Unified communications, which promises integrated communication modalities and the integration of business process apps and communications technology, is finally starting to catch on in a big way. But while most companies are just in the planning or early deployment stages, network service provider Global Crossing is on the bleeding edge.
"Communications and business processes aren't just complementary," Mike Fuqua, Global Crossing's senior VP of global information systems, said in an interview. "Communications is a strategic element, and unified communications is transformational."
Global Crossing has deployed Microsoft Office Communications Server (software that Microsoft is touting, at least partially, as a replacement for traditional phone systems) to nearly all of its 5,000 employees. Nearly 20% of those employees have headsets and Webcams to make voice and video calls via the software, and the rest can use the software for features like instant messaging, presence, and Web conferencing.
All new employees receive the hardware, and many Global Crossing employees no longer even have phones on their desks, instead only using the Microsoft software and their headsets. The chief operations officer holds weekly staff meetings with his global team via videoconference, and OCS can show only video of the person talking rather than a 16-way split screen. But that rollout is only the first step.
Ever since Global Crossing began rolling out Office Communications Server's predecessor, Microsoft Live Communications Server, two or three years ago, Fuqua saw the key to success as integrating communications functionality into Global Crossing's business applications, including Microsoft Outlook and an application that tracks sales workflow. When employees log on to the sales workflow app, each step of the sales process is annotated with the name of the employee handling that step and an icon that shows whether the employee is available for a chat. With a click of the mouse, employees can launch instant messages, phone calls, or video calls with fellow employees.
Now Global Crossing has begun to integrate similar features into "a lot" of other applications, Fuqua says. In doing so, he's found a pattern. Communications sessions are usually launched whenever there's a problem with the process. "When an order gets slipped up or information doesn't seem right, the first step is to start a line of communication," he said.
With UC in place, Fuqua estimates Global Crossing is seeing about 15% to 25% improvement in the time it takes to fix problems.
Global Crossing is testing an application that will use OCS's presence capabilities to help remediate customer problems. The company's customer portal will be upgraded so that when customers experience problems with their service, they can log in and see both contact information on who to call in the case of a problem as well as presence information that can tell the customer which contacts are at their desks.
"They see an alarm, and the first question is who they're going to talk to," Fuqua said.