Monthly Archives - January 2021

Is Remote Work Here to Stay?

Even before COVID-19 reared its ugly head, the idea of remote work wasn’t new. But in just a few months, the pandemic forced an overwhelming number of businesses to allow at least some of their employees to work from home. While many hoped the move would be temporary, a large number of workers are still connecting from home, with no end in sight.

In fact, statistics show that some degree of remote work may be here to stay. According to Gartner, more than 80% of business leaders say their organization will allow employees to continue working remotely at least some of the time. Nearly half, 47%, plan to let workers make the shift to remote work permanent.

Also worth noting: the look and feel of the workday has changed. Gartner found that many companies plan to offer employees either flex hours (43%) or flex days (42%). Some, 15%, plan to shift to a work week of four, 10-hour days.

Any way you slice it, the workplace has been changed by the pandemic. And as the new landscape emerges, organizations face both benefits and challenges in dealing with employees and customers. Companies must navigate the new terrain while keeping employees and customers engaged. Fortunately, the communications technology needed to support a remote or hybrid workforce is available, which makes it possible for companies to support a permanent shift to remote and flex work.

The Pros And Cons Of Remote Work

There are tangible benefits for companies that permanently adopt remote work. In particular, SMBs can reap significant savings by eliminating or reducing the costs associated with office space, such as rent, supplies and utilities. Companies can also cast a wider net when searching for workers, since employees will no longer need to physically come into the office. They can uncover completely new talent pools by offering permanent remote work.

While most people don’t enjoy quarantining or social distancing, the majority of employees do prefer to work remotely. Flexible schedules and the elimination of commutes are just two reasons that 98% of remote workers prefer to continue working from home, according to the State of Remote Work Survey by Buffer and AngelList. Businesses that continue to allow remote work―either all or some of the time―can benefit from a happier workforce and the improved employee morale that comes along with it.

Although managers may have concerns about the productivity of remote workers, studies show there’s no major cause for alarm. One survey of 800 employers found that 94% saw employee productivity remain the same or improve during the pandemic-induced remote work shift. We also conducted our own survey of SMB decision-makers and found that 52% saw productivity improvements when employees worked from home.

Of course, these benefits are only possible when organizations offer communications tools and technologies that empower employees to do their jobs successfully and efficiently from home. For example, an integrated communications solution that combines video, voice and chat, makes it easy for workers to communicate with each other, managers and customers. They can easily share files, notes and images, making collaboration simple, regardless of whether team they’re at home or in the office.

Despite its benefits, remote work also presents some challenges. It can be difficult to provide employees with a seamless experience when they’re working from home or alternating between in-office and at-home days.

A unified communications platform that provides a single experience across multiple devices overcomes this hurdle. Regardless of location, employees have access to the same suite of communications and collaboration tools and can easily switch from one device to another―without interrupting their workflow. A cloud-based solution that includes contact center service keeps remote workers connected with customers, so you don’t have to worry about losing touch during this critical time.

Maintaining corporate culture is another challenge that comes with permanent remote work. In the Gartner survey, some 30% of business owners expressed concern about it. Among the best ways to sustain corporate culture is to practice continuity and regular communications with employees, regardless of their location.

Businesses should reach out through more than one channel to keep employees engaged. Video in particular is an excellent way to keep engagement high, but it’s also important to encourage employees to interact with each other. Tools such as shared screens and smart workspaces will help you out here.

Organizations that want to overcome the challenges of remote work need to invest in the right technology. In our survey, we discovered that 20% of SMBs plan to implement solutions to support remote work, including remote IT support and cloud collaboration tools. While this is a good indication that businesses understand the importance of investing in the right technology, we encourage more to follow suit.

Who Is Making The Permanent Shift?

Businesses of all sizes and across industries have already made a long-term commitment to remote or hybrid work arrangements. Some have even given employees a choice in how they’ll work once all restrictions are lifted.

