The biggest trends facing today’s endpoints
The world is constantly evolving and innovating. New changes in the way that we live, and work drive the delivery of exciting opportunities in technology and communication. Trends like the rise of artificial intelligence and the exciting prospect of working from home keep us moving in the right direction. Sometimes, however, events outside of our control occur, acting as a catalyst for accelerated growth.
In 2020, companies worldwide experienced a rapid change to their daily operations, initiated by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, we’re all more reliant on an ever-changing selection of software tools and devices. These solutions are crucial for keeping us connected in a time when face-to-face interaction isn’t always possible.
To help you better understand how our video, phone, and headset devices are evolving, we reached out to six of the biggest leaders in the market. Here’s what representatives from AudioCodes, Crestron, EPOS, Konftel, Poly, and Snom had to say.
It’s no secret that companies today are facing a new set of challenges, as well as an evolution in the kind of tools employees use each day. According to Lifesize, around 90% of employees say that video makes it easier to convey important information. Another 89% of respondents also agree that video helps them to complete tasks faster.
However, there’s more to rolling out the right video, phone, and headset devices than simply understanding the latest trends. Companies need to ensure that the solutions they offer in the business landscape are just as accessible and intuitive as the services that consumers use at home. Here’s what our roundtable experts had to say about the challenges facing businesses today.
Andy Elliot VP of Marketing and Business Development EMEA at AudioCodes:
AudioCodes VP of Marketing and Business Development, Andy Elliot said that he says two primary device-focused challenges arising for companies. The first challenge is the rush to rapid home and remote working practices. This shift was initially a short-term solution to respond to the global pandemic. Now, however, it’s becoming the new normal.
“The reality is that more people will work remotely for some or all of the time, so the “sticking plaster” fixes to enable remote working earlier this year will need to evolve into sustainable long-term work from anywhere strategies, including device choices.”
Another issue, according to Andy, is that there’s a massive growth happening in the use of collaboration and UC platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. This could be a significant challenge for companies that have been relying on traditional platforms for voice communication for years. “How do they integrate these two worlds quickly and easily? What impact does this have on their device strategy in the future?”
Joseph Sarrasin, Director of Product Strategy UC at Crestron:
Crestron Director of Product Strategy (UC), Joseph Sarrasin said that before, the main issue was simply justifying the need for a video phone. However, since COVID-19 happened, the mindset in the business landscape has evolved on a massive scale. Video phones aren’t “luxury products” anymore. These tools are an integral part of the device portfolio for knowledge workers.
“Video phones have transitioned into true personal communication devices that allow you to free up your laptop for working, while personal communication and meetings can happen through the video phone, from the office or from your desk at home”
The challenge now, according to Joseph, is making sure the video phone integrates fully within the communication ecosystem. These devices can’t be isolated elements as they were in the past.
Theis Moerk, VP of Product Management, Enterprise Solutions at EPOS:
Theis Moerk, the Enterprise Solutions VP of Product Management for Epos said that as technology has evolved alongside working habits, various challenges emerge. The number of telephone calls and conference calls we’re handling is growing. Remote communication enhances opportunities for flexible working, but it also has issues to consider too.
“44% of users report problems with sound quality when making calls. Around 87% of end-users also experience at least one pain point caused by poor sound quality on calls – that’s regardless of whether they’re working from home or in the office. These issues include background noise (42%), having to repeat yourself (34%) and asking for information to be repeated (34%).”
Theis says that these pain points are leading to various costs and concerns for companies that don’t have access to the best audio technology.
Stefan Eriksson, CMO of Konftel:
Konftel’s Stefan Eriksson says that there’s a significant mismatch between meeting spaces and endpoints. There’s a rapidly-growing disconnect between meeting room size and shape, and the endpoints that teams are using. “Users tend to go for the cheapest option available, not fully aware of the actual requirements and what it takes to create a good experience. As a result, users often face issues with audio quality which lead to rising support tickets.”
According to Stefan, the mismatch between product characteristics and rooms also arises in the choice of business conference cameras. Another major issue, according to Eriksson is a sheer lack of flexibility and spontaneity.
