Less is More?

It is now common for employees to have a fixed-phone, smartphone, tablet, & desktop PC, and to be contactable across several phone numbers, instant messenger, Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn amongst others. Yet, according to Gary Adey, Commercial Marketing Director, Vodafone Global, the simple truth is that more points of connection don’t necessarily result in better communication.

A critical factor in the changing nature of enterprise communications is the evolution of the workforce. Where once mobile workers were the exception, analyst firm IDC predicts that they are set to comfortably outnumber their fixed counterparts by 2016. In 2010 mobile workers made up 45 per cent of the Western European workforce, by 2016 they are expected to make up 61 per cent – and this pattern is set to continue.

With workers increasingly spread out across different locations using a wide variety of connection methods and devices, which operate in isolation, the result can be a breakdown in communications. Voice mail and instant messaging alerts appear on devices that aren’t being used at the time or have been accidentally left on silent.

The reality is this is happening all too frequently. According to Forrester Research, 50 per cent of workers experience project delays on a weekly basis because a key decision maker can’t be reached. Sage Research claims that 22 per cent of monthly deadlines are missed because the right person can’t be found at the right time.

But the challenge goes beyond growing frustration and falling productivity – it’s impacting the bottom line. It has been estimated that missing a call from a potential new customer costs enterprises on average £14,551 in lost business.

While communications service providers should be helping to solve this problem, a Circle Research study for Vodafone found that 67 per cent of multinationals claim that multiple platforms, networks and suppliers are making it hard for them to provide effective communications.

An integrated, cloud-based solution

IT departments have two options. They can persist with trying to juggle several different providers across their PBX, mobile, fixed line, broadband and fixed voice services not to mention collaboration tools such as conferencing and IM. Or they can outsource it all to a cloud-centric provider that can ensure all services operate securely and effectively across all devices.

Although a complete shift to the cloud has been relatively slow to happen to date, it is likely to gather momentum as companies who adopt a seamless, integrated communications approach assert a serious competitive advantage. This doesn’t just cut costs – it helps create more productive organisations where employees collaborate more effectively and are far more responsive to their customers. The growing availability of fibre also means that it is easier than ever to move traditional PBX services into the cloud.

At the centre of this integrated cloud-based approach is unified communications and advanced mobility management. Intelligent voice services bring fixed and mobile telephony together in a single platform so each user has a single incoming and outgoing phone number, voicemail and contact directory. The service needs to be completely customisable so users can control how and when their fixed, mobile or desktop phones ring.

Intelligent messaging services mean a single voice mailbox and corporate instant messenger (IM) service across all devices. This again prevents the possibility of a communications breakdown while also providing a corporate approved IM service that operates across all platforms. These kinds of services need to be enhanced with tailored enterprise social media software and advanced conferencing services so teams can collaborate on projects wherever they are.

Managing mobility

The increased growth in the use of mobile devices, both employee-owned and corporate smartphones and tablets, also presents organisations with other key challenges. They need to ensure that these are all equipped with the latest version of the right productivity apps, and above all that they’re completely secure – especially in light of rapidly growing attacks on corporate data security and services.

This requires comprehensive mobile device management tools that allow organisations to centrally control an entire fleet of smartphones and tablets. A simple portal allows them to manage who has access to what applications and services and alerts them to security breaches in real-time, while ensuring corporate data on devices is encrypted and can be wiped when necessary.

With IDG research showing that 71 per cent of employees are accessing corporate resources from their vulnerable personal devices, organisations need to create a separate on-board corporate container where business apps and data are fully encrypted and can be managed remotely.

Beyond training

However, given that a wholesale move to integrated cloud-based communication can dramatically change how enterprises operate, some resistance from end-users is to be expected. Without planning for this, the result can be the adoption of unpopular services that lie unused. A few days training after installation is too little, too late.

It is critical that at the outset of the project, service providers work with key end-users to understand what the change means so that feedback can be taken and integrated into the deployment. In this way the new approach gets end-user buy-in rather than resentment from the very start.

Simple financial management

Given the challenging economic climate, a key virtue of integrated solutions is their drastically simplified and more transparent billing model – as well as lower costs. Firstly, finance departments can see every facet of their complete communications spend in one online portal as well as interrogate the data.

Secondly, an integrated service means that enterprises can enjoy the best rates due to the economies of scale that comes with putting all minutes, line rental and service charges through one provider. The cloud model also drastically reduces the need for on-site fixed infrastructure, so businesses can eliminate most routine maintenance, repair and upgrade costs.

Ultimately, the organisation will also realise major savings by changing the way it communicates and operates. By enabling more flexible and productive working that is not limited by device or location, its employees will become happier, more engaged and effective – it will also find attracting and retaining better quality staff much easier. This is not to mention the improvements to revenue that are associated with delivering better customer service.

The wide variety of communications technologies and services in today’s organisations are frequently too fragmented to effectively support the rising number of flexible workers. Unless organisations switch to an integrated approach built around unified communications and mobile device management, this problem is only going to get worse. Yet thrusting new solutions that fundamentally change how companies communicate without first getting the buy-in of front-line staff as well as middle-management could result in a shiny new service that lies unused. An integrated solution that is built around the needs and demands of front-line staff as well as senior management, will deliver a service that is set for the modern flexible business.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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