The list of companies adopting this approach is getting longer by the day, with some big names in the mix. Just a few examples:

  • Google extended its remote work policies until the summer of 2021 and is making plans to accommodate a permanent remote work solution.
  • Twitter announced in May that employees have the option to work from home permanently.
  • Microsoft is allowing employees to work from home on a case-by-case basis, but also gives employees the option to work from home less than half-time without needing approval.
  • REI sold an eight-acre corporate campus as part of its shift to making remote work a regular occurrence.
  • American Express is giving employees the choice to stay home and has also extended its remote work policy through the end of June 2021.
  • In late July, Zillow said it will allow employees to work from home permanently.
  • Nielsen is converting some of its offices into meeting spaces for employees, so they can gather in-person after the pandemic passes while continuing to work from home most of the time.
  • Coinbase is allowing most employees to work from home indefinitely. Once restrictions are lifted, those employees who want to return to the office will be able to do so, either all or part of the time.

This is just a sampling of some of the companies that have realized remote and hybrid work models actually offer a sustainable way to run productive and successful businesses. With the right communications tools and technology, organizations can keep employees connected, customers engaged and run day-to-day operations from anywhere, and from any device.

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5 Surprisingly Effective Considerations to Adopt Tech More Easily

For many organizations, the pandemic has meant reactively implementing new technologies to enable home working and remote collaboration. Although many were moving towards flexible working anyway, COVID-19 has undoubtedly pushed things along faster. We’ve found that today some workers are saying they may never go back to the conventional office, while others may do so on a more limited basis.

What is the impact of the pandemic on the adoption of new communications technology? And how has this impacted the public sector in particular? There are unique complexities that the public sector faces in adopting any new communications tech. Let’s explore these in more detail.

Public Sector Challenges

In 2010, 38% of public sector organizations said they were using cloud-based services. Today, that figure is 78%, according to the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF).

Local and central government and healthcare bodies rely on cloud technology to provide vital services, communicate with each other, manage data and keep IT costs within budget.

Yet public sector organizations are facing more challenges than ever before. They are tasked with delivering essential services at the same time as looking to cut costs and meet new budget targets. In light of the pandemic, austerity measures have been put in place to accommodate the downturn in economic growth. This is true in local government and healthcare in particular, where a lot of estate has become dated, potentially “end of life”, or is recognized as “legacy”.

Budget constraints are also a continuous source of frustration when IT departments are keen to fast-track cloud adoption, which is why many public sector IT teams still need to support and operate legacy systems while looking to deploy cloud technologies in a phased approach as and when investment becomes available.

Complex Cloud Requirements

The complexity of technology within the healthcare and government environments needs serious consideration. Historically, public sector technology has often operated in silos, parts of their estate are not set up for pure cloud. For example, they might not be LAN-enabled or still using analogue devices, e.g., at nursing stations, within highly secure environments, or even within much older buildings across public sector estates.

For these organizations, a hybrid cloud solution provides the security, control and peace of mind of on-site with the agility, scalability and versatility of the public cloud.

Technology providers need to have an in-depth understanding of what each organization is facing on a case-by-case basis if they are to provide the right mix of on-site equipment and cloud-based services.

Specialists In Simplicity

Mitel has nearly 50 years’ experience and skills in understanding the intricacies of integrated on-site and cloud solutions. It has honed its technology to ensures that any organization’s transition is seamless, maintaining that all-important data sovereignty while choosing cloud options that meet security and privacy requirements.

Agility Of Deployment

Long buying cycles and approval processes in the public sector can hinder the change process. Large government or healthcare estates may have stringent time frames allowing for the deployment of complex solutions, aligned to budgets and internal resources, yet they still require business continuity throughout the process.

Drawing from its in-depth understanding of public sector procurement processes, Mitel can integrate with incumbent technologies and transition over time, in line with budgetary demands and at a speed that is aligned specifically to each organization. For example, linking into a legacy PBX system and seamlessly transitioning organizations to virtualized environments is possible as a first step in moving to hybrid cloud.

Control And Flexibility

Control is one key benefit of implementing a hybrid cloud model, being able to decide which servers you want hosted in the cloud and which you want hosted internally. Some business applications are easy to migrate to the cloud, such as chat and videoconferencing software. Others, particularly those aspects that handle sensitive data, may benefit from a slower migratory path.

Seamless Transitioning

To unlock the true value of communication and collaboration, local government and public sector services must look to invest in technology that makes the most sense for their services. Mitel has always offered the easiest solution to scale and has vast experience in adding mixed deployments to an organization’s network toolkit.