“If everything needs to be set up beforehand and dial-in details distributed, meetings become stale, and it can be really difficult to spontaneously bring additional people into an on-going meeting.” There’s also an issue to consider with the DIY approach that companies have been taking to meeting spaces. Truly amazing user experiences need proper planning.
Helen Hawthorn, EMEA Sales Engineering Director, Judith Hogan EMEA Sales Director and Richard Kenny, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Poly:
Helen Hawthorn, the EMEA Sales Engineering Director for Poly says that the home office needs to become more fit for purpose in the current landscape. DIY laptop setups won’t cut it as video and audio quality aren’t good enough. Companies will need to have the right human-first collaboration and communication solutions in place to empower idea sharing in any environment.
EMEA Sales Director, Judith Hogan notes that the market for professional headsets is growing right now, largely due to the rapid increase in remote working demand. Just as video and audio setup needs to excel in the home and in the office, companies also need to ensure that headsets are properly aligned for the needs of the team. “Customers want meaningful communication with empathetic people, and voice supports this.”
Companies don’t want to miss out on on-premise investments with more people working from home, but they do need to innovate further. The right technology will support better user and customer experiences, while reducing staff turnover. Senior Product Marketing Manager, Richard Kenny said: “Technology such as wireless headsets give them the freedom they crave, while bringing a professional call experience to any location.”
Jason Green, Marketing Manager at Snom:
Snom marketing manager, Jason Green said that the challenges facing businesses six months ago would have been very different to the challenges that we’re facing today. In the light of an ongoing pandemic, the timescale of innovation and evolution has accelerated. Companies now need to cater for the needs of a remote workforce.
“The challenge for businesses now is to be able to quickly adapt to and meet that demand. Network security? Access to the full set of functions and features a workforce would expect to find in the office? Worker isolation and frustration? There are so many uncertainties and unexpected problems that businesses often find themselves busy putting out fires instead of rolling out a planned strategy.”
Temporary fixes may have been the order of the day for many companies lately. However, Jason says that now is the time for companies to think about taking a more complete and considered approach to the situation.
Challenges are always present when new technology and opportunities arise in the business landscape. However, with the right technology and solutions available, it’s possible to transform a challenge into an opportunity.
For instance, as the demand for plug-and-play conferencing solutions continues to grow, companies are responding with all-in-one room kits for employees that need to connect fast. Now around 83% of employees say that they rely on room kit and collaboration tech for teamwork. We asked our experts what today’s businesses can do to address the complex challenges of the new environment.
VP of Marketing and Business Development for AudioCodes, Andy Elliot told us that businesses need to understand how individual working practices are changing to enable anywhere work. Different employees have different needs. While some home workers will feel comfortable with a headset, others will prefer to replicate the office environment at home with a familiar interface. The consistent voice quality and always-on nature of the desk phone may be appealing here.
“To connect office-based workers with their remote colleagues a more agile approach to collaboration will be required, with desk-based and smaller huddle room video-conferencing so that they can meet in smaller groups and comply with COVID-secure practices”
Elliot notes that to embrace popular UC&C platforms like Microsoft Teams, companies will adopt a phased approach. They’ll connect their existing PBX environment through a SBC (Session Border Controller). After that, they can “migrate fully to Microsoft Teams for all communications, using Teams certified devices and simple subscription-based managed services such as AudioCodes Live for Microsoft Teams.”
Joseph Sarrasin said that to counter the challenge of the video phone being a separate, standalone device, Crestron is creating a new generation of video phones. These tools will launch later in the year and offer companies something beyond the simple video phone. These devices will assist individuals in communicating, while providing a fantastic video experience.
“It can be mixed and matched to include speaker phone, camera, headset, remote, one or more touch screens, with the ability to connect to Microsoft Teams or other communication platforms. This next generation of video phones becomes a supplemental tool, fully integrated into the ecosystem. It will enable voice control and allow easy switching of a call between your laptop, your mobile phone and this personal communication device.”
