Unified Communications, It’s a change of mindset not just handset

Jeff Bowen, Associate Director at Redstone Converged Solutions, says in the heart of the recession, unified communications (UC) adoption slowed considerably as organisations went through mass reviews of their IT budgets and decided what was mission critical and had ROI, and what didn’t.

“Reports such as that from June 2009 by Synergy Research highlighted that collaborative applications buying decisions, including UC, were put on hold while organisations “await the global recovery of the economy” and “assess the impacts on their budgets”. My question is why?

I view that many organisations wrongly interpreted what their proposed unified communications project was about. Numerous mistakenly believed it to be a more modern telephony system rather than a whole new way of achieving collaboration, flexible working and customer service, that could enable them to deliver a same or better level of service despite reduced staffing, office consolidations and other recession-led problems.

A common belief was that the ‘non-unified’ member of staff communicates largely via e-mail and desk phone, while a ‘unified’ member of staff is simply one who does the same, but mobile. Organisations that focused too much on UC as a simple telephony upgrade failed to realise the full benefits of collaborative UC, struggled to demonstrate the ROI to their CFO, and had their projects canned. In reality, not only could UC have helped them ride the recession by increasing productivity and opportunities for innovation, it could have given the organisation a recovery-ready approach that will put them ahead of the game as the economy crawls back into life.

Some of the overlooked benefits of UC in terms of operational efficiency and effectiveness include increased teamwork, knowledge-sharing and customer interaction from the use of instant messaging (IM), web conferencing and collaboration, alongside more cost efficient and accurate customer service through managed presence replacing traditional voicemail, e-mail, and telephone answering.

Organisations need to get their UC decision back on track and there are a number of key attributes that they should be considering. One intelligent aspect of UC is its integration into CEBP (communications enabled business processes). Embedded into a business process, for example, UC can automatically escalate a customer enquiry to incorporate audio and video conferencing with the correct parties to speed up decision making. Having the technology to make information and people available instantly is a great asset but becomes undermined if organisations lack the drive and tenacity to follow this through with integrated processes.

Presence and mobility can also reengage the adoption of UC among organisations today because of the benefits they offer in terms of service, productivity and collaboration. Mobility solutions allow further efficiency and productivity enabling users to access identical applications they have available both at home and in the office, wherever they find their working day takes them.

Take up of UC tools could lead businesses to abandon traditional office-based working with work models shifting to embrace globalisation, green and home working with social networking applications and online virtual environments becoming increasingly accepted alternatives to real-world meetings. This shift in working practice, not only provides tangible cost reductions but also enables businesses to meet and exceed important carbon monitoring and reduction targets.

Over and above understanding the key features and benefits, truly successful unified communications requires a change of mindset, not just the acceptance of and training in new processes and tools. When considering UC, organisations need to conduct a complete analysis and justification of their working practices, not just draw up a tender for new replacement equipment. But, they need to want to change and must have a clear vision of how that change is going to help them meet their business objectives.”

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