become invaluable.

To broaden the experience, companies are also leveraging everyday data sharing tools. For instance, PowerPoint® began as a desktop tool to prepare presentations. People were often seen hunched over their desktops before dashing off to the printer to gather handouts. As connectivity capabilities evolved, the advent of projectors allowed the personal computer to become a group meeting room tool. Today, with the power of soft-client communication tools, as well as laptop- and device-based codecs, collaborators can share and conduct entire content-led presentations directly from their personal devices — with groups anywhere on the planet. Powerful? Absolutely, but also incredibly practical.

Trends and Tips

IT decision makers understand how quickly technology changes. They want the ability to react as new innovations emerge and are adopted. As a result, issues related to compatibility can become costly and growth-prohibitive within large-scale installations. Equipment should be agnostic and flexible, since most people favor familiar technologies and are comfortable working with known tools. The integrator community is tasked with designing solutions that are forward compatible, and should work with innovative brands for smoother transitions when large enterprises or universities decide to implement a new UC platform.

One important trend is the erosion of barriers between personal and workplace technology. In the past, users would have access to technology within professional settings that was unavailable outside the workplace. Today, the contrary is happening. The products in people’s homes are often more innovative than the tools available at the office. With such a wide range of technology at people’s fingertips, the behavior and preferences of organizational members are changing. Enterprises must accommodate these requirements to ensure that collaboration flourishes.

Multipurpose rooms are also on the rise, leveraging the benefits of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in spaces that can meet several different requirements. As workplaces shift toward open floor plans, the need for flexible structural arrangements goes hand-in-hand with the need for adaptable technology. People no longer occupy individual offices, and fixed meeting spaces are disappearing. Meeting spaces must now serve more than just one function — creating the need for technology that can support ad hoc arrangements. How? Through consistent user interface, meeting continuity, and multi-platform support.

It’s important to remember that fitting today’s UC&C spaces means understanding the characteristics of particular types of acoustic environments. Gone are the days of simply integrating systems to communicate over a common network. Today, the process is more organic and involves knowing how sound behaves, understanding the impact of different materials, being able to leverage audio technology, and applying experience to make adjustments that accommodate modern spaces. Failure to go beyond the minimum audio room setup will compromise communication quality, harming collaboration, discouraging an organization’s user base, and resulting in a poor ROI.

Corporate culture also affects the design of virtual collaboration systems. Many organizations have strict security needs to protect sensitive data and top-secret conversations. Industries such as banking, military, and government must safeguard their virtual communications from potential breaches.

Is Collaboration Working?

As the adoption upsurge of UC&C continues, organizations are taking a closer look at the returns on their technology investments. This means checking in periodically with employees to see whether the installations are in fact enhancing collaboration. Does the UC technology offer a rich feature set? Are the tools easily accessible? More specifically, managers should analyze whether conference spaces are being used regularly, measure whether efficiency has increased by sampling their user base, conduct performance reviews for teams, and remain open to exchanging steady feedback with employees regarding their collaboration environment. By understanding how participants use their collaborative workspaces, organizations can commit to continuous adjustments throughout the installation’s maturation — ensuring that they meet users’ needs while prolonging the lifecycle of their UC&C investment.

What’s Next?

Collaboration between companies across the world continues to increase. As a result, innovations such as huddle rooms, collaboration platforms, and premium audio technology have become staples for successful virtual environments. The market has started to release next-generation tools that let workers easily expand their desktop to anyone on the planet. Therefore, companies are also beginning to seize capabilities that fit the communication trends of workers outside the workplace. This includes the ability to control every aspect of the conference and collaboration effort directly from a mobile device — making virtual communication even easier by using familiar technology.

With advances in instant data sharing, organizations are also taking on daily tasks in real time with colleagues in distant locations — creating a mixture of huddle space environments and desktop sharing capabilities. Yet the need for workers to meet face-to-face remains. This means ensuring high-quality audio and video resolutions that can reproduce the visual cues and voice intonations that often make the difference between awkward virtual discussions and conversations that flow naturally — driving adoption rates among staff, improving productivity, and ensuring continuous growth for organizations.

Looking for more in-depth coverage? Check out the UC&C article in the February 2016 edition of Component.

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