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Demand for Unified Communication solutions on the rise

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Fueled by rising demands for workforce optimisation and increased efficiency across enterprises and the public sector, Unified Communications and Collaboration solutions continue to gain sustainable momentum in India

By Ankush Kumar

With increasing demand for workforce optimisation and interaction, the unified communication and collaboration market is poised for strong growth. In India, as companies explore newer geographies to create substantial impact for their services or products, there has been a constant need to remain constantly in touch with the sales force and get real-time information from them. This has accelerated demand for unified communication and collaboration-based tools.

According to a report by researchandmarkets, the Indian Unified Communication market is expected to reach $1,506.2 million by 2018, growing at a CAGR of 12.4% from 2013-2018. The report also reveales that the increasing operational cost, growth of enterprise mobility and increasing Internet penetration are some of the factors that are driving the market of the unified communication market in India. Sandeep Mehra, Director, Collaboration Sales, Cisco India & SAARC believes that in today’s time the top priority of customers is to use technology to drive growth and productivity, manage risk, and gain competitive advantage. “In today’s digital world, work is more interconnected than ever before. Customers and employees are more empowered and want greater freedom in how and where they can get work done. At the same time, they need to collaborate more frequently, with more people, inside and outside the organisation and across geographies.”

Rising demand from Government

To ensure better collaboration between the far-flung offices of different departments and institutions, the government is deploying video conferencing in a major way. The Digital India initiative, which seeks to connect 2.5 lakh villages with high-speed broadband, is expected to bring further growth to the unified communications and video conferencing market.

Says Sai Pratyush, Additional Vice President – Product Management – Managed Services, Tata Teleservices, “We believe that the demand for UC in India will come not only from the private sector, but also from government agencies. This technology can be leveraged to ensure better collaboration between the remotely located and geographically dispersed government departments and institutions. We are at a stage wherein UC is all set to redefine what it means to collaborate because not only will it increase business efficiency and productivity, but these solutions will also help in enhancing an organisation’s connect with its key stakeholders i.e. employees, partners and customers.”

One example which highlights how collaboration solutions can help government organisations in minimising cost and boosting efficiency is that of IFFCO – a leading player in the fertilizer industry in India. The company works closely with the Indian government to increase food grain production in the country, utilising 40,000 cooperative outlets and 158 farmer service centres in 29 states for the distribution of its products. With a staff base of over 6,700 spread across five mega plants and 80 marketing offices, over thousand employees used to travel to the company’s corporate headquarters based in New Delhi each year for their appraisals, which resulted in lost productivity and substantial travel and downtime costs. Looking for a way to streamline operations and save costs, IFFCO used telepresence solutions from Polycom. The solution has enabled the employers to conduct appraisals over video and as a result, the company was able to reduce travel costs and downtime substantially, in addition to improving the overall operations of the business and enhancing productivity. IFFCO was also able to achieve savings of over $US 200,000 in travel and lodging costs in six short months, equating to a 200 percent return on investment year-on-year.

Emerging trends and innovations

Unified Communications in the recent times is being driven by key trends like Access & Device Agnostic Communication, consumption from cloud and adoption of video. Considering the huge impact of cloud on unified communications, “UC As-a-Service” is fast evolving and maturing, shares Sudip Singh, SVP – Head Global Services – Engineering Services, Infosys. “Hybrid consumption models with seamless integration of on-premise and cloud UC is becoming critical for large enterprises to derive the best of the both worlds while protecting existing investments. Consistent and compelling user experience is an important theme that is heavily influencing the product strategies of UC and Collaboration technology vendors. With consumption of the UC service increasingly shifting to mobile devices, “user experience” is moving from the fringes to the centre of the UC solution strategy. These are exciting times when leading UC product vendors are trying to unify their product suites to provide a holistic solution for enterprise communication and collaboration. This is triggering a transformational change in enterprise UC strategies across verticals.”

A global ecosystem is also driving the growth of UC. “The global impact of an engagement-led enterprise is a new reality of convergence that enables secure borderless businesses. Further, open, scalable platforms, tools and applications inspire cooperative competition among vendors and partners. This in turn, creates collaborative ecosystems for elevating the value of individual contributions by contributing to effective team outcomes. The engagement-led enterprise complements how customers and employees already interact and collaborate,” says Arun Shetty, Director of Collaboration Solutions – India, Avaya,

Shetty further informs that customers are being innovative in how they integrate video in their business processes and in engaging with customers. They are often using video either to speed up the processes. For example, this could be in used in insurance claims settlement. Video based collaboration solutions could also be used to make deeper connections with customers and suppliers, or in functions such as branch banking and distance learning.

“Businesses are beginning to offer a true “omni-channel” support experience to customers and are seamlessly providing service via the customers’ choice of voice, video, web chat, email and mobile channels. As a result, customers are self-selecting channels based on personal preferences. Even as video gains momentum as a high-touch channel, companies will continue to use web chat as the relatively low-expense way to initiate the customer experience from a web site, to triage that experience and to direct customers to other support resources and tools,” asserts Shetty.

Significant technological developments in the arena of communications such as voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) or integration of Public Switch Telephone Networks (PSTN) are enhancing the mobile Unified Communications and Collaboration solutions segment. Says Alok Lall, Director – Apps & Services Marketing, Microsoft India, “Organisations are keen on transitioning from their legacy meeting and phone systems and replace the same with innovative services. A wide gamut of video-capable UC clients, web-conferencing platforms, and consumer applications are now being used in the workplace. Users are more familiar with videoconferencing software than ever before, and are demanding access to it.”

In line with the market trends, Microsoft has recently announced the availability of Microsoft Office 365 E5 which includes several new Office 365 communications services designed to modernise voice, video, and meeting experiences, while saving companies substantial costs in their communication infrastructure. It replaces the legacy systems with the familiar Skype for business experience, which is also integrated within Office 365. Its new suite also incorporates new security and analytics capabilities aimed at improving the customers’ ability to protect their organisations and glean insights from data. Microsoft’s unified communications offering includes Skype for business, online meeting, messaging, modern voice with cloud PBX and Skype for Business – broadcast meetings for up to 10,000 people, who can attend a meeting over a browser on nearly any device.

Barriers to Growth

While the above trends make a stronger proposition for businesses to adopt UC, there are challenges for Indian enterprises, both at an infrastructural and organisational level. “Internet is the bedrock of new-age communication tools such as UC. As a result, for many Indian enterprises, the experience of such solutions is limited owing to lack of strong connectivity,” states Lall of Microsoft India.

Minhaj Zia, Managing Director – India and SAARC, Polycom shares that the major challenges for today are mainly posed by infrastructure issues. “In Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, network availability has considerably improved, but quality is not as good as it should be. This poses a huge bottleneck particularly for SMBs in these cities, and prevents customers from adopting technology and innovations such as video collaboration, which in today’s world has a huge overall impact on progress.” Despite improving cellular networks, users in smaller towns do not get a good experience and calls get disconnected several times during meetings due to bandwidth and connectivity issues. Zia believes that if the infrastructure issues get resolved, then there are lots of opportunities in in verticals such as education.”So many schools in the country do not have a network connection, let alone availability. There is so much more potential to implement digital classrooms and extend the reach of education to rural populations through technology,” says Zia.

If the idea of Digital India truly reaches its full potential and scale, then expect UC to transform every industry – from education to healthcare.

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