When offices were shuttered in March 2020, videoconferencing and collaboration tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Slack and others became essential to maintaining business continuity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Organizations were essentially forced to invest heavily in those tools to keep employees connected and engaged, and also maintain communications with their customers. Those companies have since rolled out hundreds of new features designed to help companies adapt to workplace trends.
Common sense says that organizations should reduce their spending on unified communication and collaboration (UC&C) tools as employees come back to the office at least part time, but the opposite is happening.
Companies are still investing in UC&C
According to NETSCOUT, the Westford, Mass.-based provider of performance management and cybersecurity solutions, 70% of organizations with over $1 billion in revenue have actually increased the number of UC&C tools their employees use in 2022, and three-quarters plan to support even more platforms over the next 12 months.
This surprising result suggests that companies are continuing to invest heavily in these tools and platforms to help support their distributed workforces.
“We were equally surprised,” says Eileen Haggerty, AVP of product and solutions marketing at NETSCOUT.
The company has run this study on the use of UC&C tools and their impact on enterprise IT for three years, with previous findings suggesting that the increasing use of these tools is leading to more helpdesk tickets and strain on IT departments.
Last year, more than 85% of respondents said they were going to reduce the number of platforms they supported in 2022. However, it was nearly the opposite.
According to Haggerty, there may be two main factors leading to this finding.
One is that many organizations are still using the free versions of these videoconferencing apps that include limited feature sets and time limits. Now, they are starting to pay for licenses to give their distributed workforces more support.
In addition, different organizations standardize around different platforms. Now, most organizations are supporting multiple platforms. According to NETSCOUT’s research, just 3% of organizations say they only use one UC&C tool.
In fact, the most popular response was saying their organization uses three platforms (24%). Most respondents told NETSCOUT they support between one and four tools and applications, while over a third now support between five and nine tools and applications. On the extreme, 15% say they have deployed at least 10 UC&C tools throughout their organization.
Through conversations with NETSCOUT’s customers, Haggerty says most organizations support multiple platforms to be flexible with their own customers and meet with them on whatever platform is preferred.
In some cases, large international companies may prefer one tool over another in specific regions.
“I think they’re just accommodating the varying situations that might exist,” Haggerty says.
UC&C remains critical
Another interesting result from NETSCOUT’s study was that 60% of organizations say the tools their organization uses for collaboration were “absolutely critical” to the business. Conventional thinking would suggest that that number is down from the previous year, but last year only about 50% said the same.
As for the increase in organizations that think UC&C tools are business critical, Haggerty says organizations are beginning to realize that a hybrid work approach still necessitates these conferencing and collaboration tools.
“I think they’re realizing that the collaboration piece was absolutely critical in making the hybrid workforce mentality successful,” Haggerty says.
As employees came back to the office, they soon realized that their in-office conference rooms were not quite set up to accommodate remote workers. Conference rooms were essentially designed around the premise that everyone in an organization that needed to be on the call would be in the room. However, that is no longer the case.
Meeting equity–ensuring that in-office and remote participants have the same meeting experience–is now critical to UC&C conversations, experts say.
“The reality is that the adoption of collaboration technology–a microphone, speaker, camera and some level of content sharing–is not pervasive within most rooms within most organizations,” says Sam Kennedy, senior director of product marketing at Crestron.
The typical meeting room layout of a long rectangular table and a single camera at the front of the room can be a difficult transition from the head-and-shoulders view we’ve grown accustomed to the last few years. That long camera shot can make it difficult for remote participants to see who is talking.
For example, if three people are in the office and three people are remote, the in-office participants can look at each other in the eye, talk to each other when they’re on mute and pick up on body language and physical cues.
“That brings down the equity of experience for everybody else on the call,” Kennedy says.
Now, organizations are turning to purpose-built solutions designed to solve those issues. In addition to AI-enabled noise reduction and framing features in the platforms themselves, hardware manufacturers have been building similar features into their cameras, speakerphones, microphones, video bars and all-in-one collaboration displays.
That requires some hardware investment to make those meeting rooms accommodating to the distributed workforce.
IT department impact
With the continued importance organizations are placing on UC&C apps, one would expect the IT department to continue to be busy supporting those platforms and responding to helpdesk tickets. But again, the opposite is happening.
According to the research, 29% say a majority of their helpdesk tickets were related to UC&C issues, which is down considerably from 42% in 2021.
Additionally, IT leaders believe that, on average, 82% of UC&C-related requests are at least somewhat easy to resolve.
Similar data from cloud networking company Masergy finds that UC&C tool consolidation is a priority for IT leaders, and 90% say downtimne of UC&C tools is highly concerning or detrimental to their business.
Despite the desire to consolidate tools, organizations are still investing in the technology, with 47% saying they have implemented UCaaS/CCaaS last year.
CIOs cited IT flexibility and agility as the biggest factor driving their collaboration investments. For those investments to work well, they must function as core elements in the larger IT ecosystem and harmonize communications, connectivity and security, says Rudy Tibuni, director of UC solutions at Masergy.
“These three disciplines can no longer operate in silos,” Tibuni says. “They must come together to create a more secure, resilient, and efficient environment to support excellent employee and customer experiences.”
However, IT and end users are growing more familiar with these tools and platforms every day, says Haggerty of NETSCOUT.
In addition, IT is getting better at responding to UC&C issues simply because more employees were in the office in 2022 than they were in 2021, which means IT can more directly interface with users, devices and networks on site and help them solve their issues.
“I think everybody has become more familiar with how to use (UC&C platforms) and their workarounds,” Haggerty says.
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