Rafael Cortes, Foehn head of marketing, explains why simplicity and intelligence in cloud phone system design are key to quality of user experience and counter the threat of “burn-out” in the drive for collaboration and transparency in business culture.
Regular readers of our articles will have noticed a common theme in our views on cloud phone system design – a balance between the power of intelligent feature sets and the simplicity required to operate them. The philosophy is epitomised by Apple in the design of their iPhone where easy-to-use operating system and ergonomics combine with powerful apps to provide a simple and enjoyable user experience.
With our own system, simplicity is built into every aspect of operation for the administrator and caller, as well as the business-user. For example, the cloud lends itself to a scalable and interoperable environment where the challenge of maintenance, service level management, security and connectivity are all managed for you.
Equally, our agile, open-source approach to software development, combined with the flexibility of service-orientated architecture (SOA) and application programming interfaces (API), means we can develop really intelligent features that integrate with your business processes. An example here might be one-click dialling from your computer screen. This apparently simple feature means you spend less time dialling and more time selling. You don’t see this complexity of the WebRTC programming required, but it’s working hard in the background to improve your business productivity.
“Making the complex simple” is our mantra but many of our competitors don’t see it that way. Other phone and collaboration systems are the focus of intensive development programmes by vendors intent on delivering as many new features as possible. In their recent “Magic Quadrant” assessment of Contact Centres, Gartner used some 20 different features, a mere handful compared to Microsoft’s Office 365 Skype for Business (E5 edition) which lists over 40 integrated tools and applications. This may look great on the ubiquitous feature comparison charts but this explosion of functionality places increased pressures on the business user and system administrator to train, maintain, configure and manage the systems efficiently, not to mention the additional costs incurred.
So who’s got it right? Agile, feature rich and intelligent or big and complex? It’s an interesting proposition and probably has votes for both camps.
However, there is something familiar about this debate that goes back some 30 years when it was observed that, despite rapid development in the field of information technology in the USA over that period, business productivity slowed down. At the same time as computing capacity of the US increased a hundredfold in the 1970s and 1980s, labor productivity growth slowed from over three per cent in the 1960s to roughly one per cent in the 1990s.
This perceived paradox was referred to as the “Solow Computer Paradox” in reference to Robert Solow’s 1987 comment, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” The Paradox asserts that after a certain level of investment, information technology starts working against itself and the growth curve flattens.
Over complex? Too much of a good thing? A lack of further research plus 30 years of IT revolution confine the findings to the box labelled, “interesting but of no importance today”. Until, that is, the subject of “too much productivity” is resurrected again by none less than the Harvard Business Review in 2016.
Titled “Collaborative Overload”, the research looks at the wide scale adoption of collaborative activities, now considered by most board rooms as the secret to open, more transparent and a more productive business culture. With about 80 per cent of time spent on these activities, much being conveyed over the phone, workers are buried under an avalanche of requests for input or advice, access to resources, or attendance at a meeting. They take assignments home, after which burnout and staff turnover become real risks. Researched figures suggest 20-35 per cent of value-added collaborations come from only three-five per cent of employees.
The conclusion points at “…the importance of managing teamwork thoughtfully and providing the resources necessary to do it effectively.” Clearly there are important implications for intelligent use of phone systems in selective collaboration, rather than features that push wholesale collaboration indiscriminately across the whole workforce.
If too much collaboration is bad for business then it’s not surprising to see further research published last year helpfully warning us about another misconception in business management: “When transparency backfires and how to prevent it”. Again, at odds with all the current business theory, it points out that too much transparency may create work conditions in which employees feel their autonomy and uniqueness are being challenged, resulting in a decrease in constructive, reciprocal behaviour between employees. Here, the role of the phone must again be critical to the limits of transparency and phone features must be judged as to whether they are helping or hindering.
Academic nonsense or a sign of the times? If issues around phones, complexity and productivity resonate with your experience, I’d love to hear from you. Alternatively, if you’d like to see some intelligent phone features guaranteed to take your business in the right direction, try this.