• 02/19/2009
    6:45 PM
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How Companies Are Making Unified Communications Pay Off

UC isn't easy or cheap to deploy. But companies can start with cash-saving steps and move to more strategic goals.
First Step, Save Money

Global Crossing, an IP networking carrier, closely tracks the cash savings from using its UC services. For example, the company's chief operations officer holds weekly global staff meetings of about 16 employees via OCS videoconference. That setup is one piece of a UC deployment that saves an estimated $16,000 to $25,000 a week on conferencing services; 30% on long distance by making IP calls between offices and routing customer calls through local, VoIP-enabled Global Crossing offices; and 40% on the travel costs of the chief operations officer's staff by eliminating flights to and from meetings.

But Global Crossing wanted to get employees responding more quickly to customer problems and increase customer satisfaction. As part of that effort, Fuqua's team began looking at how employees used communication tools when responding, digging into data such as when, where, and how long employees were on the phone and in conference calls.

UC should be in the apps people use
every day,Global Crossing’s Fuqua says

UC should be in the apps people use every day, Global Crossing's Fuqua says

What Fuqua found was that Global Crossing was paying too much and getting too little in return for a muddle of disparate collaboration technologies, such as standalone audioconferencing, Web conferencing, videoconferencing, and telephony, that could be simplified by relying instead on a unified communications platform like Microsoft's OCS.

It wasn't just the cost that was troubling. Since the tools didn't have common IP features like presence awareness, employees often didn't know the best way to reach colleagues when trying to fix a problem, or even whom to call, and both customer service and worker productivity suffered. When a service order was delayed because of parts not coming in from a supplier, customers were sometimes left for days without sufficient explanation because employees didn't know whom to call.

When a company is looking at these kinds of big process improvements, it can be a good time to bring UC in, says consultant Nick Lippis, because there tends to be a large budget attached to it, and "you can add something like UC software because it adds more value to an investment you're already making."

Fuqua thinks that for UC to pay off, it must be integrated into the business applications people use every day, which at Global Crossing includes Microsoft Outlook and an application that tracks order workflows. Now, when employees log on to the order workflow app, each step shows the name of an employee who can answer questions about it, with an icon showing whether the employee is available for a chat. Largely through the use of this app internally, Fuqua estimates Global Crossing can fix problems, such as a mistake when changing a network design specification, 15% to 25% faster.

By midyear, Global Crossing will give customers a similar view into who's available to solve a problem. Using OCS's presence capabilities, a portal will let customers with service problems log in to see contact information about whom to call and a presence function that tells the customer which contacts are at their desks.

Global Crossing also is testing what it calls M-Bots, or mobile bots. When engineers or salespeople want a piece of pertinent information like recent sales to a customer or the status of a trouble ticket, they can use Office Communicator Mobile on a smartphone to message to a chat bot, which responds with a list of options on what kind of information to return. However, Fuqua recommends mobile UC apps be as simple as possible because of the limited power of mobile devices.

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