SAN DIEGO -- What time of day do you shower? That's not just an inappropriately personal question. The answer directly relates to a growth opportunity for Mitel.
Mitel Networks Corp. is looking to a big, underserved market -- service workers -- as a growth driver. To explain that, I need to explain the distinction Mitel makes between three categories of workers.
Mitel divides the workforce into knowledge workers, comprising about 20% of the workforce; service workers, comprising 45%; and information workers, 35%. Jon Brinton, EVP and president, Mitel Cloud Division, made that distinction at a keynote at the Mitel Next customer event here Wednesday.
He said the distinction is key to Mitel's transformation from an old-school PBX company to a cloud and mobile unified communications provider that also -- with the recently announced acquisition of Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM) -- provides enterprise collaboration and videoconferencing tools. (See Mitel to Buy Polycom for $1.96B.)
What's the difference between the three kinds of workers?
- Most knowledge workers sit at desks all day. They use PCs and desk phones, and use their expertise on information to make long-term decisions.
- Information workers use information to take immediate action. They often have to toggle between multiple desktop apps while talking with someone on the phone. Millennials, who will comprise half the global workforce by 2020, often enter the workforce as information workers.
- Service workers, meanwhile, service things.
And that's where shower time comes in. Knowledge and information workers shower before they go to work. Service workers are often out in the field doing repairs and installing equipment. They get dirty at work. They shower when they get home.
I knew about knowledge workers before. Everybody does. But the distinction between information workers and service workers was new to me. I'm fascinated by it -- while I confess I don't 100% understand it.
Joshua Hazlett, GM of Mitel Accelerator, notes that the distinction between the three kinds of workers is a spectrum rather than hard-and-fast categories. It's easy to get confused overthinking it, and getting hung up on the exceptions that don't quite fit the categories well. For example, a doctor is a knowledge worker even though doctors often don't sit at desks.
But despite the exceptions, there are distinctions between the three categories of workers.
One way to tell the categories of workers apart is by what they wear. Information workers often wear uniforms. Nurses, police officers, and firefighters are information workers.
The service workers wear boots and operate equipment.
Knowledge workers, meanwhile, wear street clothes or business casual. Hazlett didn't say that -- I figured that part out for myself.
I discussed this distinction with several people throughout the day at the Mitel Next customer event. Truth be told, I was obsessed with it. When conference attendees saw me coming, they began to avoid conversation by pretending to be intensely interested in their phones.
I developed my own rule of thumb: All three categories of workers consume information. But knowledge workers' primary job is to create information as well. Information workers and service workers' jobs are to manipulate atoms.
In the case of information workers, the atoms mostly take the form of people, and for service workers, the atoms are mostly machines.
As byproducts of their jobs, both information workers and service workers produce information, which can be tracked by mobile devices and, increasingly, the Internet of Things. That information can be used to make business more efficient, and is best consumed by cloud analytics.
Mitel sees the service market as an opportunity for growth.
"Great strategy starts with great segmentation," Richard McBee, Mitel president and CEO, tells Light Reading.
Why not focus on information workers? "The information worker has more complex problems. More applications," Hazlett says. The information worker needs tools to integrate horizontal apps, such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps, Salesforce, Sugar CRM, and so on. "You have to almost create a hub that creates a whole different system."
And the service economy is a gigantic opportunity. Some 80% of the unified communications market is currently consumed by knowledge workers. That's the traditional UC market, Hazlett said. But only 25% of field services organizations have been penetrated by unified communications. "We've made PCs and desk phones as efficient as they're going to get. There is huge opportunity for optimization of that worker segment," he said.
Mitel is looking to partnerships to extend its reach. Its first partner for field service workers is FieldAware, a cloud provider for field service applications. Mitel is working with FieldAware on integrating the two companies' apps for mobile collaboration. The project includes Salesforce CRM integration, as well as tools for end-to-end worker management and upselling. Mitel will provide messaging tools to allow field service techs to message customers directly – for example, to get access to customer premises when the tech arrives. And Mitel will provide tools to allow technicians to consult with colleagues on the spot when they need help with a difficult repair.
Mitel has a fascinating strategy here, and one that holds the potential for great success. But it faces tough competition from the biggest names in the industry, many of which are also Mitel's partners. We'll have more about that in a day or so.
- Mitel Courts Microsoft in PolyCom Bid
- Mitel Launches Real-Time Collaboration Tools for Businesss, Consumers
— Mitch Wagner, , West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading.