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What's the value of unified communications?

Implementing unified communications within an organization requires careful planning and strategy. The processes of every group within your company are involved, and you should ask yourself key questions to determine whether UC is right for you and, if so, how to go about making a smooth transition. In this tip, Gary Audin breaks down the important questions into organization department and defines how each stands to benefit from a well-executed unified communications deployment.

Unified communications -- everyone seems to see great value in its implementation, but how does the enterprise...

evaluate the move to unified communications (UC)? Since UC is sold on human productivity improvements, who within which parts of an organization will benefit? UC is of greatest value when both ends of the communication functions have access to the same features. One end will limit the productivity enhancements if it does not have access to UC.

In this tip, you will find a list of important questions that should be asked of you and your organization when you are considering a unified communications implementation. The entire process of creating a product or service -- from a rough idea to delivery -- involves many people, organizations and internal/external information, all of which will benefit from better communications. Collaboration, mobility and presence mechanisms will be important tools. The following seven phases are explored for the analysis of the value of UC in each.

Internal enterprise support
The internal operations of an enterprise have to be effective before that enterprise should offer any product or service. UC can make company executives more efficient and benefit internal organizations such as finance, human resources, facilities and IT. Collaboration, mobility and presence as used in UC will improve the enterprise efficiency, reduce the staff's stress levels and improve productivity.

  • Can UC mobility provide seamless information for decision support?
  • Will client access be improved with UC?
  • There will always be business issues to resolve. Will UC reduce the time to issue/problem resolution?
  • Executives need to collaborate on policy development and business direction. Will UC improve these processes?

Product or service development
The developers of a product or service will always be working with a time constraint. Competition will drive the schedule for the development.

  • Will UC reduce the time to market? Developer collaboration that is fast and efficient will be the goal (whether working with internal staff, consultants or potential vendors) and will thereby accelerate the time to market.
  • Development groups do not always have the expertise necessary to complete the development of a product or service. Does the UC function provide an effective method for locating and accessing the expertise required?
  • Will UC enhance the ability of geographically scattered people and resources to work as a real-time team?

Marketing the product or service
Marketing needs to prepare a number of tools (advertising, brochures, press releases, meetings, etc.) to bring the product or service to the attention of the customers.

  • Does UC benefit the exchange of information, schedules and tools with external resources such as the press, PR firms and potential first customers? Contact management and the associated linkages are important during the product or service introduction as is the continuing marketing effort after the release of the product or service.
  • A marketing campaign will need continuous fast and effective communications. Can UC be used to keep the campaign on schedule and be useful in responding to market changes?
  • Will UC help ensure that the time-to-market schedule is met? Collaboration and mobility will be the key values of UC during the marketing effort.

Producing the product or service
This phase will include external part delivery, service providers, packaging and shipping companies and other organizations that need to be coordinated -- especially if just-in-time scheduling is the goal. Accurate communications, delivered in a timely manner in whatever form is most productive, are the key value of UC.

  • Will the collaboration features of UC benefit the production process design?
  • Will UC reduce the time for problem/issue resolution?
  • Will UC be useful for identifying the resources needed to resolve a problem/issue?
  • Once the production process has begun, how will UC help in the management of the process?
  • Will UC enhance the ability of geographically scattered people and resources to work as a real-time team?

Selling the product or service
Increasing sales productivity and market penetration are the primary goals of the sales organization. Sales may be made directly through agents, retail stores or VARs. The different methods all have common needs -- consistent and reliable product/service information and delivery.

  • Can UC reduce the sales cycle time? Analysis has demonstrated that up to a 30% reduction in the sales cycle duration can be accomplished through the use of UC.
  • Can UC reduce the telephone tag by providing and controlling the presence information and providing immediate alternate means of communications such as IM and email?
  • Will a smaller sales staff be able to sell more product/service by employing UC?

Delivering the product or service
The delivery of a product/service is a logistics issue. Delivery issues will be similar to the issues encountered in the production environment.

  • Will the collaboration features of UC benefit the delivery process design?
  • Will UC reduce the time for delivery problem/issue resolution?
  • Will UC be useful for identifying the resources needed to resolve a problem/issue?
  • Once the delivery process has been implemented, how will UC help in the management of the process?
  • Will UC enhance the ability of geographically scattered resources such as production facilities, warehouses and delivery service providers to work as a real-time team?

Customer service
Keeping the customer satisfied -- even happy -- should be the goal of any organization. This is not always the case, however, and bad customer service will always come back to haunt the negligent enterprise, causing the reduction of market share and profitability.

  • Will UC provide rapid access to the correct enterprise resource to make the sale?
  • Will UC provide rapid access to the correct enterprise resource to resolve an issue or problem?
  • Can UC reduce the customer service time and thereby reduce the customer service staff size?
  • Will UC provide alternative communications methods for a wide variety of customers to access?
  • Will UC tools be able to give the service managers better visibility into their service operation?

Implementing unified communications may not address all of the questions and considerations. Demonstrating the value of UC will, at first, be less of a financial issue and more of a productivity improvement issue -- and increased productivity eventually translates into financial benefits.

Gary Audin has more than 40 years of computer, communications and security experience. He has planned, designed, specified, implemented and operated data, LAN and telephone networks. These have included local area, national and international networks, as well as VoIP and IP convergent networks, in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia.

This was last published in January 2008

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