VP of Product Management at EPOS, Theis Moerk says that there’s a recognised solution already available for many of the frustrations that companies face with things like bad audio. 79% of business decision makers feel that great audio equipment like headphones, headsets, and speaker phones can reduce problems on and off calls.
“The best solutions on the market today come packed with features like noise cancellation technology, that uses AI to eliminate unnecessary distractions.”
Additionally, these tools can also be massive time savers. The best enterprise headsets on the marketplace come with dedicated buttons for instantly launching collaboration tools. The research suggests that the most popular platforms here are Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams. “Decision makers say that video calls or meetings help them feel closer to their teams (27%), maintain personal relationships while working from elsewhere (24%) and establish trust in working relationships (23%).”
CMO of Konftel, Stefan Eriksson says that companies need to be able to briefly analyse the needs of a specific meeting space. For instance, companies should ask how many people need to hear and be heard. Additionally, how many people should fit into the picture in a video meeting?
“Because it is so easy to underestimate the audio requirements, and to ensure good audio to and from all corners of a room, we usually recommend selecting an endpoint with slightly over-dimensioned audio capabilities.”
Eriksson said that Konftel often stresses the benefits of BYOM (Bring Your Own Meeting) technology, where a laptop in a conference room can easily connect to a speakerphone, camera, and screen with a single cable. This provides absolute flexibility when it comes to choosing a video collaboration platform.
“Look for packaged and tested solutions from a single vendor, that is ready to answer for the over-all quality of the experience.”
Poly’s Helen Hawthorn notes that for individuals, webcams like the Poly EagleEye Mini can provide HD video with an incredible field of view. This technology connects easily with a USB cable and is immediately ready to go. Users needing more executive setups at home can explore the benefits of video conferencing bars with built-in solutions like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
“These video bars will also be the star of the show in new collaboration spaces, capturing high-quality audio and video of everyone in the room in a way that makes every participant feel included, whether they are there in person or joining remotely.”
Hawthorn also noted that next-gen desk phones will be helpful for the new environment, offering touch screens with seamless connectivity to tools like Microsoft Teams, and acoustic fencing for background noise. Poly is also seeing a rapid increase in the professionalism of the home workspace, with enterprise-grade headsets becoming crucial.
“Alongside high-quality audio, they offer the comfort and freedom users want, and block-out background noise so they can be liberated from their desk and work with agility to avoid video fatigue and discomfort from being trapped in one place.”
Judith Hogan from Poly says that the return to the office is likely to be gradual, and even partial for some, making headsets more essential.
Richard Kenny also notes that equipping employees with the right enterprise-grade audio solutions will be critical. “The right technology, with crystal clear audio and noise cancelling microphones will produce more efficient calls and reduced background noise, with fewer mistakes and overall increased customer satisfaction.”
Snom marketing manager, Jason Green says that meeting the challenges of the marketplace is going to be tough. There’s a sharp learning curve on the horizon. Businesses and workforces are quickly learning that what may appear to be the best solution won’t always be the right choice. According to Jason, Snom recently conducted a survey of UK partners to identify how they coped with the recent crisis, and the results were unexpected.
“Poor connection quality during video conferencing was frequently mentioned as a major issue, whereas a desk phone, with high audio quality conferencing compared to a smart phone, can be a less-stressful experience than having to sit through endless slides of bullet-points being read word-for-word.”
“Sometimes an audio call can be more efficient than having to worry about what you and your surroundings look like when you switch on the camera. In an office, the desk phone is like an anchor.”
Snom notes that many companies are now discovering that the office phone can play the same part in their business operations at home as they did in the office.
While many innovations in the technology space are having a positive impact on the way that we communicate, few solutions are as transformative as artificial intelligence. Already, AI is delivering a host of benefits to the way that we interact, supporting the arrival of things like in-line transcription, real-time translation and more.
As the world of work and collaboration continues to evolve, there’s little doubt that artificial intelligence will be among the top tools supporting the workforce of the future. The only question is how will we be applying AI to the way we connect and communicate? Here’s what our industry experts had to say.
According to Andy Elliot of AudioCodes, AI is emerging as a fundamental component of many business operations today. However, it’s important to remember that AI has an influence over various forms of communication, from voice interactions, to instant messaging and emails.
