The In/Out debate may have dominated the UK throughout 2016, but the discussion has rarely extended to telecommunications. Yet as British businesses battle to leverage the benefits of new technology, many are looking at their existing telecoms systems and grappling their own referendum; do they allow their legacy system to Remain? Or with the promise of a better long-term solution, do they show it the Exit and prepare for a different future? The battle lines have been stark: maintain the status quo, or ‘rip and replace?’
But progress does not have to rest on an In/Out decision. There is a third way.
To transform your existing telecoms infrastructure and realise the benefits of new innovation, you may not need to boot your existing system out of the door. Tech-xit can be avoided. With a structured telecoms strategy designed around the evolving needs of your business, it’s possible to marry new tech with old – and create hybrid solutions that squeeze the remaining value out of a legacy solution whilst delivering the incremental gains of modern innovation. The hybrid approach minimises the disruption and costs of wholesale implementation projects, and paves the way towards more responsive and connective solutions. In referendum terms, it’s neither ‘In’ nor ‘Out’ – but it’s very much a mandate for change.
We all know that good telecommunication is fundamental to delivering our strategic business objectives. Its role in improving productivity and efficiency is universally accepted, whilst the growing need for organisations to leverage data and bolster connectivity has put telecoms infrastructure at the very heart of business transformation. Moreover, as workforce safety becomes increasingly scrutinised, companies are recognising the value of new technology in protecting human capital. However, there remains a gap between recognising the value of telecoms technology, and realising it.
Historically, the application of new telecoms technology has, like an EU referendum, been held back by Project Fear. Implementations are often perceived to be onerous and expensive, with anticipated gains frequently drowned out by misgivings around business disruption. As a result, it’s not uncommon for companies to forego evolution in favour of the devil-they-know. However, advances in technology mean that businesses looking to improve their telecoms capabilities no longer need to discard their old infrastructure and start from scratch. The introduction of GSM and smartphone technology is redefining business telecoms. At their most basic, these technologies enable effective human-to-human connectivity. Used intelligently, however, a smartphone can be a pocket gateway to the much-trumpeted Internet of Things (IoT) - and all the strategic business benefits that automation can bring.
Smarter in Europe?
In fact, many manufacturing companies have already made that journey into GSM and smartphone tech. They’re adopting it - but, in some cases, they’re not optimising it. Some, for example, are using GSM to make telephone calls - but aren’t yet maximising its intrinsic ability to automate processes, improve productivity and assure workforce safety.
With the right infrastructure – underpinned by a structured telecoms strategy that connects people, processes and machinery – these everyday tools can provide within-reach functionality to support common strategic goals. For example, 2016 figures reveal that UK productivity still lags behind the rest of Europe - and businesses are desperate to close the gap. Telecoms can help.
With applied intelligence, smart technologies can trigger machine-to-machine and machine-to-human alerts when a production process has malfunctioned – escalating response and preventing disruption, wastage and inefficiency. Smart tech can also help companies leverage Big Data to accelerate processes, optimise resources and improve customer experience. And, in a business climate where employees are increasingly required to work in isolation or in remote, hazardous environments, it can significantly enhance lone worker protection – improving emergency response capabilities and mitigating the risk of serious injury.
Lone worker protection is a key priority in the manufacturing and utilities sectors, but the requirement to safeguard workers transcends all industries. As health and safety legislation tightens and the penalties for breaches become more pronounced, a growing number of high-profile companies are being fined for failing to provide adequate protection for lone workers. Consumer giants, Ladbrokes and BT, are among the recent offenders. Conversely, some businesses have taken a progressive approach to telecoms and seen the real-world human benefit. How? When a merchant's diabetic lone worker recently suffered an emergency exacerbation, his smart device quickly alerted an appropriate colleague who, in turn, escalated a speedy response. The worker’s life was saved. Without the employer making staff safety a priority and investing in the right technology, it may have been very different.
Lone worker protection provides a great example of how new and old tech can combine to form an effective hybrid solution. Historically, companies have deployed analogue radio systems to support lone workers. This technology has naturally become dated and been overtaken by digital solutions that provide better connectivity. However, when their analogue radios finally break, companies often seek like-for-like replacements rather than the digital solution – believing that the latter won’t be compatible with their legacy system. This is a fallacy.
Nowadays, with the right telecoms partner, it’s often quite straightforward to take the hybrid approach and connect old and new. In the lone worker device example, this means that when individual analogue radios begin to malfunction, companies can issue workers with digital devices as and when required, rather than replacing the entire fleet with like-for-like equivalents. The hybrid approach allows organisations to realise the incremental benefits and value of new innovation without incurring the significant up-front cost of a full implementation. It is not exclusive to lone worker protection - it can be applied to all aspects of business communications.
Vote for change
The misconception that improving telecoms infrastructure requires the ‘rip and replace’ of legacy systems is undoubtedly a barrier to progress for many businesses. Moreover, it often leads to the inefficient re-investment in old solutions – and the failure to realise the benefits of immersive technologies that most of us now use every day. Ironically, in many cases, these technologies are already being optimised elsewhere within an organisation. With a proactive roadmap and the right telecoms partner, it’s easily possible to integrate the two and enjoy the real-world benefits without the wholesale costs.
In a year of heated debate across the UK, ‘In or Out’ has been an enduring question. For businesses, discourse around telecoms has been equally enduring. However, on this occasion there’s no need for a referendum. Improving your telecommunications doesn’t need to be an in/out choice between maintaining the status quo or ripping and replacing your legacy system. A third way - the hybrid way – could take you on an incremental journey towards a telecoms system that supports your biggest strategic priorities.
Surely that gets everyone’s vote?