As Iles pointed out, remote work during COVID-19 and beyond is about much more than just keeping in touch with colleagues via the phone or messaging platforms, but rather is about the ability to collaborate effectively and freely, just as people might while together in a physical office.
“The trend that we’re seeing is that as people move forward...the need for more collaboration, more tight collaboration, less structured collaboration is driving the future of work,” Iles said.
This is a problem for some organisations still using legacy systems that weren’t designed with a mobile-first office in mind. From Iles’ perspective, however, the pandemic has provided a catalyst for organisations to ramp up their digital transformations and embrace the new technology that will enable remote work in an ongoing capacity.
“What we see going forward, two particularly good areas we see, cloud telephony — there’s a lot of space left in terms of moving to softphone and cloud, and a lot of room left in terms of cloud-based web and video conferencing, and also, of course, networking,” Iles said.
“And if you look at the total UCaaS [unified communications-as-a-service] market in the next three years in Australia, we still see that being in excess of around $1 billion. And underpinning all of this, the huge need for networks...and being able to leverage technologies like SD-WAN.
“Collaboration, we think, is going to be key,” Iles added. “Not just the technologies, but also in terms of looking at how people work together. Those secure, easy to use systems will dominate the new landscape."
For LogMeIn's head of channel in Asia Pacific, Mark Harvey, who spoke in the panel discussion during the Virtual Exchange event, one of the challenges faced by organisations as they turn towards a new workplace reality involving remote workers and a distributed network, along with a plethora of devices dispersed across a broad area, is the issue of security.
“Eighty per cent of verifiable data breaches globally over the last year have involved stolen credentials, so that’s security’s major issue, particularly with people using their own end devices, working from home,” Harvey said.
“How secure are those networks? I think that’s a major element — device management in security and password management,” he added.
But, as with the other technology areas noted by Iles, this too provides opportunities for partners, as does the prospect of training and other resources needed to assist organisations as they transition from a standard working environment to a home environment.
From the perspective of Keith Masterton, general manager of business channels at NBN Co, who also spoke during the panel discussion, one big area of opportunity for partners was the prospect of scaling down, not necessarily scaling up, when it comes to technology implementations.
“[There is an] opportunity to take solutions into SMBs [small- to medium-sized businesses], essentially, and almost, in some sense, to a market of one, when you’ve got home workers,” Masterton said. “How do you scale down, not just scale up? It’s easy to sell a solution to a 1000-person site, but how about 1000 people at 1000 sites? That’s a little bit more difficult.
“Obviously cloud comes into play, but I [think] that [is] one that we should really think about. In the industry, how do we scale these options for SMBs? Because now they want enterprise solutions, which really were not addressable earlier,” he added.
Along with further opportunities for partners in the areas of flexible and agile networking, Masterton also pointed to managed services as being a particular bright spot for partners going forward, as organisations work to manage and maintain the systems they have put in place to continue operating through the COVID-19-hit climate.
“In terms of helping these customers, some of whom are not tech savvy....there’s a managed service opportunity and there’s a consulting opportunity to take them on the journey,” Masterton said.
Meanwhile, RingCentral senior director and head of channels for Asia Pacific Ben Swanson, who joined Masterton and Harvey in the panel discussion, suggested that a fair chunk of the technology projects that were already in the pipeline among many enterprises have simply been rejigged to focus a little more on cloud communications, in turn offering up additional work in that particular area.
“We certainly saw a state of panic and then huge demand up front, where we needed to get in place working environments to provide remote working capability,” Swanson said. “And it was about the continuation of business, but what was becoming evident...is that there’s a continuation of projects, which were already in the pipeline, and in actual fact, it’s a re-prioritisation to cloud communications.
“And for a business that’s been on a digital transformation plan for this year and the next three years, it just got turned on its head to implement this type of solution in days and weeks. And that’s what we’re coming out of right now,” he added.
At the same time, Swanson noted that individual lines of business within organisations are discovering a new appetite for solutions in the unified comms space, another factor opening up new areas of opportunity for partners.
“Rather than looking at the verticals in the industries, [we're] seeing a huge demand from a line of business, which we’ve never seen in UC before,” Swanson said, pointing to the likes of the human resources and marketing departments, along with chief marketing officers.
These lines of business are putting new demands on their IT departments as they want to be more collaborative and move away from legacy environments, instead adopting newer tools within their business, according to Swanson.
“Because, as we’re all working remotely or with an increase of serviced offices, being able to collaborate is actually where it is driving the business where we have never seen it before,” he said, echoing Iles’ comments placing collaboration at the core of the future of work and reaffirming the rising need of unified communications now and in the coming years.