Instant messaging, collaboration and video conferencing are the unified communication (UC) features that will have the greatest influence on businesses in South Africa in the next two years, according to a recent survey conducted by Avaya. 
The survey conducted by Avaya, in conjunction with Mail & Guardian, attracted hundreds of responses. Several companies participated in the survey including small to large enterprises from government, education, finance, manufacturing, and general corporate.
“The survey found that local companies see instant messaging, Web conferencing and mobility as the most valuable unified communication applications. This is reinforced by the fact that more than 40% of the companies surveyed have more than half of their workforce either mobile or tele-working,” says Selvin Kristnen, MD: South Africa at Avaya.
Kristnen feels that this provides companies with an ideal opportunity to start integrating these applications into various departments that include customer-facing ones such as contact centres.
“Contact centres are becoming more important but the way customers interact with them are changing. They might prefer to find information themselves on a company Web site or prefer to engage with an agent using instant messaging solutions instead of just phoning or e-mailing the company,” he says.
The survey has also found that non-corporate video software and room-based systems remain the top two formats companies use to meet their video conferencing requirements. Given that rising fuel costs and time lost spent in traffic are major concerns for companies, it is not surprising to see that 62% of respondents use video conferencing to circumvent those challenges.
“What we found to be quite interesting is that despite how laptops, iPads, and mobile phones are the devices of choice for mobile workers, the majority of companies impose policies of using personal devices for business use. So while bring BYOD is definitely gaining traction, companies are managing it very carefully to avoid any risks to the corporate network or company data,” adds Kristnen.
Incorporating these personal devices into the company infrastructure remains challenging. But unified communications solutions can be great enablers as these applications can easily be implemented on a variety of devices giving office workers access to the full functionality of a company communication system at their fingertips.
With security remaining a top concern for companies on any technology used, most of the respondents feel that unified communication have high levels of security similar to non-Internet protocol-based communication systems.
“This is where working with trusted implementation partners becomes critical. Companies need to have confidence that the unified communication solutions being implemented do not place sensitive data at risk.
“Even streaming solutions have to adhere to minimum quality standards so as not to negatively impact either the customer or the mobile worker experience and undermining the benefits these systems offer,” says Kristnen.
Hybrid unified communication solutions that mix between hosted and private infrastructures remain the preferred deployment for South African companies. This can be attributed to the greater degree of control they have over their deployments and not completely rely on hosted providers.