The old days – distinct roles and activities
“Before Voice over IP (VoIP), life was pretty black and white,” says Rob Lith, Director of Connection Telecom. “You had your office jockeys and your road warriors.”
Office jockeys operated PCs, desk phones and faxes. Their jobs started and ended when they entered and left the premises. You could get them on their cell after hours, but it wasn’t really done.
Road warriors drove a lot. They carried a heavy notebook, a cellphone that could be used as backup connectivity, a dialup modem (later a 3G modem, and later, a built-in wireless modem), and a nest of cables.
The winds of change – blurring borders
Then, VoIP blurred the lines. After overcoming initial quality problems, VoIP became broadly accepted, its uptake further spurred by a proliferation of broadband access technologies and a liberalisation of worldwide telecoms industries.
This paved the way for a brave new world of convergence. The Internet Protocol (IP) became the bedrock for other communications applications besides voice (video, instant messaging, conferencing, white-boarding etc), setting the scene for an efficient converged communications and collaboration scenario that made the road warrior’s existence suddenly resemble science fiction.
Meanwhile, applications were given Web front-ends, communications infrastructure became server-based and virtualised, and borders were increasingly fuzzy as distance and corporate firewalls became irrelevant. Now, call centre agents could operate from anywhere in the world. Medical, warehouse and retail staff could roam the premises with handhelds equipped with WiFi, RFID and live remote access. At-home or on-the-road workers could share in central company repositories, conference in colleagues and customers, present solutions and electronically sign agreements.
But still, mobility was a niche requirement and endowment. If you weren’t important enough (an executive), or mobile enough (sales reps, journalists or roaming floor staff), there was no reason for you to have the device, connectivity and role-based access to do your work from anywhere but the office.
Today – everybody’s doing everything everywhere, all the time
Apps like Skype and WhatsApp, consumer broadband and social networks led to a ‘consumerisation’ of devices and communications apps in the enterprise. Companies integrated their staff’s devices into enterprise infrastructure, and even adopted their applications, such as Skype and instant messaging.
This has been boon for enterprises and employees, but the real seismic shift has been the total dissolution of whatever borders were left since the advent of IP.
Today, the traditional time-based distinctions between at-home, at-work and at-play computing and comms activities have all but fallen away. If your boss can ‘Lync’ you at home, you should be able to ‘Whatsapp’ your partner from work. With on-net calls between branches, public switched telephone network can be bridged, and your telecommunications cost vastly reduced. With FNB Connect and wireless LAN networking at home, there’s no need to pay cellphone rates.
The corporate drivers for large-scale mobility for everyone in the business are clear:
- Efficiency: better customer service, e.g. instant policy access and signing
- Cost: lower travel costs with point-to-point conferencing, savings on office real estate and equipment, flexible scaling of worker capacity in uncertain times through use of a virtual workforce and seamless business partner tie-ins
- Accessibility: locating staff based on presence-sensing technology (rather than phoning their cellphone)
- Flexibility: more employees freedom
- Productivity: monitoring remote agents via IP and Web-based tools
Need for mobility
In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter much what role your employee fulfils or what level he or she operates at anymore. Chances are they will have a mobile device capable of handling remote access and cost-effective IP communications, and that, at some point, it will make sense for them to use it, at home or at work.
It is thanks to technology – among others IP communications and virtualisation – that it is possible. Embrace the new mobility by investing in a converged communications solution.