IT staff first to dump desk phones

Telephone headset usage has undergone significant change in recent years with IT staff leading the charge to make it a standard office accessory in the enterprise.

While call centres, financial traders and the banking industry generally have always used headsets, corporate Australia is adopting them more broadly as a productivity tool.

Currently about 5 percent of the Australian workforce use headsets but Plantronics CEO Ken Kannappan is optimistic this figure will reach 15 percent by 2010.

He said entry points into the organization extend beyond the call centre and the rate of adoption in Australia is much higher than other parts of the world.

Wireless headsets are driving this growth, he said, allowing office workers a range of up to 100 metres so they are no longer chained to the desk.

"Headsets have a high ROI and it is immediate. It's not just about saving millions in occupational health and safety claims; there are real savings in being able to avoid playing tag returning calls and being able to complete a task while talking on the phone," Kannappan said.

"Obviously IT workers need to be mobile and being hands-free they can solve user problems.

"Also, most people don't like to be put on hold while you follow up their inquiry. How many people do you know that enjoy on-hold music?"

Plantronics has been providing lightweight headsets since they were invented 42 years ago with distribution points in Australia for the past 20 years.

The company set up office in Melbourne seven years ago. Kannappan said it is an extremely crowded market with plenty of operators in South East Asia offering low-cost throwaway alternatives.

However, while there are 35 local competitors, he says that Plantronics is at the high end offering Bluetooth and voice-enabled devices for the enterprise. The surge in VoIP is also driving growth as office workers accept they don't need the traditional deskphone or handset.

There has been plenty of research in this space, Kannappan said, with observational scientists finding there is "a lot of emotional and mental baggage around the use of headsets".

"When people think 'headsets', they often think clinical telephone operators or to the other extreme where they think headsets are pretentious," he said, adding that the advent of wearable computing will change these perceptions.

"Headset trends are like mobile phones. The first mobiles cost more than $1000 and were a brick with poor coverage, but they succeeded because the demand to be mobile was so great.

"It is the same for headsets. Wireless makes them a much better proposition and combined with improved audio and a sleek look, it is driving demand."

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