“Using technologies such as Voice.AI to intelligently automate voice interactions can play a very positive role in simplifying communication, improving customer service, and accelerating issue resolution.”
Elliot also notes that voice quality is critical for ensuring successful interactions with Voice.AI apps and platforms. Because of this, devices will play an important role in ensuring voice quality through the right codecs. It’s essential for companies to realize this as they rush to implement AI and work from anywhere strategies.
“For those strategies to be sustainable they must consider the quality of their voice network and devices as an integral part of that strategy.”
Crestron’s Joseph Sarrasin says that during 2019’s Microsoft Ignite conference; the company gave a fantastic technology demo. During this demonstration, the company used AI to fill in voice when the network was unstable. “Pretty soon, we will be able to do the same thing with video. So, you’ll be able to have a crystal-clear video call, high bandwidth, even when the network is unstable. This means that your high-quality device comes into its own, both in video quality and microphone quality, even when the connection isn’t great.”
Sarrasin said that technology like this will also lead to other innovations. For instance, it could mean that after a meeting you can receive an accurate and complete transcript of the conversion. This document will include action items that appear in everyone’s calendar automatically. Tech like this means that everyone in a meeting can focus on the creative part of the conversation.
“The administrative part is taken care of by AI. To me, that is where the true application for AI is: taking care of the granular tasks, so you can focus on the core of your job.”
EPOS’s Theis Moerk said that with artificial intelligence, companies will be able to unlock a much more personalised experience with the audio device. AI technology can adapt more effectively to the needs of the environment and the specific user. This is where the biggest and most transformational differences come into play.
“With previous tech there might have been 5-10 pre-configured settings to control automated features like noise reduction and frequency setting. These would have been decided in a test lab before it reached the user. Now, AI is adapting to thousands and thousands of parameters in the user’s actual surroundings. The ADAPT 660 headset demonstrates the reality of AI.”
With the ADAPT 660 headset, EPOS has delivered a solution for groundbreaking auditory performance. Unique machine learning
algorithms mean that the AI solution can intelligently optimise voice pick-up by blocking out repetitive and distracting sounds in the environment. This ensures crystal-clear calls in any space.
Konftel CMO, Stefan Eriksson says that AI has been around in audio conferencing products in some sense for quite some time now. We’ve seen this technology in the way that audio processing automatically detects and adapts to changing conditions in the conversation. Many companies are already used to features like background noise cancellation and intelligent active audio enhancements.
“Intelligent camera framing is another useful application of AI technology. For the future, we believe AI can be used to create more personalized meeting experiences”
Poly’s Helen Hawthorn says that AI in video conferencing offers incredible functionality, like automatic speaker tracking and split-screen access. These tools make everyone feel as engaged in the conversation as possible. Going forward, the right systems will also be able to intelligently track what’s happening in a meeting, while blocking out unwanted distractions.
“This goes beyond hearing background noises like keyboard typing and muting the call to prevent the far ends from hearing it. AI-enabled video technology such as Poly NoiseBlock AI will hear keyboard typing and filter it out, leaving the microphones still open for conversation”
Helen notes that while many people still see AI as a “flashy” technology, it’s power in hybrid working environments comes in allowing people to focus on human-led collaboration, rather than the tech around the employees.
Snom’s Marketing Manager, Jason Green said that this fast-developing area in technology holds incredible promise for the future. Snom sees massive benefits appearing in key areas like customer satisfaction and support. When, not if AI is accessed properly, Identity-based communication will negate the need for support tickets and emails. It will help partners and customers get what they need more intuitively and comfortably.
“Imagine navigating functions, address books and departments as part of a friendly conversation instead of getting stuck in an automated mechanical loop? Imagine your phone screening your incoming calls for spam, taking detailed messages and acting as your proxy while you enjoy your vacation.”
At Snom, the team is already looking forward to playing a significant part in the way that AI innovations change the world of communication.
What do you think about our discussion on video, phone, and headset endpoints? Join the conversation and share your thoughts on social media.