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COLLABORATION – Sitting pretty with Poly

Paul Clark, EMEA Managing Director of Poly, tells James Goulding why the company is well placed to be the end point vendor of choice for seamless collaboration

In March 2019, nine months after completing its acquisition of Polycom, Plantronics announced that it was rebranding the $2 billion combined UC&C endpoint business as Poly. Naming the company after the Ancient Greek for ‘many’ sets the seal on an acquisition that always felt more like a merger of equals than a take-over (both companies are of a similar size, with the difference between Plantronics’ $850 million turnover and Polycom’s $1.1 billion due almost entirely to the latter’s services revenue).

The union of the two companies, both specialists in the last metre of communication (3 metres in the case of video), has a certain logic, as developments in unified communications and collaboration meant that Plantronics, with its heritage in headsets and audio products for the contact centre and office environments, and Polycom, best known for its audio and videoconferencing solutions for the boardroom and office, were both gravitating towards the same middle ground.


“Essentially, you have two companies that are experts in the field of endpoint technologies – Plantronics, with headsets and conference phones and now acoustics management with Soundscape, and Polycom, with video systems, conference systems and desk phones. To meet demand from customers to collaborate in a different way, with more diversity of endpoint, Plantronics wanted to expand its speakerphone portfolio and desk devices and Polycom wanted to expand into personal communications and headsets, so the companies were starting to overlap,” explained Paul Clark, EMEA Managing Director of Poly.

He added that bringing the two companies together under one brand will sharpen their focus on providing the best experience for users of Poly’s technologies at a time of significant change in the UC&C space.

“Certain vendors will become the corporate standard for collaboration, for example Skype for Business, now moving to Microsoft Teams, but you will still have people in a company using Zoom or Webex, perhaps because that is what a supplier or partner wants. Even if the IT department says ‘We are only going to use Skype for Business in our organisation and nothing else’, the reality is that organisations will need to support different types of UC&C technology. Poly can help with the enablement of that.

“At the end point level, we will make the end point work with whatever technology you want to use. You might be using a Microsoft camera and a Plantronics headset, and I might be calling you using Skype for Business or Webex; I don’t want to care about any of that. I just want to get on with the call. Our objective is to make sure that the device you are using – headset, desk phone, speakerphone, video – can connect to any call irrespective of the underlying technology or collaboration service.”

Clark points out that this is a growing requirement, as changing working practices, such as homeworking and more use of third spaces, have made the ability to collaborate with remote participants a requirement for small businesses as much as multinational businesses with distributed sales teams around the globe.

Coinciding with the greater reach and adoption of UC&C technologies, he suggests there has been a significant democratisation of the technology, which Poly addresses with its management software.

“While the initial infrastructure may be managed by IT, device selection and even replacement has devolved down to the group or individual. That’s driven adoption. However, IT still needs some level of control over what is being used on the network, as a poor choice of endpoint results in a poor experience. One of the obligations of Poly as a vendor is to provide insight into the last few metres. Our management software enables IT to see what devices people are using and the quality of the connection, because that all feeds into the net promoter score of the UC&C technology,” he said.

More choice
To ensure that it meets all end user needs with devices that can be seen and managed by IT, Poly is continuing to diversify its product range, most recently with the introduction of noise-cancelling headsets that aid concentration in open plan offices and video endpoints for Huddle rooms.

Huddle rooms have become a hugely popular feature of the modern office, but, according to Clark, few businesses are making the most of them, which is why Poly has introduced the Polycom Studio plug and play video bar.

“There are reckoned to be just over 30 million Huddle rooms today, only 2% of which are video-enabled. That is forecast to increase 7X in the next two years, so there is a very, very big growth forecast in video enablement,” he said.

Clark says there are two reasons for this: one is the growing affordability of video-enabling small and medium-sized Huddle rooms – “The Studio video and sound bar we launched at the beginning of the year costs £600-£700 ex VAT, so is not expensive,” he said; the other is greater awareness of the extent to which video enhances the effectiveness of collaboration.

“When you talk on the telephone, 13% of the value of the interaction comes from the words and 87% from the tone of voice. If you then introduce video, the dynamics change completely. The value of the words drops to 7% and the tone of voice to 38%, with body language contributing 55% of the value. The more people use Huddle rooms, the more they will see how empowering video is. That growth in video is unlikely to stop; once it starts, it will feed itself,” he said.

Services opportunities
Another way in which Poly plans to help end users manage the challenges of the modern workplace is by developing services to complement Poly’s hardware offering.

“There’s a lot of change in the marketplace, like moving from Microsoft Skype for Business to Teams, which is a cloud solution. Companies are looking for help in how to go there. Some of that will come from Microsoft, but we can help, too, on the endpoint side. Polycom has a strong heritage of doing that and had a significant services business, but Plantronics never did, and services is quite a challenge if you are not used to doing it – how do you revenue-recognise things, how do you price them, how do you deliver them, what’s the support organisation? Now, with the coming together of the two companies, we have all that expertise and knowledge from Polycom, and there are things we will be able to do that we are quite excited by. We can see huge opportunities for the combined company to deliver new services,” he said.

Biophiliac design
One existing Poly product with a service element is the Habitat Soundscaping solution originally developed by Plantronics as part of its exploration of new ways of working and the challenges of working in open plan offices.

“In our UK offices we had a system of injecting Gaussian noise – pink or brown noise – to cover distracting sounds, such as someone talking 10 feet away. This was quite effective, but tiring as people were still hearing noise. We looked at what else we could do and discovered that natural sounds are comforting in an office environment, especially wind noise and water noise as they are constant and effective at covering chatter.

“However, with this there was a disconnect between what people were hearing and what their mind expected to see, so we started exploring whether this could be balanced out by installing water features in an office. We found that if people can hear water and see water, they feel calmer, fatigue goes down and productivity remains high. That’s the principle behind Habitat Soundscaping – noise masking, but with natural sounds,” he said.

This solution is already being used by companies around the world to address the problem of noise in open plan offices. As well as creating a better working environment for employees, it has enabled businesses to save money by increasing occupancy levels without impacting productivity.

The solution combines hardware – sensors, speakers, physical water features and digital waterfalls – with a cloud-connected service, sold on a licence basis, which provides the software algorithms that dynamically adjust noise levels in line with changing levels of background noise.

Poly might be a new name, but the breadth of its product portfolio and the ongoing expansion of its services offering at a time of rapid growth in unified communication and collaboration mean it is one with which end user organisations are likely to become increasingly familiar.

The problem of Noise

Three out of four office workers are regularly distracted by noise in the office, with 36% of 5,000 workers surveyed by Poly complaining that it causes them to lose at least an hour of work every day. The Top 10 noisy distractions are:

1. Co-worker talking loudly on the phone (76%)
2. Co-worker speaking on a phone nearby (65%)
3. Phone rings or alerts (61%)
4. Office celebrations (57%)
5. Nearby group meetings (55%)
6. Visiting children (53%)
7. Games being played in the office (52%)
8. Table and video games (49%)
9. Visiting family members (49%)
10. Outdoor sounds (42%)