The Rise of Digital Transformation & Impact on Collaboration Technologies

By Chuck French on 7/22/20
Digital Transformation

The Rise of Digital Transformation & Impact on Collaboration Technologies

( PART 3 OF A 4-PART SERIES: WORK FROM HOME – THE NEW NORMAL )

Next Generation Voice

With the rise of digital transformation, the convergence of internet and cellular technology has been especially transformative for voice communications. Traditionally, businesses provided phone service for employees through a network of internal lines and desktop phone endpoints, called a Private Branch Exchange (PBX). Calls between employees would be handled on the local network lines while external shared lines connected the PBX to the general Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN). This assured organizations full control over their internal voice systems. But these systems were hardware-intensive, costly to maintain, and limited in features.

In the late 1990s, the development of an Internet-based protocol for voice handling, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) was made possible through the digitalization of analog voice data and worldwide adoption of common standards. Voice signals could now be swiftly and reliably transported over the Internet network infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of traditional telephone lines.

More significantly, cloud-based VoIP meant that voice data could also be integrated with Internet-based communication systems operating under multiple platforms. Through third party providers like RingCentral, organizations could now set up an interconnected network of office, remote and mobile employees working under a single phone system. What’s more, those employees could interact though the communication devices of their choice, including desktops, laptops, mobile devices and IP phones capable of multi-channel communication integration.

Digital Transformation

Among the pioneering companies leveraging these new unified messaging capabilities was telephony software solutions provider Mutare, Inc. Originally founded as an enterprise IVR developer, Mutare recognized the opportunity to transform other areas of voice communications to enhance business operations. It became the first company to launch an enterprise voicemail to email application and, later, voicemail transcribed to text.  These applications provide callers with the convenience of leaving a voicemail message while freeing call recipients from the hassle of Telephone-User-Interface (TUI) voicemail management.

In 2017, Mutare completed the full digital transformation of enterprise voicemail through Mutare Voice, an enterprise call completion application that eliminates the voice mailbox altogether. By releasing voice messaging from proprietary business infrastructures and voice platforms, Mutare Voice capabilities could not only now be applied to any enterprise voice system, but also integrated with other internal IT systems and business databases. Applied to any extension behind the company PBX or Session Border Control, Mutare Voice intercepts unanswered calls, invites the caller to leave a message, creates a notification with caller ID and voice message transcription, adds any related caller information from the company’s CRM or Outlook databases, and delivers it in a single data-rich notification to the intended recipient’s desktop and/or mobile device through email, text messaging and, if needed, a secure message mobile client or browser.

Taking the business-benefitting possibilities of digital voice and systems integration one step further, Mutare has since built a powerful, cloud-based spam-blocking engine that can be implemented as an extension of Mutare Voice or applied to other enterprise voice systems. While the FCC has recently initiated the TRACED act directed at curbing robocall activity for consumers, there are still too many hurdles to cross for it to be effective anytime soon, particularly for enterprise systems. As noted in a 2019 Washington Post article titled Robocalls are Unstoppable, “The calls keep coming because robo-callers make money. Partly that’s because their costs are low. Most phone calls are made and connected via the Internet, so robo-call companies can make tens of thousands, or even millions, of calls very cheaply.”

Clearly, the much-heralded advances in Internet-based voice communications has come with a dark side, but one that should and can be addressed through advancing technology.

As stated by Mutare’s Director of Product Development, Brian McDonald, “We do feel the FCC is on the right track in its attempts to tackle this issue on a consumer level. But businesses need to maintain control over the integrity of their own voice traffic and are looking for effective tools to help them in that endeavor.”

Applications like Mutare Voice Spam Filter that stop unwanted calls (voice spam, spoof calls, robocalls and vishing) at the network edge before they can ring through should be considered as a valuable addition to any IT department toolkit, one that not only provides those needed protections against malicious attacks on the voice network but also supports a more focused, distraction-free environment for the worker.

New Collaboration Technologies:

The Evolution of Unified Communications, the Emergence of Unified Collaboration

In its earliest incarnation, Internet telephony was a term loosely used to describe collaboration technologies that take traditional telephone (telephony) features, such as voice calls, voicemail and fax, and delivers them through the Internet rather than landlines. The digitalization and cloud delivery of voice messages meant users could now access both voicemail and email from their desktops or laptops from any location. These new capabilities opened the gateway to a whole new industry that extended Unified Messaging (UC) beyond just message retrieval and into the realm of real-time, multi-modal two-way communications through any Internet-enabled device, both fixed and mobile, and regardless of platform. New features like instant messaging, presence, and video chat joined the mix of possibilities providing a frictionless and common end-to-end user experience referred to in the industry as Unified Communications (UC). Enterprises were quick to integrate UC strategies into their communication environments in order to optimize business operations and streamline IT infrastructure. Mobile and remote employees, meanwhile, were also quick to embrace UC’s anytime, anywhere, any device promises.

As the occasional remote worker of the past has now become part of a larger, inter-functional remote work team, these new technology advances and integrated cloud services can deliver a rich collaborative user experience. As organizations embrace digital transformation, they can leverage these tools to assure that the collaborative processes that are a natural part of the physical office environment are not lost when working as a virtual team.

