Getting ROI with communications-enabled business processes

To achieve measurable ROI using communications-enabled business processes, decision makers must match the right UC application with the logical business process(es). Find out how companies are achieving ROI through CEBP.

I've talked with many organizations about the concept of implementing communications enabled-business processes (CEBPs). There are generally two areas that IT leaders struggle with, and they're related. Those issues are how to get started and how to demonstrate return on investment (ROI). I'd like to cover both in this column.

Read all the articles in this series:

It's critically important to understand what you're trying to accomplish with the process and then choose the element of unified communications (UC) that would best enhance or streamline that process. In almost every case, the process that is being "communications enabled" will be enhanced by only one or two UC functions and not by the whole UC suite.

If you're trying to create a process that allows for breaking down cross-cultural barriers, you will want a "telepresence-enabled business process." The example I gave in the last column could be considered a "messaging-enabled business process."

The table below shows the most popular UC applications, the type of process the application should be used for, and the value it can provide.

UC applications

Type of process

Value

Telepresence

Cross culture, negotiations

Lifelike experience

Video conferencing

Relationship building

More feedback

Audio and web conferencing

Adding detail to collaboration

Increased amount of data

Messaging

Fast, short bits of information

Instantaneous delivery of information

Voice

Time-critical, basic processes

Ubiquitous

Email

Non-time-critical processes

Ubiquitous

Again, it's very important that the processes that utilize the UC application are using the application that can most benefit the process. For example, you would not want to insert or convert a process to be email-driven when cross-cultural barriers and associated translation issues could make for a bad situation. In this case, telepresence is a more applicable application to enhance the business process.

The right approach to unified communications ROI

The second problem, measuring the ROI of the process, can be quite a challenge if not approached properly. I think organizations often try too hard to put an exact dollar amount on the ROI to determine it very precisely. In most cases, however, an ROI that's built on improvement in the key performance metrics for the process would make much more sense. The key in this case would be to have enough knowledge of the process to understand where the improvements need to be and then to be able to measure the increase in process difference. This should be something that is fairly well known before a company attempts to communications-enable the process.

I've been able to interview a handful of companies that have been using non-financial metrics to measure the value of the project. I'll admit that the value is a bit soft compared with a true financial ROI, but it is something that can be measured and later converted into something financial.

Call centers are a good example of where this type of non-financial metric measuring has been done for years. In call centers, the key metrics that get measured are things like number of calls in queue, hold time, calls per day and per agent, and other metrics. Technology projects are measured on their ability to reduce one or more of these metrics. Some of them can be converted to financial terms later and some can't, but the process can always be measured.

Examples of measurable ROI metrics:

  • In the hospital example I wrote about last month, the hospital actually measured the amount of time returned to the nurse. The hospital is also tracking error rates (directly lowering insurance costs) as well as speed of response to alarms.
  • A national fast-food chain implemented a voice-enabled, drive-through ordering system and has been using drive-through wait time along with increased order amounts via suggestive selling to measure ROI.
  • A manufacturer of home appliances measured the quality of products using six- sigma metrics as a way of seeing how much the process had improved.
  • A national consulting company measured the time it took collaborative work groups to make decisions on projects that were under way. The company has also started to measure the length of time that repeatable projects take to complete.

By using various key performance metrics for the different groups, companies can measure and articulate the value much more simply than with pure financials. Also, by measuring on a departmental level, the task is simplified because there is a smaller group of individuals to baseline.

For those of you who are currently looking at CEBP, seek out the processes that currently have high amounts of delay built in that correlate to human intervention, and then try to automate as much as you can through the use of messaging. This seems to be the area that has been easiest to implement. Once that process is identified, measure the key metrics before and after to get the value, and then apply these principles more broadly as you roll out CEBP.


This was first published in November 2009

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