Where I work in San Francisco, we see many new and innovative startups popping up around us seemingly every week. These new companies have a distinct advantage over established firms when it comes to how they use communication solutions to power their businesses. Unlike larger organizations,a new startup today can start with a completely clean slate of new technologies that works best for the team. Increasingly, these are so called "no footprint" communications solutions that are cloud based and purchased on a monthly basis. With little or no capital outlay needed and with everyone using the same new systems, employees can focus on executing the business strategy rather than having to wrestle with communications barriers and issues.
Legacy Systems and Platform Interoperability
We have all seen them – the powerful HD video conferencing hardware device that sits in the meeting room at the end of the hall. These systems are capable of delivering beautiful audio and video, but they mostly go unused.
Why is that?
One big reason is that they do not easily interoperate with the systems and devices we all use today– PCs, MacBooks, tablets, and smart phones, or with services we use like Hangouts, Skype, or HipChat. While these HD conferencing systems might work well for scheduled meetings, they will not work for more common ad hoc collaboration sessions used by highly performing, and increasingly remote, teams.
Interoperability issues are not limited to hardware systems. Popular communications services today also require that everyone is using the same software. It is common in larger companies that individual departments prefer different, incompatible communications services. It sounds easy to say, "Just force everyone to use the same tool," but that is easier said than done in larger organizations.
One must also consider the expense. Each of these legacy systems can cost thousands of dollars each, and the infrastructure to power functionality, such as firewall traversal and multi-party calling, is even more.
Old School IT Policies and Procedures
It is not easy being the IT Director. One of this person's primary objectives is to keep all systems online and running as normal. IT teams are accordingly motivated to minimize, even if that means limiting software and service options desired by employees. This risk aversion often leads to policies restricting access only to pre-approved devices, programs, and services. In some companies users do not have administrative rights to add new communications solutions to their PC or Mac even though they would like to use something new to optimize/improve workflows with a customer or a vendor. In addition, delivery protocols favored by newer communications services, such as UDP, can be deemed too risky and are blocked entirely.
Keeping up with Changing work Patterns
Increasingly, today's workers are leveraging flexible work schedules while taking advantage of the ability to work remotely. Why sit in San Francisco traffic for two hours so you can attend an 8:30 a.m. meeting when you could better use that time to work productively from home and attend the meeting on your laptop? These folks are not working less – they are actually working more. If your enterprise's legacy communication systems do not support these employees, this productivity gain is lost.
Bring your own devices – and Services
A rapidly growing trend in smaller companies is 'Bring Your Own Device'. Forrester research suggests that as many as three out of every four employees want to use their personal mobile devices at the work place. While BYOD may be attractive to employees as a way of reducing costs, there can be security implications and compatibility issues. Enterprise security in particular is an increasing concern for employers, and there is a significant challenge in reconciling the preferences or demand from employees with the concerns of the employer.
What to do?
So if my enterprise is struggling with the limitations of inflexible legacy hardware, software and services, and if IT wishes to keep tight controls on which services and software have free run of the network, how do I provide my increasingly mobile workforce the communication support they need, so we can execute at startup speed?
It is tempting to think you can pick one system that serves the needs of the majority of your users and standardize on that. This is what Universal Communications platforms are supposed to offer. But UC implementations are time consuming and costly and, for many organizations, the one-tool-fits-all approach just does not work anymore.
A more interesting option that many startups are already leveraging is the rapidly emerging WebRTC standard. With WebRTC, every device that can run a browser becomes a potential audio and video communications endpoint. If employees, customers, and suppliers can open a browser and click a link, they can engage in high quality video communications with one another, securely cross firewalls - all without downloading IT-prohibited software. There are over a billion WebRTC end points out there already, and the number is rapidly growing.
WebRTC is not magic and it should not be thought of as a solution by itself. It is instead a powerful standard around which companies can build integrated communications experiences. The good news is that there is a growing ecosystem of providers who are working hard to provide the tools and platforms that will make these browser end points work for businesses. When that happens, we will see the traditional communication barriers eliminated and productivity and innovation improve dramatically – all at a fraction of the cost of the legacy solutions.
VP of Engineering
TokBox is part of Telefonica Digital and headquartered in San Francisco. It provides a free API that allows anyone to add group video chat features to their own websites. TokBox has received $14 million in series A and B funding.