Mitel provides expertise in deployment methodology and can help de-risk a project with a proof of concept or trial deployment if required, to ensure compatibility and integration with other systems and applications. No matter how you combine on-site and cloud deployments, you can always be assured of the highest reliability and an exceptional user experience with Mitel.

Future Needs

Most organizations demand business continuity, greater flexibility and cost savings where possible. The public sector has also put focus on digitizing their customer / citizenship services. Digital transformation and automation is key, giving government bodies and healthcare providers the ability to deliver an exceptional customer experience across all available channels

As more public sector customers look to implement Google AI and chatbots, while integrating with social media and video technology for home working, Mitel is on hand to provide innovative, responsive solutions.

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Four Principles of Innovation in a Post-Pandemic World

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has forced the hand of many individuals and organizations to accelerate their digital transformation.

Suddenly we were working from home, teaching and learning remotely, using tools we had either never used or only used fleetingly, and finding new ways to stay connected and productive.

Forward-thinking organizations have seized this as an opportunity to rethink every aspect of their business. How they engage with customers, how to better enable their teams, and how to become leaner when the entire operation may have been turned upside down. One thing is for sure, we’ve seen a surge of innovation from organizations determined to thrive through the pandemic and beyond.

Now that we’ve had some time to get used to new ways of doing things, and come to the realization that some things will never go back to the way they were, it’s time to prepare for what’s next. These four principles of innovation can help us do it.

1. Prepare To Support Hybrid Workforces

Remote working used to be considered a perk but that’s not the case for the future. While many organizations have had to make it work for everyone, moving forward, a hybrid model will more likely become the norm.

We will see a mixture of fully remote workers, some who work in the office because they prefer it or because the nature of their job requires it, and others who are in the office some days and at home for the rest. To make hybrid work successful, we need to adequately support it.

Layer onto that challenge the fact that the nature of work, not just the location, is evolving. We don’t work in the siloed, linear way that we used to. Organizational structure has flattened, people wear multiple hats, and they work in cross-functional teams. It’s all about collaboration and the quality interactions people have with each other.

Peter Skillman illustrated the importance of these interactions―the kind where people ideate and iterate together to get things done―in his marshmallow design experiment. We must level the playing field for everyone with unified collaboration (UC), which includes virtual white boards, real-time audio and videoconferencing, and enhanced call control capabilities.

2. Don’t Just Migrate To The Cloud―Master It

Companies that leverage the cloud used to be considered innovators, but today the cloud has become a business requirement. It’s necessary to provide the flexibility and security that organizations need to support remote work, to become leaner, and to improve operational efficiency.

While the need to move to the cloud is clear, it doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience. Organizations can undertake the change at their own pace, and on their own terms. Leveraging existing infrastructure investments during the transition may be the best way forward for your organization, especially during turbulent times.

Hybrid cloud models allow organizations to gain the benefits of scale, while maintaining the customizations they enjoy with on-prem environments. Keeping the familiarity with on-prem applications and processes can reduce disruption, make change easier, and reduce training costs which can go a long way towards realizing value quickly.

3. Realize Promise Of AI Faster Through Embedded-AI Solutions

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), once only feasible for the largest organizations, are now available to virtually any company through the host of embedded applications with AI baked in.

Your company can start augmenting decision-making and improving efficiency with these solutions that provide out-of-the-box implementation and eliminate the need for expensive data science resources or teams of analysts.

The value of these solutions is clear: putting more power into the hands of more people, from the field to the back office, to drive business impact.

4. Do What Your Competitors Are Not

When things are in flux, our natural tendency is caution. It’s evident in the organizations that are holding back from new investment due to uncertainty.

But when others are holding back, isn’t there a good opportunity for you to move forward? Throughout history there are plenty of examples of organizations that were able to leap-frog over competitors by doing what others were not.

In most cases, that means continuing to invest in advertising, product development, and digital transformation when your competitors are pulling back on spending.

Resilience Is Built On Agility

It’s a brave new world out there and the companies that will thrive are the ones that are agile and take on the challenges of getting back to business, possibly in a whole new way.

Consider agility the new currency for businesses of all shapes and sizes. We’ve seen the proof of this as companies that we thought were too big to fail did so, and others that were too small to make an impact created shock waves that disrupted established markets.

