Over the past decade, the cloud has been a disruptive force in the communications space. It has allowed businesses to communicate and collaborate in new and innovative ways, enhancing how they interact both internally and externally. Still, despite the proven benefits, most businesses hadn’t adopted a cloud-first approach.
Last year, though, something unprecedented happened. Amidst a global pandemic, which forced millions of companies to transform their workforces to be fully remote, cloud suddenly moved from being disruptive to actually minimizing disruption. Without cloud communications, most companies would have been unable to function effectively over the past 18 months.
Just about every communications and collaboration provider I’ve spoken to during the past year has agreed that, while there is nothing positive about a global pandemic that ha claimed more than four million lives globally, from a business perspective, the pandemic highlighted the need for cloud-based solutions, increasing adoption rates significantly. Companies that had previously adopted cloud solutions tended to transition to remote work much more easily, while those that hadn’t scrambled to find the technology that would allow them to function effectively.
Across industries, companies rapidly re-invented their workforces and shifted their digital transformation strategies. Many condensed several years’ worth of technology investments into just a few months in order to ensure their employees had the tools to function effectively. While they weren’t able to sit face to face with each other, adopting the right tools minimized the impact of geographic displacement. In fact, the majority of employees said their productivity improved when working from home.
Understanding that, I took some time to discuss the evolution of the workplace and workforces with Facilis Vice President of Partnerships Andre Gilbert. Facilis offers a white label meeting software suite, which Gilbert says includes the four pillars of collaboration: screen sharing, video conferencing, instant messaging, and file sharing. With its suite of collaboration tools, Facilis gives voice providers a platform with which to enter the UCaaS market and leverage the accelerated cloud adoption timeline businesses have adopted. It also gives businesses a team collaboration suite that complements other solutions they may be using. Here’s what Andre had to say about what’s happened over the past 18 months, and why he sees such a great opportunity for Facilis and its partners going forward.
Erik Linask (News - Alert): I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the pandemic, but the fact is it impacted every business across the globe. How did Facilis respond to the situation and enable its workforce to remain productive?
Andre Gilbert: Well, I have a funny anecdote here! In support of our growth, we moved our office to a larger and more modern setup early in 2020. The official move was on the weekend of March 14, 2020, and our local government shut down all offices on Friday, March 13, effective the following Monday. So, we moved all our furniture and were prepared for the grand opening, but none of our employees could show up at our new office!
That being said, we had already packed and employees had started remote work the previous week in order to facilitate the move, so everybody was properly set up. The only difference was that the plan was for seven days of remote work, which turned into more than a year, with full-time return to the office not likely to happen anytime soon.
EL: During the past 12 months, millions of businesses were pushed into using new communications and collaboration tools. How did this impact Facilis from a business perspective?
AG: There were a few distinct impacts on the business side for us. First, as for all corporations supplying telecom and virtual meeting solutions, the consumption of our services multiplied overnight – by a factor of 5x, in our case. Our infrastructure was already highly scalable, so we are proud to say that our customers did not suffer from any service interruption during that period, while market leaders were struggling to cope with this new volume. We are not talking about the same scale of activities, but one our largest customers was and still is the government health sector of our province in Canada, so the importance of their daily meetings and press conferences were of the highest level.
The second impact was in regard to our offering itself. Before the pandemic, we were offering landline audio conferencing combined with screen sharing capabilities. This solution allowed our customers to hold conferences and meetings with very large attendance with high-quality audio, plus the ability to share presentations in all conditions (e.g., low bandwidth connections, people on the move, mobile phone access, etc.). Rapidly, though, video became a must-have for virtual meeting solutions for many good reasons, which presented the occasion for us to merge two of our solutions – Mybys screen sharing and Seezus videoconference – in one new integrated Mybys solution. Also, thanks to a larger adoption of IP connections for voice, we developed a hybrid audioconferencing system called Webcall and migrated our audio conferencing customer base to this new platform.
Finally, our business model was also challenged, since legacy services were sold per minute, but new entrants were offering per user pricing. We also migrated our business model to align with those new market standards and expectations and, therefore, were able to maintain our competitive positioning in the market.
It was a busy 2020 in the market and at Facilis, but we now possess an attractive offering on the product side and also with our business model. Both are very well aligned with new market conditions.
EL: Why did it take a global pandemic for companies to realize the value of these kinds of communications and collaboration platforms?
AG: My view, which is supported by market studies, is that remote work was not favored by corporations because of fear of decreased productivity and lack of control over employees’ activities. They were wrong! Organizations were forced into a new workforce distribution model that demonstrated their numerous benefits in time savings on commuting, the ability to move outside large cities closer to outdoor activities and at a lower cost, with an enhanced ability to conciliate work and family.
