This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on October 26, 2020 - November 1, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in many employees working from home, but a large number of companies do not have the digital infrastructure in place to accommodate remote working, not only in terms of access to files and software but also communication.
Avaya Holdings Corp vice-president for East Asia and the Pacific Sami Ammous tells Digital Edge that the communications provider has seen a large increase in demand for elements related to business continuity and remote working.
These include tools that help employees collaborate and communicate wherever they are, among them video conferencing, web conferencing and mobile applications.
“We also saw a big increase in demand for cloud solutions because a lot of companies were just not prepared in terms of infrastructure, be it data centre or connectivity services,” says Ammous.
Ready-to-use tools by companies such as Avaya can be activated with just an active internet connection. This way, he explains, the complexity of setting up and managing the infrastructure is taken away from IT managers.
“For example, if you use something similar to (video conferencing tool) Avaya Spaces, the infrastructure for it has to be hosted on a server somewhere. As a company, you’re used to working day-to-day in the office, with no worries about connecting your infrastructure to the internet.
“But once you start working remotely, you will need to worry about connecting yourself to the internet and that introduces things like security risks, quality of service risks and so on. So some of our solutions, such as Spaces, don’t need to be hosted on your infrastructure [because they are fully cloud-based].
“This also means that if a company does not have dedicated IT personnel, it can still use these services without worrying about maintenance and back-end issues,” he elaborates.
While any industry can utilise call centre and communication tools, Ammous says that technology adoption has been accelerated in areas that have traditionally been very conservative, specifically the education and medical industries.
“We have seen quicker adoption in telemedicine. Even though these services have been around for many years, patients still prefer to walk into a clinic and get checked by a doctor. It’s human nature.
“But Covid-19 forced people to start experimenting. So let’s say you don’t have a case to see a doctor, [but] you use your computer or phone to treat things like the common flu, rashes or anything that doesn’t need a thorough check-up.
“Through this method, people can get medicine prescriptions on a mobile service, and we’ll find that it’s going to accelerate the rate of adoption in telemedicine.”
Another area that has seen interest is the empowerment, enablement and engagement of staff within a company. Ammous says there has been a demand for this over the last couple of years because companies find that there is a disconnect between what they want from their employees and what they actually get.
“Companies that want to create a great working environment try to make sure they have engaged employees but there tends to be a disconnect and dissatisfaction with employees. So companies need to provide employees with proper tools and technology for them to do their job,” he points out.
“Part of it is a human resource solution, but we need to look at an employee from a holistic point of view, where it’s not just about making sure they are comfortable, well-paid and have a nice office space. Companies also need to make sure employees have the right tools to carry out their jobs, and this is an IT conversation.”
Avaya acquired its first Malaysian customer for a cloud set-up in April this year. The main digitalisation driver for the customer was to introduce channels that simplified how it served its customers.
Ammous says Avaya is in talks with a few other Malaysian customers and sees potential for its call centre solutions.
“The call centre solution is usually integrated with a lot of tools used by the company such as customer relationship management or enterprise resource planning. Because of that, moving to the cloud is not a trivial matter as companies need to define [what they want] properly and look at the impact.
“We see a lot more adoption in the unified communications space because it’s relatively simpler as all companies need is an internet connection and a device,” he says.
Over the last five to six years, Ammous says the industry has gone through Gartner’s hype cycle every three to six months. The hype cycle provides a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities. Its methodology gives a view of how a technology or application will evolve over time, providing insight to manage its deployment within the context of a company’s specific business goals.
Ammous explains that when a new technology is introduced, people get very excited over it but once it is at the peak, they discover that the technology is not doing what it is supposed to, causing the excitement to wane.
After the drop, people start experimenting with technology again. “A lot of new technology is not mature enough, so when they try them out, it’s not good.
“Now, there is a hype cycle in place, the most recent being artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. Most companies are experimenting with things like chatbots and analytics,” he explains.
Over the last year, Ammous says AI and automation were perceived as a way to replace employees but companies soon realised that technology complemented human capital. Companies also realised that chatbots cannot do the job as well as humans so they are now used to augment employees instead.
“Let’s say I’m a call centre agent. I’m not chatting blindly with the other person through a chatbox or on a phone call [because] in the background, the chatbot is giving me suggestions and solutions based on what the customer is asking.
“This blend of people and AI is happening today. In fact, with the use of cloud and remote working solutions, we have found that remote working has increased the available workforce for companies.
“Imagine, stay-at-home mothers or those who have to take care of their elderly parents. They can now afford to spend a few hours every day taking calls,” he adds.
This hype has also led to companies digitalising for the sake of it, instead of using it to solve a problem. This is one of the biggest challenges faced by a lot of companies that tend to make their purchases from a feature and functionality point of view. While companies tend to pick out the features that they need, Avaya spends a lot of time with them on the basics of why they need the technology, Ammous says.
“I’ve been doing this for many years and this has been a consistent problem. Technology has advanced and evolved but the tendency to drive a technical purchase before worrying about the business is [a challenge we are faced with].”
At the same time, he says he cannot blame companies for trying to digitalise because they have to keep their operational costs low while increasing productivity and competitiveness. What most fail to do is identify the “why” in their digitisation journey.
“Companies need to ask ‘why are we doing this and what are we trying to achieve?’ If they do this and then drive technology, there won’t be any purchase done just for the sake of it,” he adds.
“Different companies will have different drivers. If the goal is to increase sales then we need to make sure that its tools link to our sales tools and train the staff to become salespeople. They need to incentivise staff to become more sales-focused and from there, companies can drive the technology process and their people.”
Ammous says Malaysia has a mature digital infrastructure and he sees opportunity in the local market when it comes to web and mobile chat solutions for both employees and customer service. This was clearly seen early this year when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit, as companies accelerated their digital adoption.
“Now, companies believe that once consumers start using these tools and become comfortable with them, they won’t go back to using the classic tools. I think that’s what we’re starting to see, not just in Malaysia but also in the rest of the region.”
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