The message here is that now is not the time to be stagnant or to keep the status quo. COVID-19 has presented us with the prospect of enormous change and unprecedented opportunities as we move from being reactive to planning for the future.

With change comes the chance to choose your response. Will you choose to return to business or rethink the business? The choice is yours.

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Simple Ways Touchless Tech Makes Better Connections

For years, consumers have been able to order, pay for and pickup their daily coffee, jump into a prepaid Uber and receive confirmation of their latest Amazon order all from the convenience of their mobile device. Traditionally, touchless technology has been the fast track to ultra-efficiency, enabling brands like Starbucks, Uber, and FedEx to offer instant gratification to busy customers.

In the world of COVID-19, however, worries about contracting the virus from a contaminated surface, along with increased bouts of consumer isolation, have made it necessary for businesses to adjust their transaction methods. And although it could be assumed that touchless transactions put more distance between businesses and their customers, it often has the opposite effect. In fact, post-Covid, the need for more meaningful B2B and B2C interactions are making touchless methods more popular.

Let’s (get on our gloves and) dig in a bit more by looking at some recent examples found in different sectors today.

Touch Less, Communicate More: 4 Real-World Examples

Retail

Even shopaholics now think twice before stepping into physical stores. While online shopping has been popular for a long time now, COVID-19 has transformed it into the only way some people will shop. However, brick-and-mortar stores are battling back, thanks to innovative uses of touchless technology.

Contactless payment options reduce the exchange of paper money while self-checkout kiosks allow customers to remain the sole handlers of their purchase. Some retailers are taking self-checkout a step further through the use of RFID technology and QR codes, which allow customers to check out without even entering their selections. Curbside pickup is another touchless option gaining traction, empowering customers to BOPUS—or buy online, pick up in store.

The touchless customer journey in retail doesn’t end there. Starbucks has announced a new app feature allowing customers to place voice orders via Siri. Other retail outlets are even using Augmented Reality (AR) to enable consumers to virtually try on items or see how furniture will look in their living room.

Adaptations like these are forcing retailers to change their operations. More self-checkout kiosks reduce the demand for cashiers, while BOPUS increases the need for employees to fulfill orders and deliver them efficiently to customers waiting at the curb.

truly touchless experience requires an omnichannel approach that allows customers to move from one channel to the next without interruption. An individual should be able to browse online and use the store app, with all of their actions syncing up. If that same customer calls customer service, they should be able to seamlessly move from voice to chat to text without losing the conversation thread.

At the end of the day, more contactless touch points translate into improved customer communications. Retailers can interact and engage with potential buyers in store, online, through an app, at the curb and everywhere in between. A more connected customer journey promotes brand loyalty and spending at a time when many retailers need both more than ever.

Restaurants

Many restaurants survived the pandemic by offering curbside pickup and contactless delivery. Owners pivoted quickly to make this new business model successful, innovating with new menu selections inspired by lockdown measures and travel needs. “Make your own pizza” kits are a hit among parents struggling to find an outlet for bored kids.

Now as diners venture back to their favorite restaurants they’ll find things look a bit different indoors. At many establishments, easy-to-clean screens have replaced printed menus or even real-time selections that patrons can view on their own device. Automated doors, sinks, soap dispensers, toilets and contactless payment further enhance the hands-free restaurant experience.

In addition, contactless digital options encourage patrons to interact with restaurants in new ways. Before the pandemic, customers primarily walked through physical doors. Now they communicate through an app, on the phone and online. This provides restaurant owners with opportunities to share new menu items and promotions to a larger audience, which may not have used these alternative channels before.

Airports

Aviation has suffered a severe blow from the pandemic. While air travel will never be a touchless experience, there are many ways to reduce touch points during while traveling. Avinor, which operates 44 airports in Norway, implemented an end-to-end touchless travel program across four locations. Cloud-based technology creates a contactless option for check-in, baggage drop, security and boarding.

Of course, other airports around the world are exploring similar ways to use technology to create an experience that makes travelers feel safe and secure— a necessity if the industry hopes to rebound from its recent extreme downturn. A touchless trip through the airport engenders an increased sense of trust that helps rekindle the customer relationship, which the travel industry needs for survival.

