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Connect, Communicate and Collaborate with Confidence

Nov 17, 2007
A CEO guide to business transformation through unified communication. A dynamic business climate has resulted in many organisations again embracing technology as an opportunity to differentiate themselves and create business agility.

While cost saving has been the primary driver for the adoption of converged communications, the concept of unified communications - the ability to communicate in real-time from any location, to access any application using any device delivers the productivity gains many organizations have failed to see before.

A rapidly connecting real-time world creates challenges and opportunities that the chief executive needs to understand and embrace. Unified communications will fundamentally change the way in which organizations serve their clients.

Technology and the evolution of the virtual organization
Since the 1990s, the world has grown 'smaller' as advances in communication technology have closed the geographical gap between people around the world. Telephony, fax, email, conferencing and now instant messaging enable 4/7 communication and impacting the way we look at interaction.

Technology has changed the way organizations communicate, resulting in fundamental changes to the way they structure their operations and business models. Structures have evolved from a top-down approach, through a horizontal model designed around processes, and on into a new 'adaptive era', made possible by new communication technologies.

As organizations evolve towards a virtual model, so communication technologies have become even more important. Convergence results from standardization and it started in the early nineties with the emergence of the Internet Protocol (IP) as the de facto network protocol. Today, IP has brought man advantages to communications applications. Standards make it possible to consider using a single network (IP network) to carry all types of communications traffic; voice, data and video.

It manifests itself across the communications spectrum right down to devices. Executive PDAs and corporate CRM systems highlight the blurring of distinctions between phones and computers. Dual-mode handsets that use voice-over-wireless networks do the same for fixed and mobile telephone technologies. And the mobile device is getting more powerful by the day with multiple functions being performed on a single device which enables collaboration on a real-time basis.

The Presence phenomenon signifies a step change in the usage of new tools and technologies in the corporate sphere. Presence provides the means on integrating the numerous forms of communication into a single integrated environment associated with the individual, not the device (laptop, office phone, mobile phone, etc.). A fundamental shift occurs when we are no longer reliant on email addresses and telephone extensions for identifying people, but identify people and associate a mechanism with them base don their preference. Be that on their mobile phone when they travel or Instant Messaging because they are in a meeting.

Transforming business effectiveness
Business effectiveness increasingly depends on having communications tools and an infrastructure that can harness diverse talent, knowledge and skills across boundaries of time and space. Virtualization enables an organization to leverage 'connectedness' to generate significant gains.

These business effectiveness gains play out in different ways across a range of business functions. We take a quick look at the implications for: maintenance of business services; offshore manufacturing; customer contact; and home working.

Maintenance of business services and continuity
Tragic events in recent history have highlighted the need for an effective business continuity plan. Arguably the most critical portion of this is the ability to maintain communications with customers, staff and suppliers. By deploying a robust, integrated communications and collaboration infrastructure organizations are able to maintain these communications and business activities. As these environments support communications from any location, organizations are able to divert staff to branch offices or have them work from home with no effect on how they communicate with customers, colleagues and suppliers.

Offshore manufacturing
Virtualization was pioneered by the aerospace industry back in the 1970s. Then it was all about coordinating teams around the world to build new aircraft. Today, many organizations design their products in one country and manufacturing them in low cost production centers like China and India. So there is a pressing need to connect teams across continents.

The new communications infrastructure enables individuals and organizations to work together more effectively. It delivers feature-rich, real-time communications using video conferencing, instant messaging, and collaborative applications that can be accessed at any time and from any location. And the fact that information is stored online in a common repository rather than in a team or individual's file means that those with clearance can access this as and when required.

Customer contact
Voice portal solutions allow users to access online services using a telephone. The user might use his mobile phone to dial in and request information using voice or touchtone keys. The information is sent back using a special voice-producing programme on the website. Alternatively it could be provided as a visual display and/or email on a 'smartphone'.

This new technology which takes convergence to a new level offers business enormous benefits. Self-service through voice portals cuts costs and streamlines processes, allowing customers to automatically access information and perform transactions that are captured by the providers' database. This saves operator time and provides customers with a new channel for interacting with suppliers.

Home working
The virtualisation of the workspace means that it doesn't matter where you are based. So people can continue to work on projects whatever their physical location, whether it is home, a satellite office or a hotel in another country. Using virtual private networks (VPN) employees can connect with the office and use any of the tools or directories remotely.

This has considerable benefits for organisations who wish to retain key staff. Many families today may have two people with careers and it could be that one person has to relocate. In the old days that could have meant a change of job for the other and the loss of their talents to the organisation. Virtualisation allows employees to relocate without having to change jobs, or conversely change jobs without relocating.
About the Author
Datacraft is the leading independent IT services and solutions company in Asia Pacific. Datacraft combines an expertise in networking, security, Microsoft solutions, storage and contact centre technologies, with advanced skills in consulting, integration and managed services, to craft IT solutions for businesses.
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