It’s safe to say that if you’re involved with the field of Unified Communications, you’re aware of Jon Arnold, principal of J. Arnold and Associates. As a frequent contributor to tech sites and magazines and a veteran public speaker, Jon Arnold has become one of the big faces on the UC frontier. Just recently, he attended Cisco Connect 2014 in Toronto, an event he details in his Analyst 2.0 blog. The week before that, he was the opening keynote speaker at the CTCA’s annual conference, which you can also read about on his blog.
Most recently, he sat down with us for an exclusive interview. The central theme pivoted around five trends he sees emerging in the market, which he spoke about in his CTCA keynote.
The first two trends Jon is seeing focus on the challenges associated with understanding the nature of Unified Communications. Experts in the field are still figuring out a quick and accurate way to explain the technology to newcomers.
The first trend is learning how to buy a UC System. Simple as this may sound, for an IT decision-maker who has to answer to management, just bringing the boss around can be quite the hassle. It’s difficult enough convincing corporate managers to adopt a policy based on concrete procedures. When dealing with something as abstract as UC, this task can be a virtual nightmare.
“An IT manager has to convince management that this nebulous thing called Unified Communications is beneficial ,” Jon Arnold explains. And unlike most IT responsibilities, part of the transfer will involve getting all the employees on board, which leads to Arnold’s second trend… selling.
But he’s not talking about customers, not quite yet. We’re still working within the constructs of the company. This trend is about learning how to sell UC capabilities to the employees who will actually have to use them.
Jon Arnold discusses a conflict inherent with a typical business structure. “[Employees] aren’t part of the buying process,” he says. “So the challenge is explaining to your employees why this is a good thing for you to use.”
He stresses the fact that employees have the choice of whether or not they will use the technologies afforded for them. You can lay it out for them as clear as you know how, but ultimately, if the convenience and opportunity doesn’t register in their own perceptions, they will go on using familiar technologies, even if they are blatantly inferior.
As the industry figures out how to make these processes less painful for management and IT consultants, the next trends move to the foreground. Now that the technology is in place, how do you keep it safe?
Arnold frames this trend around the core misconception that VoIP is just the newest kind of telephony. In actuality, it’s something entirely different. VoIP takes voice and turns it into data, which open the door to a world of possibilities, but also to a legion of vulnerabilities.
“Hackers are good at picking up vulnerabilities,” Arnold explains. It may not be an issue right now, but as UC becomes more mainstream and increasing numbers of people communicate valuable information across VoIP networks, those networks will become gold mines for unscrupulous programmers, hoping to steal corporate secrets and information. That’s why, as the technology gains traction, UC experts are highly concentrated on this search for effective VoIP security measures.
But VoIP and UC isn’t just opening information technology to those outside the company. Knowledge workers inside the company, even on the lowest levels, are gaining new degrees of autonomy and power through BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) work environments. Rather than logging into a company computer, everyone can join a virtual workspace on their own tablet. While, on one front, this is a cool way to cut back on resources and grant everyone a greater level on control, Arnold points out that this is also a potential security nightmare, one that IT may just have to learn to live with.
“IT folks have to get comfortable sharing control of resources,” he explains. “Expectations are very different. it’s a real challenge, and companies have to scramble to figure out how to keep a safe environment.”
But, Arnold isn’t dwelling on the negatives, not when so many exciting opportunities are hitting the market.
We mentioned earlier how it is important to differentiate telephony from voice, and VoIP from the circuit-driven phone systems of old. This is why: when voice becomes data, it carries so much more information than just the intended message. Perhaps that’s a tough concept to wrap your mind around.
When communicating over the phone, two people exchange messages directly related to the communication. Any further study of their calling habits, or virtual information would require outside or extended research. How people are working, what kind of phone system they’re using, and how efficient calls are were just a few metrics Arnold mentioned in the interview.
When voice signals are packetized as data, they carry most of this external information with them, information that once required so much additional work to retrieve. Now it’s all there, delivered right along with the message. And this is where businesses need to learn to capitalize.
“Phone systems are now a commodity, and telephony is an inexpensive service,” Arnold explains. “Anyone in [the communications] business has to find other ways to make a buck.”
Once again, the money’s going to be in mining. But we’re not looking for gold, silver, and coal any more. Information is the new gold, and we can find it by digging into packetized data. Phone sessions can now be recorded, transcribed into searchable text, and archived. Much like we analyze websites, analytics, and more, now voice can be explored and used for sales and marketing as much as your other data.
The issue now is figuring out how to incorporate these data mining strategies into the structure of a legitimate business model. This lays the groundwork for what Arnold identifies as the final industry trend.
In his last trend, Arnold draws attention to the idea of contextual awareness.
Imagine a world where calling customer service wasn’t such an ordeal, when you could make contact with a sales rep and that rep would instantly know why you’re calling, if you’ve called before, and who else you’ve already talked to. Just think of all the time and energy you’d save.
This is part of Jon Arnold’s vision for the future of Unified Communications. Interfaces would allow customer service reps to access all CRM and ERP concurrently, thus giving them valuable insights into their customers. Additionally, if they needed to forward the call to someone else, they can update the customer’s meta-data, removing the customer’s burden of explaining their concerns to someone new.
A common focus of Arnold’s recent public speaking events has been the sad state of customer service, and the potential for UC to change all of that. But this is just one man’s idea for innovation. The idea behind this last trend on Arnold’s list is that Unified Communications is, in itself, a frontier, a platform for technological exploration in industries across the board.
Now, it’s time for entrepreneurs and innovators to follow Jon Arnold’s example. What business opportunities emerge from this data-based system of communication? That’s a question that Arnold can only answer in part. The rest is up to you.
How do you plan to take advantage of Unified Communications?