Article

Unified communications, messaging revamp productivity

Kate Dostart, Associate Editor

When the East Central division of the American Automobile Association (AAA), a self-described conservative company, decided it was time to upgrade its nearly 13-year-old voicemail system, a recent string of acquisitions and mergers encouraged the company to remain cautious.

IT director Mike Gladish chose to implement just unified messaging (UM) for a fraction of the headquarters staff versus implementing full unified communications (UC) capabilities across the board, preferring to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Also, as current president of Joint Users of Siemens Technologies -- United States (JUST-US), Gladish often found other UC users who complained that UC adoption was slow and didn't always mesh with the day-to-day ways people worked.

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As East Central AAA began to think about the next step in communications, a large percentage of mobile workers in the company asked for expanded capabilities. The previous voice system had been working well, but it was nearly 13 years old, and the company wanted to prevent potential problems and look to a future that included more features. While out in the field certifying the garages that would be approved to perform repairs for AAA, mobile workers have to collect all information and then return to the office to input it into the system. Vendor reports indicated that enabling these workers with UM and Wi-Fi would show a significant increase in productivity. But the company was hesitant to implement new applications based on outside reports of soft benefits and dollars.

By implementing just UM, and just for the test group within the company, Gladish said, they would be able to develop their own list of hard and soft benefits. By enabling their mobile workers with just the necessary technologies, the pilot user group showed a return of 15 to 30 minutes in increased productivity. Also included in the pilot group was a vice president who said that using UM within the office improved his day, allowing him to prioritize and be more flexible.

"The real-time aspect of UM and UC is the driving force behind the implementation," Gladish said. "Time is so valuable -- you need to get the instant feedback."

Other benefits Gladish heard about from his pilot group included users' ease with learning and utilizing UM shortly after its implementation.

In terms of voicemail -- the initial reason for the upgrade to UM -- users were able to save their voice messages to the computer and retain them on CDs if necessary. Both users and the companies liked the fact that it was easy and did not require the bulky and expensive recording equipment they had been using previously.

But their top benefit remained the increased flexibility the new UM system allows for users. In light of the success of UM among the pilot group, Gladish said, East Central was looking to implement UM company-wide and would begin looking at the benefits of expanded UC, including video capabilities, for the near future.

"We see the company moving away from strictly voice communications," Gladish said.


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