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by Darrell Polden, Group Service and Technical Director at Altodigital.

Unified communications (UC) has always been about integrating to drive efficiencies. The approach brings together a raft of different communications methods, including telephones, instant messaging, video conferencing, emails and fax. It is also a technology type that has been growing in popularity over many years. According to recent analysis from Research and Markets, the market was valued at US$37.33 billion in 2017, and is expected to reach US$ 106.44 billion by 2022, expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8% from 2017-2025.

Reaping the Rewards

A raft of business benefits are driving this growth. Partly, it’s about convenience. Rather than paying for a range of different products, investing in UC gives an organisation access to all the essential tools as part of a one-stop-shop approach. Cost control is another factor of UC as it reduces the outlays of communication through more streamlined processes, cutting business costs more generally through more efficient use of resources. It’s also about connectivity, of course. Any loss of connectivity can have immediate consequences in terms of an organisation’s performance and accessibility.

This 100% connectivity is key. Through UC, businesses can be sure of providing users with a consistent, reliable interface and experience across multiple devices and media types. UC is also about the speed and the ease of the connectivity provided – the need for businesses to connect faster than their customers in order to drive competitive edge.

In line with this, the latest virtual office, smart mobile apps and video conferencing solutions can help businesses to always stay ahead of their competitors and stay first in line when it comes to receiving, and efficiently responding to, new business leads and opportunities. Today, the latest cutting-edge technology, delivered as part of a UC approach, enables users to direct numbers, call forward, engage in integrated chat and take part in three-way conferencing – to name just a few of the features currently available on the market.

The UC approach can also drive smarter connectivity and a more collaborative approach to doing business altogether. Flexible call forwarding can be applied within a UC configuration to ensure that business users never miss a call while the availability of high-quality video makes instantaneous conferencing a reality. Added to this, users of UC will likely enjoy the freedom to send/receive faxes on any computer and hold cloud-hosted, interactive video meetings that allow them to see and engage with customers, make key decisions and deal with technical issues.

Benefits for Employer… and Employee

It is sometimes overlooked when organisations talk about driving business efficiencies but one of the greatest potential benefits of UC is its ability to raise productivity levels. One of the key ways it does this is by making communication across the workforce and beyond more flexible.

By combining the different channels of communications into one single platform, employees can more easily and quickly communicate with colleagues in remote locations, by seeing exactly what channel to contact that colleague on in real-time. In a sense, it is about building a technology platform that supports UC. You can develop a virtualised environment through a combination of IP-based networking of cloud infrastructure. Working on top of this, UC can be used to deliver insight into the presence of employees working within the business but also partners, suppliers and a complete remote workforce, operating outside the corporate perimeter.

Delivering this kind of flexible approach to working is something that UC is particularly well suited to. That’s a significant benefit for employer and employee. Businesses increasingly want to find ways of supporting remote workers, who spend much of the time on the road at different locations, perhaps as part of an extended sales team; and also, those who work from home. In doing so however, they also need to support efficient and effective communications between corporate management and these external teams that strikes a balance between the organisation’s need for control and workers’ natural concerns that they should have a choice about when and where they are contacted.

A cloud-hosted unified communications implementation can be especially beneficial in this context. Hosted cloud-based telephony services, that are carried by VoIP, allow companies to place connectivity and communications effectively anywhere that an internet connection and that availability is further enhanced by the proliferation of smart mobile devices.

Within this environment, UC can be made available to all, allowing organisations to deliver a fully connected enterprise. Employers ascertain where workers are or will be at any given time and also their level of availability, while workers themselves retain some autonomy in designating whether or not they will be available.

As we have already referenced too, there are a growing number of collaboration tools and applications available that enable both parties to communicate and collaborate more actively to a conversation or a meeting without having to physically be in the same location. Moreover, home workers can be brought on board, in times of peak demand, for example, to contribute to an increased call centre effort. Real-time call recording or quality management systems can also be brought into play to deliver a reporting capability and to clearly demonstrate that remote workers can have a real impact within the interaction environment.

