Increasing operational efficiency with unified communications

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Companies that have implemented unified communications have seen direct and tangible savings of up to 75% in their phone and equipment costs, but the longer-term and greater impact is increased productivity. What was originally seen as a soft benefit is now turning into hard ROI. Unified communications is becoming a strategic element in daily workflows and is making organizations more operationally efficient than ever before.

To achieve this, however, you need to understand how employees are using communications and collaboration services. The second step is to integrate communications processes into their business process, eliminating inefficiencies and human latency.

[ UC BATTLE ROYALE:Cisco, Avaya feel the heat from Microsoft Lync

Q&A:Here's why communications is moving to the cloud]

Step 1: Understanding usage

Communications is at the core of businesses and gaining insight to how communications tools are being used can highlight where your organization is effective and where there are inefficiencies in resource allocation and in business processes. Best-in-class unified communications solutions provide productivity management tools that provide an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly snapshot of all business communications including call usage, conferencing and messaging.

It is surprising what can be learned from this data. Using these snapshots, management is able to track customer support activities, optimize call handling, analyze customer patterns, identify system abuse, plan staffing and scheduling, track how often and who is attending team meetings, allocate and minimize costs, manage network capacity, tighten security, and ensure adherence to regulatory and compliance requirements.

For example, sales departments can create regular summary reports by sales person to assess sales activity. Specialty Search International is a recruiting firm specializing in the hospitality industry. According to Ron Folkman, chairman and CEO, "The unified communications productivity management tool allowed us to monitor and manage our recruiters by seeing who is on their phone, for how long, no matter where they are located. We can remotely see call times and run activity reports on recruiters located all over the United States, allowing us to manage their time more efficiently."

Once organizations understand how their business communications are used, then the next step is to integrate them into their business processes.

Step 2: Communications-enabled processes

We are seeing more companies use unified communications to re-engineer their business processes. Communications that are directly built in to the business workflow are designed to take out the "human latency" that delays the overall business process. The resulting processes are called communications-enabled business processes.

Anyone in today's workforce can relate to waiting for a phone call, fax or email before continuing on with a project or process. In many cases, these are repeatable communications, such as approvals that can be automated and integrated into the workflow. This is one area where companies are seeing the greatest productivity gains and it is becoming a key factor in achieving operational excellence.

The Rose Group is one of the largest restaurant franchise companies in the United States. The group recently implemented a hybrid, hosted unified communications system and has achieved immediate quantifiable cost savings, including the removal of 99% of their facsimile machines, reduced fax administration time from an average of approximately two hours to 15 minutes a day, reduced office paper use from 1,000 sheets to less than 200 a day via using fax-to-email, and reduced phone system management time from an average of approximately 30 hours a month to one hour a month.

But what was really interesting was The Rose Group was able to identify inefficiencies in its complex call patterns that impacted customer service and employee satisfaction. Executives were not being regularly notified of problems in a timely manner and sometimes were not able to respond fast enough to correct situations. The company changed the business processes and executives are now automatically alerted via their unified communications solution when their intervention is needed. The Rose Group executives are more responsive to customers and employee complaints, improving guest satisfaction and as well as corporate culture.

"Before using unified communications we didn't have the technology we needed to communicate as quickly as we wanted to," said Christine Hicks, director of administrative services. "By using unified communications features we are now connected and able to respond in real time to customers and employees. We are able to run our business faster, smoother and with more consistency."

Corporate Cost Control Inc. is a nationwide consulting firm that specializes in assisting all types of businesses with unemployment cost management. With their unified communications solution they have redesigned all of their business processes, fully utilizing unified messaging, and have gone paperless with the solution's fax-to-email feature, ensuring that all correspondence could be tracked.

"We couldn't survive without it," said John See, IT systems administrator. "And for the first time, we are able to tie our phone system to emails, keeping track of correspondence with audio files of voicemails sent to email."

Communications-enabled business processes hold the most promise in terms of increasing overall organizational efficiencies. As communications become integrated into the business process, businesses are automating the most mundane communications tasks, minimizing human latency and error.

Daly brings 30-plus years of multi-disciplined telecom executive experience to Whaleback, leading the company's sales, marketing and business development efforts to drive revenue generation and growth. Daly was most recently chief marketing officer at Atlantic Broadband where he led marketing for nine years and drove revenue, providing strategic and tactical direction for maximizing revenue per customer, market share, customer profitability and customer satisfaction.

Read more about lans and routers in Network World's LANs & Routers section.