08 March 2012
The collaborative workplace - an altogether better place to work? [IT Perspective]
Life is becoming increasingly complicated for business people, many of whom use an office phone, mobile, computer or laptop, instant messaging (IM), emails and video calls to communicate on an everyday basis. Add in a home phone, pc and mobile and it’s hardly surprising we sometimes feel a little overwhelmed.
Used well, technology can enhance our communication and make our lives far easier; used badly, it can cause “technology overload”. Unified Communications (UC) offers a different way of working that cuts through the clutter by integrating all of your existing communications in a way that can completely transform business performance. But, like all best practice, it doesn’t come without its challenges.
So what are the benefits of UC?
In a knowledge-based economy like Ireland, we need to be able to work better and smarter and that’s where UC offers the competitive advantage.
• Presence. Features like “Presence” enable us to see where a colleague is at any given time (at work, home, in a meeting) and what’s the best way to contact them (by
landline, mobile, email, IM) so there’s no more wasted time playing phone tag.
• Communication. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology lets us use our computers as phones and, with “click to call”, we can now do this at the touch of a button.
Videoconferencing enables face-to-face meetings with colleagues, anytime, anywhere.
• Collaboration. A truly collaborative environment facilitates virtual teamwork, allowing multiple people in different environments to work off one document, while providing “one version of the truth”.
• Access.UC works across all communication devices, giving remote access to the company network, so we can now be equally productive when working off-site. Unified Messaging means your messages can reach you in the format you need on the device that you’re using.
UC is much more than the sum of its parts
With IT departments struggling to do more with less, creating a collaborative workplace is the most innovative way to help staff work more efficiently and make budgets stretch further. UC clearly saves time and money. Presence saves delays in relaying information. Video Conferencing cuts down on travel time and reduces a company’s carbon footprint. VoIP can dramatically reduce phone bills. But that’s only half the story.
Each of these features individually are impressive, but combined, they add up to a very powerful business tool. If you take a lot of people and save them all a small amount of time over a day, a week, a year, then suddenly you’ll find very large benefits accrue. In implementing UC in eircom, we estimated a saving of just under a million euro in the first year alone and that’s an ongoing benefit.
The more intangible benefits are harder to define. Instant access to information and improved communication mean enhanced staff performance and better customer service. Sales can be closed faster, invoices sent out sooner and cash flow improved.
Introducing a new way of working inevitably has its challenges
Making the Transition. Organisations vary in their readiness for UC. Some find the transition natural and seamless, while others struggle initially. Proper planning can make all the difference.
Implementation Costs. Companies worry about implementation costs. Conducting a gap analysis of where you are and what you need, and layering UC over your existing network makes it more cost-effective. Over the long term the investment will pay for itself many times over.
Network Performance. Companies differ in their bandwidth requirements. Features like IM, presence and email don’t need much bandwidth but voice and video require more. Running numerous applications simultaneously can affect call quality so you need to prioritise the functions you will use most. QoS (Quality of Service) marks data with different quality levels, enabling you to prioritise the quality of a call, which is more real-time critical, over an incoming email.
Security & Privacy. UC must be implemented securely. Data encryption and VPN (Virtual Private Network) Technology, for example, allow remote users to participate fully, but still keep company data secure.
UC is as much a change program as a technology program. The better you can manage change in your organisation, the smoother the transition will be. Getting staff on board early is key. Once people see how it will make their daily lives easier, they adapt better. Strip away the jargon and the buzzwords and UC is not that much of a leap for most people. It’s working in parallel with what’s already happening in their world: VoIP technologies like Skype, collaborative websites like Google Docs and IM features on Facebook.
Ironically, one of the key benefits of UC is also its key challenge. A more flexible workforce and working environment brings issues of trust. To fully benefit from UC, companies must be prepared to trust their employees and embrace change.
The future’s bright for UC
Real-time collaboration is improving rapidly. Video Conferencing is just getting warmed up. Events like 2010’s ash cloud and the resulting travel disruption combined with economic pressures to reduce travel costs have forced companies to consider alternatives to face-to-face meetings so Video Conferencing makes sense on many levels. The future will see improved quality, high definition picture, life-size screens and a more immersive experience. Immersive Video Conferencing is a reality now, with high definition pictures, life-size screens and smooth, jitter-free motion on screen. One thing’s for sure, UC is the way forward.
See how Bord Gáis
reduced time devoted to travel by 20% with collaborative working solutions from eircom
Stephen Mulligan is Solution Principal at eircom, specialising in Unified Communications.
Contact Stephen on linkedin or here to discuss how UC can benefit your business.
You can view the articles from this issue of IT Perspective by clicking on the links below.