Communications Overload

Over the last two decades, technology innovation has brought the world closer together and has given people more ways to communicate with each other. While these changes have brought new heights in productivity and created a more mobile, global, and “always-on” world of work, this rapid transformation also created new challenges in today’s business environment.

Information workers and IT professionals are each struggling to manage multiple systems for communications – desktop and mobile phones, email and voicemail, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Instant Messaging, and web- and videoconferencing.

While many of these individual communication tools are considered indispensible, they do not necessarily work well together to help people collaborate and increase their productivity. To foster efficient communication and collaboration within the workforce, organisations need a way to streamline both one-to-one and one-to-many communications, giving employees access to the information they need, when they need it.

Companies face high costs when using traditional communication methods. Long-distance charges, maintenance costs for fax and voicemail systems, and travel costs for employees all cut into company margins.

Increasingly aware of the bottom line, organisations frequently look for more cost-effective means of communication and collaboration across all boundaries. But the new methods must be more than just cost-effective; they have to be fully accessible and user-friendly, and they should not trigger extra costs such as additional IT support or staff requirements. These issues lead to large IT departments and a inflated cost of ownership.

Working anytime, anywhere

Business communications are increasingly complex and require workers to manage multiple devices, applications, and face-to-face interactions in an attempt to stay productively connected with one another.

As the information worker population shifts from working in headquarter locations to working anywhere, anytime, and across corporate boundaries, the challenge of reaching key decision makers in a timely manner increases. The inability to reach others at critical times results in numerous delays and lost productivity. Star has found that sometimes businesses slow down or even halt mission-critical projects due to employees’ inability to reach key decision-makers.

As soon as the challenges of this sort of person-to-person latency have been addressed, the challenge is raised to one of boosting the effectiveness of teams by improving collaboration. Unified Communications support such efforts by shifting communications, as appropriate, from asynchronous channels (email, voicemail) to synchronous modes like instant messaging, PC-to-PC audio and video, electronic white boarding, Web conferencing, application sharing, and mobile access.

Building blocks of Unified Comms:

1. Presence Information: Knowing The Availability Of Colleagues: Presence information lets people know whether others are available (e.g., online, away, busy, in a meeting, out to lunch). People can publish their availability so others know how best to reach them. The system provides some automation; for example, if a user has not touched the keyboard or mouse for a set number of minutes, that user’s presence information turns to “away.” Additional state information can also be automatically published using information from Microsoft Outlook, Communicator, SharePoint, calendaring and the PBX or IP telephone system — for example “in a meeting,” “on the phone,” “out of the office,” or “free in x hours.” In a Forrester survey commissioned by Microsoft in 2009, 59% of workers stated they would save more than 15 minutes per day with this feature.

2. Instant Messaging: More Immediate Communication: Instant messaging (IM) is the capability to send and receive text messages in real time over the Internet or a corporate network. The recipient typically sees an alert on the desktop indicating an incoming message and from whom. Enterprise IM maintains this capability within and increasingly beyond the corporate network, adding security that does not exist with public IM systems like AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, and Google Talk.

3. Web And Videoconferencing: Cost And Time Savings Ad hoc Web and video conferencing improves efficiency in real-time decision-making by providing easy setup, links to presence management, and point-and-click conference launches. Value increases when the time to set up a videoconference drops to near zero. 60% of workers surveyed for a Forrester report indicated that they could save from 1 to 5 hours per week using real-time conferencing.

4. Hosted IP Telephony Hosted IP telephony makes it possible to communicate via telephone over an IP network instead of over traditional PBX telephony infrastructure. Voice communications can be integrated with email, calendaring, voicemail/unified messaging, IM, and conferencing to provide a streamlined experience rather than the disconnected experience provided by legacy systems today. Further, IP telephony can significantly reduce the cost of telephone communications. Companies interviewed for this study were engaged in pilot testing of software-powered VoIP, including PC-to-PC calling using various devices and integration of voice with email, IM, and conferencing.

5. One-Click Communication We are approaching a time where all you need to find someone is his name, and all the means of contact are available immediately. Several of the organisations interviewed are looking toward a single identity for each employee that aggregates all the contact information (even individual’s areas of expertise) stored in Active Directory with some of the ways staff in the organisation communicate (phone, mobile device, conferencing, IM, email, calendaring). Finding the right person becomes faster, and determining his availability and communicating via his preferred, context-dependent medium is smoothed because presence is integrated into Microsoft Office applications.

6. Mobility A minority of users in the interviewed companies carry mobile devices that have been integrated into the UC platform. For some organisations, mobility is an important part of their UC solutions, while for others it is an adjunct set of capabilities for select users. Certain mobile devices can run email and IM clients, thus integrating the mobile phone with the individual’s presence, IM, and email. Further, with a mobile device, users can open and modify email attachments, attachments within IM and other Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents.

Unified Communications technologies streamline communications for end users, increase operational efficiency for IT professionals, and provide built-in protection for an organisation, while serving as a future-ready foundation to enable business process innovation.

For many end-users, communications take place in disparate, disconnected silos. For voice communications, you turn to the desktop or mobile phone. For email and instant messaging, you turn to your PC. With the multitude of applications and tools from which to communicate, end-users face a chaotic environment. WorkLife, Star’s managed communications platform breaks down traditional silos and allows end-users to collaborate within the context of the desktop and mobile applications they use every day, with the ability to switch seamlessly between modes.

An organisation’s internal communications systems often consist of a set of diverse applications and capabilities, making it difficult for employees to use the various systems and equally challenging for the IT departments to deploy, manage, and maintain the systems—all of which leads to user frustration and high total cost of ownership for IT. Unified Communications simplifies the deployment and management of this infrastructure to make IT operations more efficient and reduce the frustration associated with disparate systems.

Unified Communications offers significant benefits to organisations, including increased individual and team productivity, fostering of collaboration, improved relationships, enhanced security, and enterprise-class scalability. By granting instant access to team members, partners, suppliers, and customers across geographies, time zones, and organisational boundaries, timely information can flow rapidly and efficiently. Organisations can improve team results by using Unified Communications to share ideas and information faster and more effectively.

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Hugo is a seasoned telecoms professional and leads Star’s Unified Communications strategy. He is responsible for delivering Star’s Network Services products, working with customers to develop new voice and data products and services to solve today’s business challenges.