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Managing Change – Leveraging IP for Business Success
John Samuel
Thursday, January 29, 2009
It's often said that tomorrow's successful businesses will be those that can best deal with change. The question for businesses today is therefore how to accommodate change into the very fabric of their organization to ensure they are one of tomorrow's leaders. How can they turn today's increasingly fast-paced business environment into a competitive advantage, not a threat?

Today, successful businesses are extended enterprises uniting employees, suppliers, partners and customers on a global network. These businesses are inevitably highly complex structures where decision making is distributed and dynamic. And they face diverse and increasing challenges, whether economic or geographic, which impact on business performance.

A wide variety of IT and communications solutions are currently available to help firms become more agile and better able to cope with change. Yet these tools are also currently changing fast to support the extended enterprise's business needs. The extended enterprise's IT and communications solutions must as a minimum enable effective collaboration across a firm's employee base, and the communication processes such technology supports must be integrated into the organization's business processes to optimize business success. IT and communications systems must align totally with the needs of the extended business.

The integration of communications into the fabric of business operations and the transformation of how employees use communications tools throughout their working day are the keys to tomorrow's business success. Communications tools are the key to allowing easier and more successful collaboration between geographically dispersed individuals and groups, enabling organizations to leverage their employees core expertise to make faster, better and more informed business decisions. Firms that successfully achieve these goals will be best placed to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Building Business Success
Increasingly unified communications (UC) and collaboration (together known as UC&C) are being seen as supporting the routes to future success. Although apparently relatively simple in concept, UC&C is however a hugely complex area and demands a radically different implementation approach compared with traditional IT and communications solutions. In short, with UC&C everything changes; if UC&C is implemented effectively, this is all for the best. But UC&C implementations need to adapt often long entrenched organizational processes to align conceptual complexities with business realities.

Fundamentally, firms will derive competitive advantage by extending their reach to its fullest potential. They will become more flexible and adaptable entities, sharing knowledge, reacting faster and developing a more effective supply chain than their competitors. For global enterprises, maximizing the potential of infrastructure and resources across geographical and time boundaries to achieve the twin goals of productivity and profitability is an increasingly critical management objective.

It's no surprise to find that in general the people most responsible for revenue generation within organizations are also the most mobile: a crucial business development factor will be how well extended enterprises can deliver business critical information to all staff, in particular in real time to those valuable mobile employees.

What is UC&C?
Over recent years, various methodologies, technologies and applications have emerged in order to support this aim. Business process reengineering, customer relationship management, employee relationship management and more have been adopted by increasing numbers of organizations around the world in a bid to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations, whether internal or customer-facing.

UC&C takes all of this to the next level: it is all about making real-time communications manageable and accessible across multiple devices within the extended enterprise. It is about seamlessly and intuitively integrating business communications solutions with operational goals, enabling employees to collaborate easily and naturally.

However, importantly, UC&C is also about streamlining communications tools to optimize non-real-time communications – enabling employees to maximize productivity by effectively and efficiently sharing knowledge and expertise while maximizing the potential of different time zones and geographies. Collaboration is an essential concept in this context. It is the basic recognition that the key resources of an organization must work together if strategic business objectives are to be realized. Only by fostering an environment in which collaboration is second nature will today’s business be able to ensure future success in a 24/7 global economy. But it's also important to recognize that the possibilities of the 24/7 economy will only be realized by optimizing the potential of the global clock, and providing the tools to enable employees to collaborate effectively across time zone boundaries.

According to a 2006 study by research firm Frost & Sullivan that was sponsored by Verizon Business and Microsofti, collaboration is a key driver of the overall performance of companies around the world. The research showed that its impact is twice as significant as a company’s aggressiveness in pursuing new market opportunities according to the firm's strategic orientation and five times as significant as the external market environment that firms work in. Overall, concluded the Frost & Sullivan white paper, just over a third of a company’s performance—comprising factors like profitability, growth, productivity, product quality and customer satisfaction— is attributable to how well it collaborates.

Leveraging the Power of IP Networks
The benefits of collaboration have already been widely recognized by businesses and, moreover, collaborative technologies have existed for a while in one form or another, deployed widely in applications such as audio or net conferencing, instant messaging or similar. UC&C takes this to another level because of the way in which it ties in with the emerging IP based communications networks that will form the bedrock of tomorrow’s extended enterprises.

In the past, firms had to employ separate networks to support their voice and data services. To support UC&C, firms need to have one converged IP network thus freeing themselves from the ongoing cost of deploying and maintaining different types of network architectures. This includes having to employ staff trained to deal with the individual network architectures: with UC&C this cost is removed.