Video Conferencing, Now Front and Center

Web applications like Zoom, Slack and Google Hangouts have all benefited from the sudden demand for simple-to-use video conference tools. However, organizations that require a higher level of security with true end-to-end encryption may want to utilize a more robust collaboration solution specifically designed for the enterprise user.

A new generation of cloud applications integrate video conferencing with a multitude of other collaboration technologies and capabilities such as chat, desktop sharing, whiteboarding, meeting recording/transcription, and document management. They are designed to provide a fully immersive experience for users while maintaining strict security standards.

As an early online video conferencing innovator, Cisco Systems recently reengineered its popular Webex for a more streamlined user experience.

Users can currently sign up for a free, scaled-down version of Webex that supports meetings of up to 100 users but without some of the high-end features that are included in its subscription-based product, such as cloud storage and audio transcription.

Avaya has also entered the “virtual meeting room” field with its own online collaboration offering, Avaya Spaces. Avaya’s solution uses a flexible, configurable “spaces” interface for simultaneous video, chat, screen sharing and task management with a one-click launcher for voice and/or video meetings that can accommodate up to 500 video meeting participants. Avaya also offers a free 60-day trial of Spaces for full organizations, as well as a free version to educational an non-profit organizations through August 31st..

Microsoft Teams is built into Office 365 and so is available to Office 365 subscribers. Microsoft also offers non-Office 365 users a free 30 day trial of Office 365 Business Standard that includes a full version of Teams.

Texting moves from the Consumer to the Enterprise

Voice, video, email and web chat are the foundational elements for today’s collaborative enterprise communication environment. Why then, has SMS text messaging for business use been left behind? Looking at its history and the new enterprise communications world order reveals a path for text message legitimacy within the corporate IT structure.

The Birth of SMS

The international adoption of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standards and resulting 2G cellular network in the early ‘90s not only provided the digitalized pathway for more efficient mobile voice and, later, video communications, but also led to the birth of an entirely new form of digital messaging – Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging.

Using GSM-enabled handsets, early users could tap out short (160-characters or less) messages from their device’s numeric keypads and send it to others with similarly-enabled devices, but only within their same network. By 1997 Nokia produced the first mobile phone with a full keypad for easier text composition. By 1999, SMS text messages could be exchanged between different networks, releasing a torrent of new devices, skyrocketing demand, and a culture shift in preference for SMS text over voice or email, particularly among the young. By 2002, more than 250 billion SMS text messages were being sent worldwide, and by 2007, the year Apple launched its revolutionary smartphone with touchscreen display, texting had for the first time surpassed the number of monthly phone calls placed by Americans.

While today’s consumers now show an overwhelming preference for text messaging, businesses have been slow to integrate 2-way SMS messaging into their IT infrastructures. Common concerns are:

Security /risk of regulatory breach:

Simple SMS text messaging does not include end-do-end encryption, exposing data to potential attack.

Loss of data:

Consumer-grade SMS text messages cannot be easily saved to a database, so valuable customer data is lost to the organization every time an employee communicates with a customer through standard SMS text messaging. What’s more, that information is lost to the organization entirely if that employee chooses to leave the company.

Exposure of employee contact information:

Texting through personal devices could expose the employee’s phone number to strangers which creates a privacy risk.

Exposure of employee contact information:

Texting through personal devices could expose the employee’s phone number to strangers which creates a privacy risk.

Worry over costs and time required to maintain a new communication channel:

Corporate IT departments are looking to streamline, not expand, their communications systems and so are reluctant to add more cost and complexity to that infrastructure.
However, following in the current pattern of technology innovations motivated by the pressure of consumer trends and preferences, developers have found a way to introduce SMS text messaging into the enterprise environment while overcoming its perceived shortcomings.

Enabling Enterprise Text through Multiple Channels, to Multiple Audiences

As evidenced by both Text Request and Twillio reports, approximately 76% of people today say they prefer interacting with companies in the form of texting over phone calls or email. In response, developers have launched a variety of business text messaging applications. Most, however, are designed simply for outbound notifications or marketing messaging via simple SMS.

As with its innovative voice messaging solutions, Mutare, Inc., again emerged as one of the first developers to successfully bridge the gap between consumers preferences and business requirements, this time with a family of applications that integrates enterprise text with other communication channels (email, SMS/MMS text, RSS, outcall, pager, and secure notification), reaching a wide range of audiences through one-way, two-way, broadcast and secure messaging.

Mutare Alert, Reach, Cast, Engage and Status applications fulfill a wide range of business communication needs including closed-loop collaboration between employees/clinicians when sharing protected information; text-enabled business lines for both standard SMS and secure customer engagement between employees and employee teams; multi-channel mass notification broadcasting; and text-based appointment reminders or other forms of customer/client/constituent outreach.

All save a full audit trail of messaging activity and content so valuable information contained in exchanges is not lost to the organization and regulatory compliance measures are met. Organizations may choose to implement any or all of the applications depending on the specific needs of employees and the audiences they serve.

The unique, end-to-end encryption capabilities built into the Mutare enterprise text applications overcome the most significant drawback of this medium, particularly for environments like healthcare, government, or financial institutions dealing with protected or regulated information. What’s more, because the applications are cloud based, they are accessible to administrators and employee users from any web browser or mobile device. Flexible and scalable communication and collaboration technologies like this are finding their place in the current remote work environment and will likely become the norm as business migrates back to the new normal.

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