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Kraft Foods' UC pilot addresses physical workspace and technology

At Kraft Foods, technology was only half of the equation in a unified communications (UC) and collaboration pilot program. The company reinvented the physical workspace for employees while also introducing new technologies.

At Kraft Foods, technology was just one piece of the puzzle in an ambitious unified communications (UC) and collaboration pilot program.

"It was every aspect that we looked at," said Thomas Behnke, Kraft's global network services manager and architect. "It was an experience to create for them rather than just a technology or [office] move project. It was about how all the aspects of their work environment play into their experience around collaboration -- that would allow them to take their productivity to another level."

Last year, Kraft completely transformed the work experience for the 500 members of its SAP competency center.

This team, which is in charge of deploying SAP software throughout the global company, was based in a leased office building in the Chicago area. With the lease on the office set to expire, Kraft took the opportunity to experiment with ways of increasing worker productivity and collaboration.

Kraft built a completely new working environment for the employees. This new environment involved an extensive technology investment, but it also involved changes in the physical layout of the workspace.

"Previously, [the SAP organization] was in a traditional office," Behnke said. "You had cubicles that were yours, and the size of the cubicle depended on your grade. At a certain point, you hit a traditional office, and as you moved up, your office would get larger."

In the new work environment, the concept of private offices has been abolished, he said. Workers sit at long tables that seat six to eight people. There are no dividers separating individual workspaces. Instead, the space is completely open, with only a divider down the center of each table.

Even the senior vice president of the group works in this open environment, although senior managers do work in a modified workspace that has more of a "cubicle-like" feel, Behnke said. They have walls around their work areas, but the walls are short, so that managers are approachable.

Even the importance of conference rooms has been downplayed.

"There are spaces around the floor where there is plush furniture. You can sit six or eight people in an open space with a table in the center," Behnke said. "It's not a conference room but an open area where you can sit and congregate and have conversations."

For the occasions when privacy is needed, there are some enclosed conference rooms and "privacy rooms" where individuals can go to make a discreet phone call.

Behnke said the openness of the space was essential to encouraging collaboration, but mobility was equally important. This required investment in a variety of technologies. Kraft's goal was to develop a completely unwired office, where employees could move from one space to another without loss of productivity.

Kraft worked on the technology plan with EDS, HP's services division.

The first step was to install a wireless LAN infrastructure with sufficient density to support wireless Voice over IP (VoIP). EDS recommended and installed Cisco infrastructure for this part of the project, installing one access point for every 20 or so employees.

Next, Kraft installed Avaya Communication Manager and Modular Messaging for voice and voicemail. Behnke said no employee was assigned a desk phone. Instead, the employees used softphones on their laptops for telephony. Also, each employee received an iPhone.

Kraft chose the iPhone over other smartphones because of its innovative and intuitive design, Behnke said. Currently, the employees have some fixed-mobile convergence capabilities, where they can instruct the PBX to send calls to the iPhone. They also have access to corporate voicemail on the device. Kraft is working with Avaya to bring more UC capabilities to the iPhone. "We are now in a beta program around an iPhone-based application to extend unified communications, visual voicemail and other aspects to the iPhone environment," he said.

For presence and instant messaging, Kraft uses Microsoft Live Communications Server, although plans are in place to upgrade to Office Communications Server.

Behnke characterized the pilot as a success and said that Kraft is looking to recreate the experiment in two other locations.

"So we are looking at additional spaces following that same kind of model, maybe slightly different, but to that same general concept," he said.

"Like any major change, people had up-front expectations, and we managed through that," Behnke said. "They moved into the new space, and there was no loss of productivity. They moved in on Day 1 and were as productive as they were in their old space, if not more. So there was no loss of productivity with a major move of 500 people between buildings, even with the inclusion of a completely different type of environment that they were working in. [Productivity] has continued to grow and improve as time has gone by in that space. Their satisfaction with the workspace has increased also."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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