While the world grapples with containing the COVID-19 contagion outbreak and finding a remedy, companies are bracing themselves for a business disruption that is potentially of the same scale as the Y2K software problem that experts thought could have caused when computers malfunction.
Governments are taking actions to shut down travel, people movements and enforce strict community segregation at unprecedented speed and rigidity. Against this backdrop of uncertainty that may last for months, companies are exploring options to continue business operations.
Companies like Goldman Sachs, Standard Chartered, and Procter & Gamble have given their employees who are returning from China arrangement to work remotely
Others are getting employees to work from home, work teams to be stationed at separate sites, or working in different shifts. This is placing pressure on company IT managers to come up quickly with video, voice collaboration solutions and platforms.
Earlier in the month, it was reported that due to a large number of Chinese employees working from home, popular virtual meeting applications are crashing at the start of business after the Lunar New Year. The exponential surge in demand for a virtual face to face meetings that providers did not anticipate, negatively impact consumer application quality and performance, leaving organizations scrambling to find quick alternatives.
It is not just the private sector which will need virtual communications tools. The demand also comes from also public education. The Hong Kong government will extend school closures until 16th March 2020, switching to online learning. Singapore universities are also conducting online classes going forward.
Company board leadership and senior management are starting to look for COVID-19 preparedness for business continuity. Without one, it is likely going to impact your top and bottom line during the period of the outbreak and beyond
1. Selection Criteria
While there may be a rush to urgently deploy communication and collaborative solutions to meet the immediate needs, it is essential to understand and evaluate the complexities and quality of such off-the-shelf Software as a Service (SaaS). Some factors to consider are listed below.
1.1 Ease of Use and Installation
Perhaps you experienced the frustration of not able to find the right Skype name or SkypeID to make a call? Electronic meetings are easy only when a specific software or platform is mandated, for example, company-wide adoption of a meeting tool like Google Hangouts. However, it becomes cumbersome when we need to invite a customer who does not have a Google account
An easy-to-use meeting solution provides a link that can be accessed via a browser to start a session. There should not be a need to download an app or install a plugin. Users may be hesitant to download and install software if they perceived it to be a security risk for their laptop. Different meetings requiring different software application consumes precious computer resources.
Communications collaboration platforms should be able to easily handle up to 6 video participants in a meeting without comprising video quality. In addition, the audio quality must be independent of the number of participants. Most free consumer video conferencing apps have not been designed to handle a large number of participants and hence the quality may not be acceptable
1.3 Whiteboard/Screen Sharing
By default, a meeting solution should allow a user to share their laptop screens or allow whiteboard interaction among multiple users. The users want to be assured that screen sharing discontinues after the meeting. Reports of Skype sharing more than the user intended to are rather unsettling.
1.4 Recording option
In case of a company briefing, a meeting solution should allow for recordings, so that the meeting link can be replayed by users who missed the meeting appointment. It goes without saying that the company owns the recording file and third parties should not have access to it.
The solution needs to be able with delivery quality communications whether it is 1-1 calls or a company-wide briefing with 100 participants. Employees or customers should be able to connect from anywhere and from any network.
Firstly, any social network like Facebook live means that the content can be easily shared. It is not recommended to conduct sensitive company meetings over these social networks.
In the banking, insurance and health sectors where confidentiality and data protection are especially stringent, it becomes imperative for communications to be ring-fenced. Recordings of conversations or meetings cannot be stored off-site by the cloud service provider. Furthermore, with phishing occurring on a regular basis, a meeting invite with the following URL https://www.mycompanydomain.com/conference/ showing clearly the company’s domain name will be perceived better by the customer compared to https://zoom.us/j/123456789
2. Selection Process
Companies have basically two broad categories of meeting solutions to choose from. The first option is to buy a specific software cloud-based product and the latter to build one using the company’s development resources
Video Conferencing has a broad spectrum of products and solutions. Some have expensive infrastructures like Polycom telepresence rooms to consumer-grade video such as Skype or Zoom. These products are also known as Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) products, which are cloud-hosted for unified communications. Most are free for a basic-version with a cost per seat per month for more advanced features.