Adding to the list of benefits that UC can provide in the context of delivering remote access capability remotely the approach can contribute to lowering a company’s carbon footprint by reducing the need for different parties to travel in order to meet face-to-face.

Gains for all

The continuing dynamic growth we are witnessing across the UC market today is no surprise, given the wide range of benefits the technology can deliver to businesses in terms of enhanced integration, connectivity and cost control. Although as this article demonstrates, its impact on flexible working and on employee productivity also has a key role to play in helping to drive the success of the organisation over the long-term. When organisations evaluate the benefits of making the move to UC, that positive impact should never be forgotten.


Robinhood plans confidential IPO filing as soon as March – Bloomberg News



Robinhood plans confidential IPO filing as soon as March - Bloomberg News 1

(Reuters) – Online brokerage Robinhood, at the centre of this year’s retail trading frenzy, is planning to file confidentially for an initial public offering as soon as March, Bloomberg News reported late on Friday, citing sources.

The California-based brokerage has held talks in the past week with underwriters about moving forward with a filing within weeks, Bloomberg said.

Robinhood did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters reported last year that Robinhood has picked Goldman Sachs Group Inc to lead preparations for an initial public offering which could value it at more than $20 billion.

Robinhood was at the heart of a mania that gripped retail investors in late January following calls on Reddit thread WallStreetBets to trade certain stocks that were being heavily shorted by hedge funds.

The online brokerage tapped around $3.4 billion in funding after its finances were strained due to the massive trading in shares of companies such as GameStop Corp.

(Reporting by Ann Maria Shibu in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Analysis: How idled car factories super-charged a push for U.S. chip subsidies



Analysis: How idled car factories super-charged a push for U.S. chip subsidies 2

By Stephen Nellis

(Reuters) – When President Joe Biden on Wednesday stood at a lectern holding a microchip and pledged to support $37 billion in federal subsidies for American semiconductor manufacturing, it marked a political breakthrough that happened much more quickly than industry insiders had expected.

For years, chip industry executives and U.S. government officials have been concerned about the slow drift of costly chip factories to Taiwan and Korea. While major American companies such as Qualcomm Inc and Nvidia Corp dominate their fields, they depend on factories abroad to build the chips they design.

As tensions with China heated up last year, U.S. lawmakers authorized manufacturing subsidies as part of an annual military spending bill due to concerns that depending on foreign factories for advanced chips posed national security risks. Yet funding for the subsidies was not guaranteed.

Then came the auto-chip crunch. Ford Motor Co said a lack of chips could slash a fifth of its first-quarter production and General Motors Co cut output across North America.

“It brings home very clearly the message that the semiconductor is really a critical component in a lot of the end products we take for granted,” said Mike Rosa, head of strategic and technical marketing for a group within semiconductor manufacturing toolmaker Applied Materials Inc that sells tools to automotive chip factories.

Within weeks, automakers joined chip companies calling for chip factory subsidies, and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Biden both pledged to fight for funding.

Industry backers now aim to be part of a package of legislation to counter China that Schumer hopes to bring to the Senate floor this spring. Still, all agree it will do little to solve the immediate auto-chip problem.

Headlines about idled car plants resonated with the public that had shrugged off abstract warnings in the past, said Jim Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Lawmakers, already worried that a promised infrastructure bill will not materialize this year, decided to push for quick solution.

“Nobody wants to be seen as soft on China. No one wants to tell the Ford workers in their district, ‘Sorry, can’t help,'” Lewis said. “It was one of those moments where everything aligned.”

The package includes matching funds for state and local chip-plant subsidies, a provision likely to heat up competition among states including Texas and Arizona to host big new chip plants that can cost as much as $20 billion.

The subsidies could benefit a factory in Arizona proposed by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and one in Texas eyed by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, even though those factories would be geared toward high-end chips for smartphones and laptops, rather than simpler auto chips. And those factories would not come on line until 2023 or 2024, according to plans disclosed by the companies, the world’s two largest chip manufacturers.

