Unified Communication and Collaboration Mean Choice, Not The End of Voice

The Times of London with the thought leaders from Raconteur recently published a feature article about the future of voice.

For a deeper dive and with a unique Unify perspective, we talked to Philipp Bohn about the future and potential of voice communication, and why we’re at the beginning of a new innovation cycle with team collaboration and disruptive new technologies like artificial intelligence.

Q: With unified communications providers beginning to focus their R&D efforts on messaging, collaboration and integration tools, could the phone become redundant in the workplace? Is this the death of voice? 

Yes and no. Yes it’s true desktop phones are declining because they are capital intensive to procure and maintain, and many users no longer need all the advanced telephony features and haptics. Also, smartphones have replaced desktop phones as status symbols.

On the other hand, voice is seeing a shift from hardware to software, browsers and cloud. Most business users now have soft phones on their laptops and smart devices with headsets and USB conferencing units for voice calling.

Thanks to new technology like webRTC (Web Realtime Communication), voice has become one of multiple communication channels within broader collaboration platforms like Unify‘s Circuit, alongside video, screensharing and messaging.

In its essence, voice is not going away, but we do see a paradigm shift.

Q: If it is, what are the implications on workplace culture, and wider societal factors?

As with private life, professional users need to learn which communication and collaboration channel to use when. For example, it’s no longer acceptable to cold call somebody, as customers often expect a message first. When do we need to switch on video, when is voice sufficient? Some colleagues immediately respond to messages, others prefer quick calls, creating a new and very individual communication etiquette.

We do see older and younger generations with different communication habits in companies. They, along with their preferred tools, need to learn to coexist and most importantly learn from each other.

Q: Is it wise to shun legacy systems like the phone just to accommodate the preferences of future generations?

Absolutely not. Companies need a clear strategy and technology to integrate old and new ways of collaboration such as messaging and voice – preferably into one platform – to avoid information and communication silos.

Just because messaging is a preference with current and future generations doesn‘t mean it‘s the most effective way to communicate in every business situation.

Q: What are the appeal and the benefits of messaging apps and social media platforms to collaborate?

Messaging is perceived as less intrusive than voice calls. Because messaging is asynchronous, it gives people the choice over how and when they want to respond.

Group chat is very efficient and powerful for sharing knowledge and information, in a way that‘s not possible with voice and email. Everybody in the group has access, can see what‘s going on and can offer help where needed.

However, sole reliance on messaging can be detrimental to business. It‘s often the lazy, less engaging option.

For example, when asked about “the biggest deficit of young professionals”, MSL agency CEO Wigan Salazar said: “Telephony: Too many young professionals want to do everything by mail (or messaging). But there is nothing like personal contact." In addition, it is our job to convince people: of stories, dates, topics. For this, we need direct contact - i.e. meeting people and talking on the phone a lot.

Collectively as business users, we need to learn when to send a message and when it‘s better to pick up the phone or hit the call button. With Circuit, we offer all options in one app.

Q: Or does voice have a savior in AI or another emerging tech?

We don’t need a savior for voice, it’s conveniently blending into broader messaging and collaboration platforms like Circuit.

Emerging technology like AI will enhance communication and collaboration further. For example, we can use AI to transcribe and translate voice sessions. A lot of intelligence and data is needed to understand who’s talking and understand all the various languages, dialects, nuances and speech habits we naturally process as humans. A huge amount of knowledge is shared through voice conversations and with AI-based transcription, it becomes more accessible.

AI-based systems can also be integrated into collaboration platforms like Circuit through chatbots. Chatbots are a great technology to send live system updates into group chats. For example, participants can query chatbots about real-time system data in predictive maintenance in manufacturing environments. With live updates in their chat stream, teams of engineers can immediately initiate voice, video or screenshare sessions to collaboratively resolve the issue at hand.

For Circuit, we are showcasing AI-based speech assistants as well as a chatbot integration with the powerful MindSphere IoT/AI platform and Google Dialogflow natural language processing at the Google NEXT event in San Francisco next week.

Voice is not dead, we are at the beginning of a new, exciting innovation cycle.

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About Philipp Bohn

VP Circuit at Unify and CEO of blueKiwi
Philipp is VP Circuit and CEO of blueKiwi Software at Atos. In previous roles at Unify, he worked as Chief of Staff and in strategy planning. As an industry analyst at Berlecon Research, his focus has been on enterprise communication technology and digital media. Philipp holds a degree in business administration from University of Mannheim.

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