None of these solutions can be embedded into company’s own applications as they are standalone products.
For small businesses who may lack the expertise to work with APIs and SDKs provided by CPaaS, it makes good sense to buy software (UCaaS) such as Skype for business or WebEx. Skype is a proprietary app which is owned by Microsoft. It cannot be altered according to the specific needs of your business.
The simplest way to define CPaaS is a cloud-based software-driven solution for application developers to integrate into their existing applications. Communications APIs allow developers to incorporate video or voice chats directly into the company’s existing portals or applications.
Most CPaaS providers charge per minute of voice or video for their use. Hence you only pay for what you use no matter the number of users. However, Zoom or WebEx is priced per seat/per month even if you do not use all the features available. Hence, the cost for large enterprises can be substantial.
The biggest advantage of a CPaaS based solution is the ease of use for the users. Users do not have to install anything or update any of the communications applications on their PC. The meeting organiser sends them a SMS link or email link for the users to connect to the meeting conference via a web browser.
You join a video conferencing with a link that will trigger a session built using CPaaS API and enjoy the functionality of its latest version without the need to install third-party apps or plug-ins
You can create scalable 1-to-1 chat or for 3 and 100 users concurrently. It also supports such features as screen sharing and secure file transfer.
CPaaS communication that is integrated into your current website is ideally suited for external collaboration where a customer may not have the same consumer chat app as yours. A good example is Skoda live tour session which allows the customer to talk with an actual person, see their face in real-time, and be taken around one of the latest models in a purpose-built showroom. Another example is Barclays video banking that reduces the need to go to a branch in person. Other examples are NTUC and wine.com and Emirates who provide a web chat or a voice-chat service.
With full CPaaS APIs comprising SMS, voice and video, it is simple to perform two-factor authentication to authenticate the individual whom we allow joining a meeting or a transaction. This is currently not possible with if you are using silo UC applications.
3. Selection Mapping
Smaller-scaled companies, without the budget or resources of larger enterprises, would typically consume products in the bottom left quadrant, such as WhatsApp group chats. The attractiveness is that these common platforms are available for both employees as well as customers. The disadvantages are privacy and security as files and images can be rampantly shared externally. The communication quality varies and they do not scale with more participants in a group call.
Towards the bottom right, many multinationals corporations may subscribe to Cisco’s WebEx, Zoom or Skype for business to conduct collaborative meetings. While it serves internal meetings well, the need to install an app or plugin and sign up for an account is seen as a deterrent for customer meetings.
On the top left quadrant, these collaboration tools are rather specific to tech companies with work processes and topic-specific segregation. Examples are Jira, Slack and Trello which are built for project-based communications.
3.1 CPaaS experience
Offering products and services is no longer enough: successful companies will be the ones focused on delivering the most compelling experiences. In fact, 56% of business leaders believe that customer experience is their top digital transformation priority.
-WEF (Digital Transformation Initiative In collaboration with Accenture)
The top right quadrant is where CPaaS APIs can be integrated with the company’s existing applications or portals to allow users the benefits such as screen sharing and recording, the scalability for both a 1-1 calls or 1-to-many briefing, and the assurance that the contents of the calls are kept secure. It is lightweight, fast to deploy and easy to use without the need download bloated apps. The companies pay per use and there is no recurrent license fee if there is no usage.
Beyond these benefits, if your company does not have an omni-channel presence with your customers, now is the time to start executing a plan for your company to answer queries for your product or conduct a meeting without a physical location.
If your organisation already has limited webchat presence online, you may want to enhance it with appointment bookings for virtual voice or video chats for your customers. This is particularly relevant for strong brand companies where contextual switching to a third-party communications application is not an option.
4. Social Distancing Take-Aways
The world’s largest working-from-home experiment will not be a mere passing event. Its impact is likely to be etched permanently into how we work and interact with others without a physical location. Organisations that do not depend on a third party to provide platforms for communications and meetings with colleagues or customers will have a distinct advantage in their digital transformation journey.
Now is the time to change the company culture with strong support from top management to invest in CPaaS technology. Employees’ output and not physical presence can be used to gauge performance. Boost your customer experience beyond the traditional IVR.