Business

Touchless technology is impacting the B2C world primarily in payment transactions and customer communications. For example, contactless digital payments are replacing traditional paper checks in many transactions. While the primary driver is health and safety, there’s another benefit to the business: digital payments are received faster and cost less to process, improving cash flow and reducing costs.

B2B companies, as well as organizations with call centers or large sales teams, have had to quickly figure out how to stay in touch with customers and clients through a largely remote workforce. Unified communications technology came to the rescue, keeping the lines of communication open from any device and any location.

A cloud-based VoIP phone solution, for example, enables employees to communicate and collaborate via voice, text and screen share, making it easy to assist customers even when working from home.

A unified communications contact center empowers businesses to communicate with customers via chat, SMS, voice, email and social media—all with a virtual workforce. Innovative communications technology is not only helping B2B businesses survive, it’s opening new lines of communications, making it easier to exchange ideas and payments.

Adaptation has always been a necessity for survival, but this year businesses had to adapt overnight to stay afloat. Touchless technology in the form of contactless payment, expanded mobile app offerings and remote contact centers is becoming the new normal for businesses across industries. All companies should consider the impact touchless tech will have on how their business is run, and we encourage you to use it as a vehicle to find new avenues of communications with your customers.

How will you use touchless to reach out and connect?

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TOP 10 Hospitality Technology Trends for 2021

Once long ago, hotels, motels and other hospitality businesses occupied a fairly simple space in people’s lives—they were a place for guests to lay their heads away from home. But anyone who’s spent time in the hospitality industry in the last several years knows that the role of technology in hospitality businesses has drastically expanded.

In many cases, they’re becoming hubs of activity unto themselves. Most of this activity relies directly or indirectly on technology, making IT more important to hotel operations and the guest experience than ever before.

So we’re here to share ten of the top communication technology trends in hospitality today. Check them out. Think about which ones make sense for your business. And if you see an opportunity, you can get out in front and begin planning accordingly. After all, in hospitality, every advantage counts.

1. Cloud Migration

It’s not as sexy as some of the other features on our list, but the hospitality industry has started making the migration to cloud technologies. From the benefits of OpEx expenses on the bottom line, to software integration options, and new innovations coming from emerging technology, cloud communications offers hotels opportunities for back office efficiency with low technology acquisition costs. It’s a no-brainer for new, small properties, but even large hotel corporations are investigating how cloud technologies might simplify operations, reduce staffing needs, and provide a better guest experience. The challenge continues to be ensuring reliability and security beyond 99.99% SLA for those who need it.

2. Service Automation Through AI

Automation continues to be a trend that is changing the way guests are served. With the advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI), hotels are looking at new ways to interact with guests digitally while freeing up hotel staff to work on other tasks. This also improves the travel experience as language differences can be eliminated, ensuring clear communication with travelers wherever they may be from.

Creating a realistic human experience has been a challenge for developers in the past, but it is evolving every day. While many people are put off by the idea of talking to software that can understand language and respond easily, the day is coming where the difference between a real human and a computer will be indistinguishable. As long as room service and clean towels arrive promptly, do we really care who takes the request?

3. Integrated Guest Applications

The vision of the connected guest entails nearly every aspect of the guest experience. Something as complex as that needs a single hub from which to operate—and guest apps for personal mobile devices are the natural place to host all of these functions. A smartly designed application combines everything from deal notifications to hotel services to loyalty programs. If you see a guest used the group rate for a conference, you could use the app to electronically send your guest the event itinerary, complete with an interactive map of meeting spaces where sessions will be held.

Most hotels have some mobile application available already, but they’re adding new features every day. Likewise, innovative developers serving the hospitality industry have are offering interesting capabilities that can be integrate into these hotel applications that grant guests increased ability to engage with hotel staff and other guests at the hotel.

Some of the major flags have already started investigating new ways to create unique, personalized experiences for their guests on their mobile devices. Ultimately, the hotel with a truly connected experience will be full of very happy, very empowered guests.

