Improving business practices with unified communications


    Unified Communications (UC) may be as transformative as mechanical printing when it comes to changing the face of business and improving the way we exchange information.

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    Show Me More Than the Money

    Once a matter of cost-reduction, the move from traditional phone systems to IP-based VOIP is now more frequently prompted by the need for improved business processes.

    According to Jon Arnold, principal at Toronto-based J. Arnold and Associates, managers are now more often embracing UC to transform their businesses rather than primarily looking to save a few dollars. “We’re faced with issues of productivity and of managing decentralization,” he said. “When you start looking at business processes, at making people work more efficiently, there are many problems to be solved.”

    Here are some of the solutions offered by UC.

    Reduce, Redefine, and Recapture

    Providing employees with anywhere/anytime access to connectivity makes it possible to reduce business travel, redefine face-to-face meetings, and recapture time lost commuting. Giving a skilled worker the tools to work in real time and close deals whenever and wherever they happen is something that resonates with every business leader.

    The Here and How

    Many business leaders understand the strategic benefits of better communications and collaboration systems. They get the “why” – but they still need help with the “how.”

    “This is an opportunity for IT leaders to be important advisors and help business leadership more fully understand how UC can improve business processes,” says Dean LaRiviere, general manager for collaboration at Cisco Canada.

    Arnold agrees educating leaders, as well as the rank and file of business, about the benefits of UC is a responsibility for which IT professionals are uniquely qualified. “It’s an important role for IT,” he said, “and an opportunity to introduce and define solutions.”

    Stocking the Toolbox with Quality Tools

    Most employees won’t need to be sold on the benefits of UC and other collaboration tools. They’ve been using them in their personal lives for some time now, and are likely to be using these at work as well, albeit without the sanction of IT organizations.

    “People are going with these over-the-top free applications because the toys they have at home are so much better than what they have in the office,” Arnold said. “(But these) can compromise the security and manageability of the corporate network.”

    Because it’s essential for everyone in the organization to be involved in creating and adhering to usage policies, decisions about which IT applications and tools should be used within a corporate environment are best handled by a team of IT, business leadership, and the broader employee base.

    IT’s role is to “sell” organizations on the productivity advantages of a single tool for communications and collaboration within and beyond the enterprise, according to LaRiviere. More importantly, IT must take the lead in driving a broader cultural evolution by educating users and garnering support for compliance with corporate guidelines in the use of IT applications and tools.

    The Forecast is Cloudy

    Arnold describes moving UC projects to the cloud as “a survival strategy for IT,” that allows IT leaders to define and oversee solutions, but leaves a trusted third party to integrate the pieces and run the applications.

    “We don’t have to manage it, but we do have to own and operate it and keep our hands on the wheel,” he said. “This keeps it manageable, and we don’t need to worry about all of the complexity if we have the right partner.”

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    Suzanne Robicheau
    Suzanne Robicheau is a communications specialist based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where working remotely continues to fuel her passion for new mobile technologies -- especially on snowy days.