Transformative Business Models: Audio as a Service

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1Q 2017 | IN-4507

The latest management software from Plantronics enables IT to track audio assets and usage. Does it also provide a glimpse into the future of audio vendor business models transitioning from a product to a service?

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Enhancing the Experience of Call Centers and Noisy Work Environments


Plantronics is an example of an audio-centric company that witnessed great success in managing audio experiences within the call center. It is also one of the leading audio headset brands in the broader enterprise market. The company recently released a new Plantronics Manager Pro software focused on IT auditing and reporting of the audio experience. This Insight examines the relevance of this announcement to the enterprise market and explores how innovation using current audio technology approaches will lead Plantronics and other audio vendors to make their first major IoT play, perhaps transforming from a product-based organization to a service-based organization.

IT Tracking of Audio Assets and Usage Now Possible


The Plantronics announcement is increasingly relevant for the enterprise market because it enables IT tracking of audio assets and usage. The Plantronics Manager Pro software can manage Plantronics branded devices, as well as those of its competitors. Additionally, the software update delivers a better understanding of the health of the enterprise environment, including insights for noise levels, regulatory limits and requirements, stress and worker satisfaction, and more.

While Plantronics has been successful at grabbing its share of the call center market using audio headsets, it is less clear that call quality and environmental audio experience enhancements will enable the company to make similar gains in adjacent audio markets.

Transforming to Audio as a Service


Adoption remains a significant challenge for audio headset manufacturers. Few vendors convinced individual companies, let alone industries, to wear audio headset products for significant lengths of time, unless the job role required it. As a result, headset brands have continued to look for additional value-add in the enterprise. Another audio avenue into this corporate audience has been through conference room equipment. Companies, such as Polycom, are established in this area, though the unit volume demand for conference rooms is at least an order of magnitude smaller than the requirements for entire teams and departments of workers. The case can be made, however, that if call quality were adequate in a busy work environment, then the potential need to use a conference room to isolate the conversation from ambient background noise would decrease.

But, what if there was a system approach to unifying and coordinating the acoustics across entire sections and floors of a building? If a building should be thought of as a “connected” space, and audio intelligence can be added to improve the acoustics of those using audio and the ambient airspace surrounding it, could this create the potential for Audio as a Service (AaaS)?

Several unknowns remain to be addressed before audio product manufacturers reveal any indications of transforming to new business models, such as AaaS, including:

  • The Broader Enterprise Market – Do enterprise audio vendors have the right audience and influential roles in business organizations that trust the vendors to provide more than audio hardware? Do the audiences see value in a managed service rather than an internal dashboard for self-service management and reporting?
  • Smart, Connected Buildings – Does a new audience emerge over time with smart buildings? Does the value chain for audio and acoustics monitoring and management change such that it becomes a service from the building owner to the tenant?
  • Are the Right Audio Products Being Managed? – Should conference room, collaboration, and speakerphone systems also be managed within this audio framework, and what are the practical and technical limitations? Should ambient audio sensors become part of the solution? What additional devices and equipment could be managed within such a service (smartphones, tablets, and wearables, for example)?
  • What Are the Security Implications? – Does access to this audio data pose a risk for certain vertical industries or regulatory environment? Would a managed services provider (MSP) be prepared to deal with security concerns from establishing a cloud connection or making data accessible outside the enterprise organization?
  • What Is the Competitive Response? – How do Jabra, Motorola, Plantronics, Polycom, and other audio companies position as contributors to the AaaS market?

The proliferation of highly-connected enterprises with access to cloud processing and storage enables numerous services that could not have been imagined even a few years ago. Transforming successful and competitive vendor ecosystems from the delivery of products to services is a massive undertaking, though the potential gains for new revenue streams and valuable services are no longer imagined. These visions are becoming part of the strategic planning for companies to contribute to the intelligent enterprise.