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Unified Communications and the productivity debate

It pays to think macro

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Workshop The word ‘productivity’ is a somewhat wearied term that is perhaps too readily associated with the benefits that Unified Communications (UC) brings to a business.

To some extent this has arisen out of necessity. After all, when companies are trying to put together a business case around UC they need tangible, positive outcomes to help justify the investment, and vague terms such as ‘more efficient communication and collaboration’ just aren’t good enough.

Discussions around productivity benefits have helped to overcome natural resistance to a solution aimed at addressing a problem that typically isn’t explicitly acknowledged or understood, ie that of communications fragmentation. There is, however, a need for more precision when articulating the benefits.

When we talk about productivity in the context of UC, the start point is often the end user, and how it can make individuals work better, through improved communications and collaboration. While this viewpoint is important to understand, it doesn’t really convey how the company benefits at an overall level. No one will argue, for example, that for an individual trying to locate a colleague to pass on a message from a key client UC can save time and remove some of the frustration of daily work life.

More importantly though UC in this example is driving benefit to the business because the client is dealt with more responsively, enhancing their satisfaction, loyalty and propensity to spend more money with us. While we may be able to determine the amount of time saved, allocate a cost to this time saving and even be able to extrapolate this figure across the business and into the future, basing the business case on that alone can overlook some very important intangible benefits.

This underlines the need to consider UC payback at a more macro level – ie the business as a whole. When we do this, the analysis then naturally shifts to encompass more process-oriented elements. We can put this in better perspective if we use a variation of the example above, with a prospective client interfacing with a sales person.

The ability for the sales person to set up a virtual meeting in real time - including a technical support guy to deal with the prospect’s technical queries and the sales manager to agree more favourable commercial terms - could mean the difference between a won and lost deal. When we think in this way, the benefits suddenly become much more meaningful than simple time-saving.

To net this out, rather than focusing on how much more efficient UC makes people - eg how much time they will save in a day because of more streamlined communications - it makes more sense to look at how much more effective processes and the handling of frequently occurring business scenarios will become. This can be done by having the right people do the right things in the right time and in the right way.

Turning to decision making practicalities, prior to making any commitment around UC, it is often advisable to run a pilot to test the water, using this as an opportunity to gather as many proof points as possible to support a business case.

Before and after scenarios can highlight what UC is actually bringing to the party. Are the weaknesses, frustrations, ‘if onlys’, bottlenecks etc that were real pain points for users before the pilot positively impacted by UC? And if so, how, and to what degree? Are there specific examples that participants can cite to convey how UC has made a difference – like the example of the sales person mentioned earlier? These are the things that will make the benefits of UC real and more ‘measurable’ to whoever is tasked with reviewing and signing off the business case.

Just as a UC implementation will only deliver maximum benefit if all interdependent groups (eg teams that frequently need to communicate) are included within scope, the same is true of a pilot. If a company wants a genuine understanding of what impact UC will have on sales, for example, a pilot would need to not just include sales people, but also people with whom they communicate and need to refer to most regularly – in this case pre-sales support, technical support, and more senior management.

This approach requires companies to rethink how they measure what UC actually delivers, but in doing this, it also forces them to address where and how UC needs to be applied within the business, which in turn is more likely to lead to a more successful implementation, delivering identifiable productivity benefits.

If your company has already implemented UC, we would like to know how much importance you place on productivity benefits, and how you went about identifying and assessing them for your business case at that all important macro level. And for those considering moving to UC, what productivity improvements are you looking for?

Let us know what you think in the comment area below. ®

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