Services such as telephony, conferencing tools, Instant Messaging (IM) and presence information, and email are by their nature interconnected as far as business professionals are concerned and once the applications share a common IP platform and protocol, such as SIP, all of these applications can be integrated and act in an orchestrated, productivity-enriching way. Integration then enables IM and presence functionality to be supported on commonly available IP-enabled devices such as PCs, PDAs, smart phones and other mobile devices, as opposed to relatively expensive niche products. Bring all these disparate systems and devices to work seamlessly together, and ultimately you have true UC&C.

Realistic Benefits of UC&C
But is UC&C just one of the latest hot phrases? The answer to this question is an emphatic no. It's actually about resolving one of the fundamental business issues – enabling a team to work together as effectively as possible. And in these days of global business operations, it's about enabling globally dispersed teams to communicate as though they are in the same room, whether in real-time or across different time zones and geographies. In fact, enabling efficient non-real-time communications is probably a more important objective for most global operations, who will be loathe to be seen to look to any technology that looks to place an additional burden on already time-strapped employees by enforcing only real-time communications across multiple time zones.

Employing UC&C can mean that firms are much more agile, more adaptable, and therefore more ready to respond more positively to the inevitable changes that will occur in tomorrow's business environment. Ultimately UC&C offers the capability for firms to improve significantly the way that their employees interact and perform with positive results on an individual, team and enterprise-wide basis. UC&C allows disparate forms of communications services and devices used by individuals to be channeled into a more holistic entity.

The largest single value of such a way of working is to reduce what is known as ‘human latency'. This is defined as the differential between what individual pieces of technology could potentially holistically deliver and what they can deliver when used separately. A classic example is if a call or message to a mobile worker's office voice or message system is routed intelligently to the appropriate device at the appropriate location in the appropriate user-requested form in the field rather than being held at the office system and actioned only on return to the office. Thus actions take place as and when required and are not limited by location or indeed technology. A second example is to enable tracked collaboration on documents across time zones – so a US-based employee generates a first draft, and then it is updated by a colleague in APAC overnight, and two further contributors add in comments in the European time zone. Truly effective UC&C will enable all contributors to ensure they are working on the latest version, wherever they are, and in whichever format is most appropriate for their purposes. This is the reality of business life for many organizations, and UC&C has a key role to play in making this a reality.

But equally as there are realistic benefits to be gained from UC&C, there are also some realistic challenges that firms may face in making it happen. The fundamental first step that needs to be taken is a transition to an IP-based infrastructure. For some this may be costly and time consuming in the short term. This move should be regarded as a long-term investment; the right highly available, robust and secure network is everything in UC&C.

Additionally, UC&C is still in a relatively immature phase right now. IP-based telephony, conferencing tools, IM, presence and email are currently all available but, realistically, there are not as yet many totally integrated solutions containing them all in a holistic bundle. It's only a matter of time before this happens though. Of course, to make UC&C truly work, these collaborative capabilities need to be truly embedded into applications (often termed 'Communications Enabled Business Processes' (CEBP) today). While communications experts can work to help customers plan for this eventuality, this is probably the area of UC&C which is still currently the biggest work in progress. Achieving this goal will truly enable UC&C to truly transform business processes – and we can anticipate great steps in working towards this over the coming months and years.

The other key thing firms need to do in order to make a smooth transition to UC&C is to have a clear understanding of who in their workforce will need what type of tools on what types of devices. Having this clarity before purchase can mean avoiding the trap of buying unnecessary, technology.

Delivering the Triple Whammy
With the right set up in place, UC&C can be beneficial in three areas of activity: for the individual; for the individual's team and for the enterprise as a whole. Individuals' productivity is enhanced by UC&C as they can accomplish more during their working day. Such productivity boosts the team in which the individuals work, as a UC&C-enabled team will deliver cumulatively enhanced productivity gains as inter-person communications and effectiveness are boosted. More productive teams are hence better for the enterprise as a whole. Such gains can and have been defined as 'Synergistic UC&C' where gains derived from UC&C at enterprise, team or individual level can drive a degree of collaboration that is leveraged across all domains. UC&C functionality in one area essentially assists achieving objectives in another. This means that an enterprise system, or a chain of systems that form a process within an organisation, are linked into the communication platform. For example, an order specialist viewing a sales order on an internal sales ordering system can click on the sales person’s name instantly to initiate a call out, without the need to look up contact details in a separate system or directory.

Essentially, implementing these communication enabled processes has a direct result on a firm’s revenue, competitiveness and efficiency. This enables organisations to be more agile than ever before as the ability to contact or respond to anyone at any time on any device powers a new wave of productivity. Processes that take hours today can be transformed to processes completed in minutes. Ultimately businesses will see greater customer satisfaction and be more productive, creating new business opportunities.

Meetings around the world: the impact of collaboration on business performance, a Frost & Sullivan white paper sponsored by Verizon Business and Microsoft, June 2006.

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