EL: There are so many solutions out there and most have some great features. What are the most important features collaboration solutions must include?
AG: Our market studies indicate that users want video, audio, screen sharing, and in-session chat. This is the minimal feature set that allows for efficient collaboration work. Then, for more specific situations, advanced features like calendar integration, registration, recording and distribution, mass audio and video control, emoji signals (raise hand, applause, etc.), in-session surveys/voting, will all enhance the base solution for more specific needs like webinars, formal meetings (board of directors, general assemblies, etc.), and other situations.
EL: What about voice quality? That’s one of the difficulties many users have experienced. Are there things that can be done to enhance voice quality to enhance meetings? Does simply disabling video work?
AG: This is a good one and my conversations with many industry participants provided me with a mixed view. Some think that corporations now accept low audio quality in order to use a unique solution without landline access (IP audio only) at a lower cost. Others manage by asking participants to disable their video in order to enhance bandwidth and improve audio quality.
On our side, we come from the audio conferencing world and audio quality has always been paramount to our customers. It is also part of our DNA. Our view is also that, in order to achieve efficient virtual meetings, screen sharing is no big issue since the refresh rate is low and fits the requirement, and a participant’s video that “flickers” would not impact the efficiency of the interaction. But, any disturbance on the audio side will significantly impact meeting outcomes.
When meeting participants that can’t understand what others are saying, or perhaps can’t even hear some participants who are providing input to the group, it becomes detrimental to the meeting outcome. It also creates unnecessary frustration among participants. I spent the last 20 years in global sales activities and could write a book on damaged interactions due to the lack of proper understanding. Sometimes, it was due to foreign language skills or a prominent accent, but mostly, it was imputable to inadequate audio technology and poor quality.
EL: One of the complaints users have about many collaboration platforms is they aren’t as simple to launch as users would like. Many require application downloads and multiple clicks to get into meetings. Is there a better way to create a simpler user experience?
AG: At Facilis, we definitively think this is, indeed, possible. Our Mybys solution is a one-click, no-download meeting software that allows participants to log into a meeting via a simple web link (https://facilisglobal.com/join). They enter their name, the meeting number and optional password, and they join the meeting with video, audio and screen sharing regardless of their platform or OS. This system works on any browser and it is also BYOD-friendly, since there are no downloads on the employee’s personal mobile phone.
AG: We strongly believe that corporations will need two different types of collaboration software in the long run. They will need one for formal meetings with full-featured solutions like the market leaders that you mentioned. They will also want a simple, easy to deploy and support application, such as Mybys from Facilis, for all employees at a lower cost.
We also offer our solution in a white label mode for service providers, which enables them to offer a world-class solution to their customer base, while maintaining customer intimacy and invoicing relationships.
EL: You’ve recently launched an upgraded version of your collaboration solution. What’s new or improved in the new version?
AG: We have integrated our videoconferencing with screen sharing, enhanced video algorithms that do not hinder screen sharing performances or audio quality, but mostly, we’ve made it easy to integrate quality voice carrier solutions within the standard platform. With that, we can offer a simple, one-click no-download solution with fantastic audio quality in an attractive white label business model. We really think our solution fills a void in virtual meeting solutions that will benefit telecom service providers their business customers.
EL: What about security? We know the issues Zoom had early during the pandemic, and certainly, we are hearing about new major breaches nearly every day. How are you ensuring security for users, whether they are in corporate buildings or working remotely?
AG: Cybersecurity, phishing, ransomware, and meeting security share the same corporate symptom. Most corporations are very much reactive to these issues, and they mostly only address such situations after they suffer from an attack and their operations or reputation is at risk. This is wrong.
On our side, our largest customer segment is the government, and cybersecurity and confidentiality are paramount in their product selection process. In that regard, we recently received our ISO 27001 certification that ensures our applications, our corporate infrastructure, and our processes are safe for our customers. This was a thorough process, but it was worthwhile. Now, we and our customers can feel highly secure while using our solutions.
EL: There’s no question workforce models have changed and businesses have learned to function effectively even when people can’t physically be together. To what extent do you think these changes will be permanent?
AG: There are numerous industry surveys that support the idea that remote work is here to stay. They show that North American organizations are planning a decrease of their office space by 30% on average, and implementing flex offices in response to more than 70% of employees that want to return to work only 50% of the times in the future.
Remote work is absolutely here to stay, and efficient virtual meeting software is going to support collaboration in organizations for a long time ahead!
Edited by Erik Linask