In the longer term, a raft of U.S. companies are also poised to benefit. Any chipmakers that build factories will source many tools from American companies such as Applied, Lam Research Corp and KLA Corp.

Intel Corp, Micron Technology Inc and GlobalFoundries – which already have U.S. factory networks – will also likely benefit.

Smaller, specialty chip factories also could benefit.

“The recent chip shortage in the automotive industry has highlighted the need to strengthen the microelectronics supply chain in the U.S.,” said Thomas Sonderman, chief executive of SkyWater Technology, a Minnesota-based chipmaker that makes automotive and defense chips. “We believe that SkyWater is uniquely positioned due to our differentiated business model and status as a U.S.- owned and U.S.- operated pure play semiconductor contract manufacturer.”

Even with subsidies, the U.S. companies still must compete with low-cost Asian vendors over the long run, and the immediate auto chip troubles will probably persist.

Surya Iyer, a vice president at Minnesota-based Polar Semiconductor, which makes chips for automakers, said his factory is booked beyond capacity and has started to speed some orders up while slowing others down, to meet automakers’ needs as best it can.

“We are expecting this level of demand to continue at least for the next 12 months, maybe even longer,” he said.

(This story has been refiled to add attribution to quote in paragraph 9, add dropped words in paragraphs 10 and 17)

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis and Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco and Alexandra Alper in Washington. Editing by Jonathan Weber and David Gregorio)

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Atlantia disappointed with CDP bid for unit, continues talks



Atlantia disappointed with CDP bid for unit, continues talks 3

By Francesca Landini and Stephen Jewkes

MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s Atlantia said on Friday an offer by a consortium of investors led by state lender CDP for its 88% stake in Autostrade per l’Italia fell short of the mark and asked its top managers to see if the bid could be sweetened.

“The offer falls below expectations,” the Italian infrastructure group said in a statement, adding it had mandated the chief executive and the chairman to assess “the potential for the necessary substantial improvements” to the bid.

Italian state lender CDP, together with co-investors Macquarie and Blackstone, has presented a proposal valuing all of Autostrade per l’Italia at 9.1 billion euros ($11 billion).

The consortium also requested Atlantia guarantee up to 700 million euros in potential damage claims and another roughly 800 million euros for a pending legal case, making the bid less attractive than previously expected.

One source said the consortium estimated overall pending legal claims against Autostrade at 3 billion to 4 billion euros, adding the 700 million euro cap did not mean the amount would be detracted from the offer price from the start.

Earlier on Friday Atlantia’s minority investors TCI and Spinecap had called on Atlantia’s board to reject the offer, saying it undervalued the asset.

“No deal is better than a bad deal, especially a bad deal and a wrong price,” TCI Advisory Services partner Jonathan Amouyal said in a emailed comment to Reuters.

TCI, which holds an indirect stake of around 10% in Atlantia, repeated that the value for 100% of Autostrade should be no less than 12.5 billion euros.

The board will hold a further meeting in order to take a final decision on the offer in due time, Atlantia said.

The negotiations between Atlantia and the CDP-led consortium are part of an effort to end a political dispute over Autostrade’s motorway concession triggered by the collapse of a motorway bridge run by the unit.

(GRAPHIC – Atlantia share performance:

The bid expires on March 16, but the deadline could be extended in case Atlantia calls an extraordinary shareholders meeting (EGM) on the issue, according to one source with knowledge of the matter.

Shares in the group ended down 0,7%, after recovering some losses, as investors waited for the decision of the board.

Atlantia, which is controlled by the Benetton family, owns 88% of Autostrade, with Germany’s Allianz and funds DIF, EDF Invest and China’s Silk Road Fund holding the rest.

The group also kept open an alternative plan to demerge and sell its stake in Autostrade per l’Italia unit and called an EGM on March 29 to extend to end-July a deadline for offers for the demerged stake.

(Additional reporting by Stefano Bernabei, editing by Louise Heavens and Steve Orlofsky)

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