Unified communications and KM are finally collaborating

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It has taken a long time for unified communications to make its way into knowledge management. From the telegraph and the telephone in the 1800s to private branch exchanges (PBXs), telephony showed steady development, but it was not until the emergence of the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) that the voice channel could be readily integrated with other internet-based communication channels such as messaging, chat, and email.

Meanwhile, videoconferencing had also moved forward since the first Picturephone was demonstrated at the 1964 World’s Fair, but progress was slow. Videoconferencing systems in the 1970s were costly and cumbersome. In the early 2000s, Skype brought affordable video communication to a large group of users. During the following decade, videoconferencing became cloud-enabled and available on mobile devices. Unified communications was finally in a position to play a strong role in knowledge capture and sharing.

Multiple ways of collaboration

Now, unified communications offers a full range of enterprise-grade channels and multiple ways of collaboration, along with call centers that are either part of the platform or readily integrated into them. Content management is left to companies that focus on that technology, but content can be readily shared via messaging, on videoconferencing screens, or through unified communications capabilities embedded within the user’s preferred application.

The trend is now toward unified communications as a service (UCaaS), with a cloud model that allows for quick and flexible deployment. Ideally suited for a dispersed workforce, UCaaS accounts for slightly less than half of the global $52 billion unified communications market, according to Grand View Research. However, it is expected to grow more rapidly than the 17% per year expected for this market as a whole, as more organizations switch from on-premise to cloud deployments.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) was founded to encourage organizations to be transparent about their carbon footprint and work to reduce it. The organization has since expanded its area of interest to forests and waterways. CDP’s work allows organizations to identify potential business partners whose policies align with their own. An international organization, CDP is headquartered in London and has offices in Brazil, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and the U.S. With its widely dispersed workforce of 260 individuals, CDP recognized that it could benefit from the use of videoconferencing and other collaboration tools.

CDP’s use of videoconferencing began a decade ago with a single license for Webex from Cisco that employees used primarily for meetings with external partners and investors. Under the guidance of Brendan Macintyre, senior support analyst, CDP, it has since expanded to 50 licenses and now uses it extensively for internal collaboration as well; for example, in monthly team meetings. When the group issues a new Carbon Disclosure Report, Webex is the way it spreads the word.

CDP uses a full range of Webex solutions, from desktop videoconferencing to collaboration in meeting rooms. One of the reasons for selecting Cisco was its reputation for robust security, which some videoconferencing software products are not able to match. It was important to CDP that Webex is trusted behind the firewall of many security-cautious organizations. In addition, CDP found that Cisco’s technical support made the system both easy to implement and to use.

In smaller conference rooms, CDP uses Cisco Webex Teams and Webex Boards. Webex Teams displays individual users’ work from tablets or laptops on Webex Boards, which can also be written on directly. The organization uses the Cisco MX700 video collaboration in-room system in its London and New York offices to host larger meetings. The screens display the participants and any files they wish to share.

Because Webex allows screen sharing, it is also often used for troubleshooting by IT when workers are experiencing problems with their computers. Macintyre, who provides technical support, can resolve issues quickly both in his London office and CDP’s international offices.

Diverse workforce

“The modern-day enterprise is fueled by a diverse workforce that is not limited to any one geographic locale,” says Sri Srinivasan, SVP and GM of the collaboration group at Cisco. “In addition, group-based outcomes that are increasingly common require a high level of user engagement and continuous interaction.” Unified communication supports uninterrupted workstreams and business processes that allow switching smoothly from instant messaging to a phone call or videoconference. “Enterprises want to provide employees with the most modern experiences, not disjointed ones,” he added.

In addition to Webex devices, Webex Meetings (integrated audio, video, and content sharing), and Webex Teams, the Cisco Webex family of products includes Webex Calling (a cloud-based PBX system) and Webex Contact Center. Its Webex Meetings application has several advanced features. For example, Webex Meetings can identify the individual through facial recognition if a participant has submitted a photo into their Webex profile. Webex Meetings can also create a profile of the individual that includes a biography, news articles, and other information, and display it on the participant panel using Cisco’s Cognitive Collaboration technology. Webex Meetings can create transcripts from meeting recordings, which allows for easy review and search of discussion contents.

Components of the Webex platform can also be integrated into users’ other applications. “If someone is working with a client in Salesforce, they can start a Webex meeting with the client without ever leaving the Saleforce application,” added Srinivasan. “We don’t want people to have to switch contexts from the canvas they work in. The collaboration experience should tie into work activity they are involved in, providing a relevant, intelligent continuum.”

Global collaboration does, however, bring some challenges. Srinivasan cited regulatory needs as a significant requirement. “We take data privacy very seriously. Regulatory needs are different and dynamically changing across the globe,” he observed. “We need to manage the data flow in a way that is consistent with each country’s requirements while also making the user experience consistent.”

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