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Enriching Plantronics's Audio Communication
Sandeepa Majumdar
Thursday, September 3, 2015
At his first summer job, working for $3.50 an hour in an electronics shop, little had Kenneth Kannappan, CEO of Plantronics foreseen that he would go on to head a $800 million company. His first job however, became a turning point in Kannappan�s life because it taught him, how lack of collaboration and motivation amongst employees could hinder organizational goals. As a result, under the guidance of Kannappan, Santa Cruz based Plantronics�an electronic company producing audio communications equipment went through massive restructuring in tandem with technology revolutions such as the IoT. Best known for its wearable technology, particularly its headsets, Plantronics believes that IoT holds the potential to transcend communication to create a deeper and comprehensive impact on the smarter working environment.

Innovation through Five Decades
Transforming the classic headset to go beyond the capabilities of audio, Plantronics' devices can be connected to applications, platforms and Cloud. "Innovating relentlessly in sound communication, we create new ecosystems which consist of hardware, tools, developers, and integrators which go beyond the call,� remarks Kannappan. Plantronics� lightweight headsets are coupled with noise-cancelling technology and used by pilots, astronauts, 911 workers to global enterprises and contact centers. After Kannappan assumed the role of CEO in 1999, the company has only delivered one innovation after the other in terms of call clarity and ingenious ergonomics. In 2005, the release of the Discovery 640�a Bluetooth headset combining technology with a light weight design simplified mobility for users. In addition the company redefines hands-free convenience with Voyager Pro that aligns smart sensor technology with HD streaming audio in their headset system. In the case of Avanade, a company providing business technology solutions, cloud and managed services could improve communication and increase mobility through Plantronics' headset�Voyager PRO UC. The headset was integrated with mobile phone and Microsoft Lync at the same time which resulted in reduced phone charges. Owing to the integration, Avanade can be reached on a single number, regardless of location and device. "Plantronics was the first headset to be used in outer space for the Mercury mission and we continue to make breakthrough models that cater seamlessly to the multimedia, gaming and Internet era," remarks Kannappan.

Satisfied Employees for Satisfied Customers
The CEO�s �smarter working� philosophy is not only limited to the company�s technology implementation but also extends to its Tijuana based manufacturing plant�Plamex which through the years has earned accolades for its employee centric initiatives. The facility is equipped with design and engineering centers, testing labs, education opportunities and goes the extra mile by even arranging marriage ceremonies for employees. "Regulating operations from Mexico for over forty years now, we hold our employees and their culture in high regard. Our goal is to create an effective and engaged working environment and in the process cut down on real estate costs," explains Kannappan. Vesting keen importance on employee participation, Plantronics is always open for suggestions and feedback from employees and conducts surveys that have led to enhancements in its vision-care policy, retirement plan, and training budget. The company also holds monthly town hall meetings and organizes summer management conferences for the utmost benefit of its staff.

A visionary in the truest sense, Kannappan is not only prolific when it comes to meeting the demands of his personnel but in times of crisis he has deterred the company from unfavorable market risks. In 2001, the company observed a huge downturn in their revenue juxtaposed by the enormous opportunity in wireless and mobility looming in the horizon. Kannappan took a heady decision to increase their investment in trending technology advents even with the company's trickling earnings. �Although it was hard to convince investors and our stock price went even lower, over the next few years we had a 10-point increase in global market share and profits,� exclaims Kannappan. Since then, Plantronics has only experienced the winds of fortune. The company�s latest financial reports for the first quarter of the fiscal year 2016 exhibited a growth in cash equivalents and investments to $683 million. �Our financial results were in-line with our expectations and we executed well on the product side with the recent introduction of several innovative new products for unified communications, consumer entertainment and gaming,� states Kannappan in a press release.

The company recently unveiled Voyager Focus UC, which is the first wireless Bluetooth stereo headset of its kind with Active Noise-Cancellation (ANC) technology, designed to reduce noise and distraction in open, collaborative and remote workspaces. Plantronics adapted best-of-breed microphone technology with improved algorithms to ensure voice clarity while smothering background noise. Keeping up with Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) that brings real-time communications to the Web and evolves the web browser into a real-time voice, video and data communications endpoint; Plantronics' products were recently made WebRTC compliant. Organizations that choose to deploy WebRTC applications and use a host machine that supports audio through USB or Bluetooth can use Plantronics' products to connect and transit or receive the audio associated with the WebRTC session. Additionally, as IoT continues to connect people, process and data, Plantronics had its call control feature embedded within the Cisco Jabber soft phone. "As a member of Cisco solution partner program, Plantronics is able to quickly create and deploy solutions to enhance the capabilities, performance and management of the network," says Kannappan. In order to provide activity-based workspaces, Cisco uses its softphones and Cisco IP telephones along with Plantronics Voyager Legend UC headsets to be constantly connected to the phone regardless of the workstation. This addition has significantly saved real estate costs and increased employee collaboration for Cisco.

Designing Futuristic Headsets
Following a design philosophy which perceives the human body as a canvas, Kannappan is of the opinion that headsets in the near future will evolve into fashion accessories. "By commingling the intricacies of sound innovation with the intimacy of personal fashion and comfort, Plantronics� design will enable people to express their style preferences and individuality through headsets," remarks Kannappan. Starting off with critical applications, such as the NASA program, where Neil Armstrong spoke his first words on the moon through the Plantronics headsets to designing the next generation discovery and explorer headsets, Plantronics has come a long way. What started out as two airline pilots working in a garage in 1960 today continues to be driven by a single obsession�which is to remove all the barriers in voice communication. From aiding the first man on the moon to pioneering the next generation of mobile communication solutions, Plantronics has always helped people stay connected despite of the device location and under the headship of Kannappan displays no sign of exhaustion in the future ahead.

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