Always connected – business communication tools

16 April 2015

In this special report, Frost & Sullivan senior partner Sarwant Singh and Vijay Narayanan Natarajan, senior research analyst, Visionary Innovation Research Group, investigate how today’s tools of communication are changing the working life of business executives and their board colleagues, leading to the smoother running of the business.

It would rather be an understatement to suggest that the world that we are living in today is far more uncertain than it was ever before. Firms and businesses are constantly striving to reinvent themselves to sustain and be competitive. Recent transformations witnessed in the workplace are an example of how certain trends are influencing firms to look at alternate channels of driving businesses.

With the advent of the internet of things, big data and the internet of everything, companies are now forced to embrace technology and adapt to a rapidly changing workplace structure. The future of workplace dynamics is largely expected to transform into a smart and connected network that will facilitate remote work styles. In that sense, offices will no longer be considered a place that you travel to as they would not be confined to physical boundaries as one is so used to seeing today.

So what is changing?

New business models and advanced technological capabilities will create a paradigm shift by delivering 24/7 connectivity that would integrate data, video and voice from any location. Many businesses are still yet to come to terms with changing global trends that are impacting their workspace. While some of them are still considering and working out strategies to initiate change in their offices, others have started to aggressively invest in the next-gen technologies expected to redefine workplaces.

These firms have been among the very first to identify and track workplace transitions, and are able to adapt to such global transformative forces also known by Frost & Sullivan as megatrends. Such trends will make workspace technology a critical focus point to a firm's strategy.

Urbanisation and globalisation, connectivity and convergence, social trends and smart concepts are some of the key trends that are revolutionising the way firms and businesses operate. Frost & Sullivan predicts that, by 2025, there will be 5.0 billion users, 80.0 billion devices, 35 megacities and 2.4 billion millennials that will act as catalysts to 'anywhere, anytime' work attitudes.

Today, we have already started to witness a transition of work structures to be more personalised, pop-up networked and mobile. With the emergence of cloud infrastructure, mobile devices, tech-savvy laptops and tablets, one can increasingly witness office cubicles being substituted by more innovative and collaborative spaces.

For example, pop-up office installation by Dubbeldam Architecture is reinventing workspaces by incorporating wooden pallets. Its solutions are based on many themes such as collaboration, refuel areas and a lounge that caters to the needs of employees that use the office space. Each pop-up is customised to assemble units that also encourage mobile work. Another instance of this change is the Volkswagen's T6 mobile office where a workspace is inbuilt in a van. The objective of such a set-up is to facilitate work while commuting.

Moving ahead

Soon it will all be about mobile platforms, powerful social and business apps, telepresence and virtual technology that will be the next form of connectivity and collaboration. Future structures will depict a scenario where employees are empowered with a number of mobile devices and apps that will likely integrate data access, and video and voice services under one single platform to deliver a compelling work-mobility experience never witnessed before.

Workspaces, especially in developed nations, have already started to initiate temporary collaborative surroundings that are enhanced by digital communication technologies. Social platforms, ubiquitous connectivity and collaborative technologies have resulted in the workplace becoming more flat, making traditional workplaces of today redundant.

Web 2.0 technologies - webinar, Skype, Twitter or blogs, for example - have already become mainstream with most firms starting to incorporate such innovations into their work cultures. The future is all about video communication with telepresence gaining significant importance. This will result in a large chunk of the workforce being non- functional in traditional offices. There is likely to be more local telecommute centres rather than corporate structures to alleviate transport issues.

Such technologies will further encourage work-from-home models leading into the future. The influx of video communications will drive the need for instant access to business data points and communications, thereby eliminating time-consuming business trips that would further have an impact on the carbon footprint.

The youth of today

The rise of millennials will encourage the changing technology landscape with more emphasis on being constantly engaged. Social collaboration tools such as Cisco's WebEx, Jabber and Citrix's Podio will be bare essentials. Mobile enterprise technologies of the future will be more user friendly. There would be more emphasis on quick multiplatform access to business content and data. Work surroundings will go beyond devices, with the rise of global language translators and gesture-based technologies.

By 2020-25, one is likely to observe increased use of cutting-edge technologies such as biometrics and wearable technologies. Miniaturised video technologies linked to LED displays and wireless networks will be the norm, thereby likely to make the existing modes of communication technologies obsolete.

The future will portray employees wearing communication devices as opposed to carrying their communication devices around. With more emphasis on creating agile, flexible and multitasking employees, firms will start to focus on multisensory channels of communication that would facilitate concurrent processing of inputs without losing track of information streams that are critical to business growth and development.

Virtual technologies will be the future of the workspace with employees more likely to meet senior management and business clients, and communicate in cyberspace. This will give rise to creating time-shifting technologies that would allow employees from different locations to collaborate and work together on live projects. Virtual technologies will further facilitate virtual mentoring and training sessions, thereby acting as knowledge depositaries that provide advice and best practices 24/7.

Such growth in collaborative and communicating technologies only highlight how future workspace and modes of functioning are drastically expected to change over the next decade or so. This means that in the future, being in contact with the workspaces will be easier. Critical business information will now be shared with colleagues, senior management and business clients merely by a touch. It is not necessary to visit clients or factory sites or make business trips, especially with the rate at which newer forms of communication channels are growing.

So how do firms and business leaders react to such transformations?

With future collaboration techniques likely to generate tremendous value, business leaders will be more proactive to ensure that their decisions align with the changing needs of the market. This will allow their organisations to sustain in tomorrow's market. Incorporating enterprise mobility solutions will result in improved interactions, thereby facilitating quicker decision-making processes with employees able to collaborate, communicate and connect like never before. Improving collaboration will allow firms to create ROI's across three key areas:

  • Operational ROIs: firms will yield tremendous operational returns through incorporating smart work solutions. Collaboration will allow firms to drastically cut costs pertaining to reduced office space, improved infrastructure, lower consumption of energy and less-frequent travel, especially with virtual technology gaining recognition.
  • Productive ROIs: smart work solutions that improve collaboration will result in productivity gains arising from streamlining processes; ability to deliver products into the market more quickly; and allows employees to be more agile, flexible and productive.
  • Strategic ROIs: facilitating improved collaborative work solutions will also initiate strategic benefits arising from developing new business revenue streams and models, improved forms of customer service and, most importantly, the ability to enter new markets with a competitive edge over rivals.

With today's markets suffering from economic turmoil and meltdown, there is a need for firms to be more innovative and tech-savvy, which would allow them to be intensely competitive. Business leaders are under severe pressure as they have to deal with myriad challenges that they have never faced before.

From a macro level, despite significant growth witnessed in different markets, the overall global economic growth is going through a massive contraction. What further compounds the issue is the changing dynamics of the workforce. The future will be more employee driven. There has to be proper restructuring to ensure they value and support these employees.

Future workers will be less commoditised given that they will now be more valued. If robots are going to take over all the manual jobs and humans are hired only for the ingenuity, then everything that makes up for a work environment conducive to their ingenuity must be created.