Conferencing for Collaboration

Let’s face it. Workplaces are becoming increasingly distributed, often geographically spread in different parts of the world. Day-to-day work related interaction among colleagues is the one area impacted most by this. If communication channels are poor and insufficient, the fabric of interaction appears to weaken, resulting in inefficient and unproductive organizations. Developing effective communication channels is at the core of building productive work environments.

Organizations must be equipped with ways to bring staff together to discuss important work matters, consult colleagues and importantly, make decisions. Audio conferencing has been solving this problem quite effectively, right since fixed-line PSTN networks were prevalent, and is still going strong. Wainhouse Research estimates that in 2014, 100 million people worldwide have used over 100 billion minutes of audio conferencing.

For long, audio conferencing based on traditional phone lines (PSTN) was considered to be the lifeline that connected people at different work locations. You could bring purposeful discussions, interactions, brainstorming, thought-leadership and collective problem solving together on a phone bridge which allowed everyone to dial in toll-free or even allowed people to be dialed out, without having to worry about who pays for the call. Adoption grew as people in various roles embraced this technology. Over the years, the need to share and collaborate has grown, and with richer information in different formats. Product teams need to run scrum meetings to track development, sales needs to engage prospects through presentations, operations teams across geographies need to evaluate efficiencies, finance needs to appraise investor of quarterly results and  management needs a crisis control war-room.

In parallel, cell phones and internet telephony (VOIP) have rapidly changed the business landscape, and users now prefer to bring their own devices with them (BYOD). The choice to access conferencing solutions is now primarily on-demand. Cell phones and laptops equipped with softphones using VOIP make it convenient to connect to conferences while on the move. Internet and wireless technologies offer advantages that traditional PSTN based audio conferencing solutions cannot match. Cell phones have nationwide fixed cost plans that override the advantage of toll-free PSTN based dial-in features. VOIP provides you a further upside; that of getting quality, over the top (OTT) transmission of voice over internet lines that are capable transmitting much more than just voice. After all who needs to talk without context and how much context can you set without having a reference to the content (subject)? Users can join in using a device of their choice, enabling organizations to involve a remote workforce conveniently.

In these ways, audio conferencing has given way to a much more integrated collaborative experience. It turns an exclusive group communication solution into a flexible peer-peer (1-1) communication that can further extend into a richer group communication (1-n) experience, along with context sharing. These solutions help speed up organizational decision making and action. Wainhouse Research forecasts that integrated audio and web conferencing (audio, screen, chat, document sharing) with have a compound annual growth rate of 27% over the next five years.

Increased acceptance of BYOD has given rise to BYOA (Bring Your Own Applications) when users are not happy with applications provided by the organization. If communication and collaboration solutions offered by the organization do not meet the need to stay connected effectively for day-to-day work, employees will embrace BYOA but this poses a problem, particularly to IT, as unauthorized applications penetrate the organization unaudited.  This also means organizations face a severe data and IP security threat because data is transported over public channels and applications that IT cannot control.

For these reasons, keeping your organization’s authorized conferencing application ahead of the curve and with APIs for integration with their workflows should be a top priority – or users will look elsewhere for better solutions.