Check out our range of hospitality applications for staff and guests >

4. Going Touchless

As important as automation and self-service has become, the pandemic has illuminated the need to reconsider how guests can interact with amenities. From motion sensors that turn on lights, to voice-activated control of appliances, advancements in IoT devices and natural language processing (NLP) has given hotels and the developers who serve them, the toolkit to tie these emerging technologies with their integrated guest applications providing futuristic experiences. Even existing features like digital room keys that allow guests to unlock doors using their phones are gaining renewed interest. Reducing contact with commonly touched interfaces allows guests to stay safe and housekeeping staff to sanitize and prepare rooms faster.

All of this can also be integrated into the property’s communication system providing administration staff greater visibility to what’s going on across the hotel. As these devices work in concert to care for guests and accelerate service, new options emerge for staffing, customization, and experiential design.

5. Wireless Mobile Devices For Staff

Already popular in the hospitality space and other industries in Europe, SIP-DECT is a mobility-enabling alternative to VoWLAN and radio-based networks that’s starting to get attention in North America.

Many SIP-DECT setups bring the kind of features usually found on a fixed network to mobile workers all over your hotel or campus without tethering them down to specific locations. Since hotel service staff, like housekeeping, valet, concierge, and event staff are often on the go, SIP-DECT a natural fit for hoteliers.

With relatively low cost compared to the alternatives, ease of deployment and quality, predictable voice quality, is poised to take off in a big way.

6. Location-Based Services

Being able to understand where hotel staff and guests are located at any given time creates all kinds of opportunities to improve the guest experience—from delivering services to guests wherever they are on property to helping event staff operate more efficiently to turning over rooms more quickly and beyond. Some employee location-based features are already available using SIP-DECT technologies, but this is just the beginning. This is a category to keep an eye on.

7. Technology Lounges

Think hotel business centers to the extreme. This is place where guests can get out of their rooms but still have access Wi-Fi to relax or get work done. The use cases for technology in hospitality seem to grow every year, and savvy hospitality businesses are transforming these guest desires into stylish semi-public spaces where guests can engage tech on their terms. Many guests are even beginning to include these kinds of technologies in their online hotel search criteria, so hospitality businesses that lack them may eventually find themselves at a disadvantage.

8. Self-Service Meeting Spaces

The modern meeting space has evolved. No longer is it about tables and chairs and nice serving carts. Modern meetings run on technology. Business people need to make multimedia presentations and videoconference remote attendees—sometimes both simultaneously.

And for the marathon meetings, they’d like access to services like catering with minimal interruptions. Most of all, smart hotels know they need these spaces to be as user-friendly as possible. The A/V rooms of the past that required dedicated engineers are no longer an option.

If you think these kinds of business needs are limited to boardroom-style conference spaces, you’re missing an important part of the picture—business customers are increasingly asking for advanced technology enablement in ballrooms and event halls, as well.

9. Social Listening

Guests have a lot to say about their experiences at hotels, but they don’t always say it directly to you. And in a hospitality world where word of mouth and online reviews have more influence every day, it’s one of the reasons that more and more hotels have started investing in social listening tools. These tools allow hotels to find out about guests’ wants, needs, desires, complaints and more—and jump into the conversation if it makes sense. Some even let you keep an eye on the competition. The Internet is treasure trove of business intelligence if you know how to look.

10. Predictive Analytics

It’s been said that knowledge is power. As more technology is added to improve the guest experience, the software and devices will produce more and more data about how guests interact with staff and the amenities throughout the campus. Based on when lights or the TV turn on, staff can know the average time a guest wakes up. With the mobile app on the devices, and IoT sensors throughout the hotel, staff can know how long it takes to get from any room to the lobby. These profiles can be saved and follow guests as they go from property to property, adapting their experience to be more consistent regardless of where they stay.

The era of big data started years ago, but as more industries learn the insights that can be gathered by collecting and analyzing data, the small tweaks information can provide can be the difference between a guest thinking all hotels are largely the same, to one flag standing out, one property becoming a preferred place to stay, one that gets recommended to others.

As we proceed into the future, it is clear that the broader themes affecting the hospitality industry are communications efficiency and mass customization. From integrated cloud communications to touchless, interactive service, the potential for the hospitality industry to revolutionize the guest experience has never been as imminent as it is today. With limited travel and reduced occupancy caused by the global crisis, these advancements are timely and necessary to the long-term success of these organizations.

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