Improving Work Processes with Unified Communications

Noel Wong, CIO & SVP, XO Communications
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Noel Wong, CIO & SVP, XO Communications

Unified Communication-Enabling Virtual Collaboration

Unified communications (UC) is a set of technical solutions that allow individuals to collaborate with each other using a wide variety of electronic communication tools as a single fully integrated platform.  You can collaborate with whomever you need to virtually anytime, anywhere, with any device. 

As businesses face tougher competition, every company is looking for new ways to improve their overall throughput and internal operational efficiencies in order to provide services to their external customers as quickly as possible.  Every minute or hour value is delivered to the customer faster equates to a competitive advantage.

 Businesses need to focus on meeting customers and employees on their ‘turf’ when it comes to how and where they communicate as well as use products and services 

Companies often rely on a collection of legacy applications and/or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to support their core business.  Most enterprise legacy or ERP applications are pre-engineered to be transactional, data centric and are designed from the inside out.  The resulting technology landscape requires the operational workforce to dedicate a significant amount of time bridging the gaps between the various systems using emails, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, etc.

Unified Communications tie all available collaboration tools together as a fully integrated suite of communication solutions enabling employees to perform their role with ease.  For example, when equipped with unified communications tools, employees can easily:

• See the availability of any individual one needs to collaborate with from any device (desk phone, mobile phone, smart phone, PC, tablets, telepresence) to any device, and engage with that person  with a single click; and,

• Start a communication thread with a text message, then elect to enhance it into a video chat or SharePoint community chat and pull in more individuals at will to drive an activity to close as efficiently as possible.

Mobile application development continues to rapidly expand bringing businesses and individuals together wherever they are.  As a result, there are more opportunities to integrate mobile applications with unified communication features to enhance collaboration further.

Challenge Lies in Legacy Solutions

The rapid development of consumer technology has led to higher expectations on how B2B organizations will conduct business with their customers as well as their employees.  Businesses  need to focus on meeting customers and employees on their “turf” when it comes to how and where they communicate as well as use products and services. 

For example, if you consider the shipping and banking industries, transactions are being conducted wherever the customers are via their mobile devices.  Customers are expecting similar experiences with other types of businesses as well.  The telecommunications sector is no different.  Most customers are in the dark between the time the order is placed and the time the service is activated.  Why can’t we provide the same type of experience within the telecommunications industry?  A customer should be able to  monitor the entire lifecycle of an order from the initial quote to activation, with a higher degree of visibility, predictability, and overall customer satisfaction with a simple click on one’s mobile device without having to make a phone call. 

The challenge has been that most IT environments are comprised of a collection of legacy and ERP software solutions.  How does one provide an end-to-end view of an order without a heavy investment to re-platform their legacy applications?  Today, Bbusiness Pprocess Mmanagement (BPM) software allows CIOs to link disparate applications and business processes as if they represent a single contiguous set of processes.  The key is to gain visibility into transactions real-time as they flow through the company’s operational environment through a single pane of glass for the customers. 

While the shipping and banking industries have successfully integrated technology that places useful data and applications in their customers’ hands on virtually any communications device, many CIOs “stay up at night” trying to determine the best path to provide that same experience inside their companies and externally to their customers.

Future Emphasis on Big Data

In order to remain competitive in the market place, companies must have deep insight into their business so they can drive continuous improvements  throughout the company from sales and marketing to cost of service activities.  At times, the data needed is embedded within legacy systems and useful data analytics is very limited.  Enterprise data governance and the use of big data play a large role in how companies gain a holistic view of a company’s Kkey Pperformance Iindicators (KPI) dynamically analyze historical trends, without creating a new report every time a different question is being asked by executives.  Being able to quickly perform predictive analytics on your KPI’s and their associated supporting data is key to remaining competitive in the market place.

As UC gets more traction throughout the business communications, work processes that will be improved by integrating  independent vendor software with common UC technology will accelerate.  For example, consider today’s laborious task of approving a Ppurchase Oorder (PO).  Many companies rely on a chain of emails for this process, or they may even still be sending paper copies around from office to office.  With UC, a CIO may have a question regarding a PO that requires approval.  With a simple click, the CIO can ask the infrastructure director about the nature of the purchase and click again to ask the IT finance manager about the current state of the operating budget prior to approving the PO.  UC enables companies to improve productivity wherever employees may be and with  any communications device.  With UC, companies will streamline their operations in the future and the emphasis will be turned toward big data for deep business insight and more effective supply chain management.

Maximizing Benefits to Provide Competitive Advantages

As technology leaders, our duty as a CIO is to align IT investments to provide competitive advantages into the areas with the highest payoff in the timeframe businesses require, while maintaining strong consideration for cultural readiness among the entire organization.  Gauging the timing of all the variables to maximize the benefits while managing risk can be challenging.  In fact, at times it is more of an art than a science.  To find the right balance, CIOs need to be present with the business and be a champion for business transformation rather than a technology injection.

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