As the number of communications devices and contact channels used by consumers and businesspeople continues to rise, organisations face a growing problem in maintaining effective communications with staff, partners and customers. And it’s a situation that hasn’t been helped by the economic recession when, with stretched IT budgets and limited infrastructure expenditure, many companies chose to cut back heavily on their investment in new office communications systems.
As organisations plan ahead, however, many now realise that by investing in unified communications (UC) solutions they can reduce costs, boost productivity and steal an important march on their competitors as the economy strengthens.
Henry McCracken, regional sales director: Africa at Aspect Software, believes that UC is the next logical step in the communications world.
“In 2009, Aspect conducted research amongst business executives at the IDC Unified Communications: Unified Communication and Collaboration Conference in London, to determine business interest in UC and better understand organisations’ likely timescales for implementation,” he says.
“Fifty-six percent of business executives that took part in the survey stated that their organisations had a UC strategy and when asked about their implementation timescales, eight percent reported that their UC implementation would be completed in under one year; seventy-five percent in one or two years; and seventeen percent in two to five years.”
More recent research, says McCracken, conducted in 2010 by Aspect around UC trends, has revealed further insight.
“2010 survey respondents saw massive benefits in adopting UC – with twenty four percent seeing ‘improved employee productivity’ and seventeen percent seeing ‘travel cost reduction’ as the most significant” he says.
“These were not the only benefits associated with UC as respondents also recognised the huge impact that UC could have on service quality, with a massive eighty three percent agreeing that the value of UC increases when it is extended to customers.”
UC integrates real time communication services, such as instant messaging, presence information, IP telephony, video conferencing, call control and speech recognition with non real-time communication services, such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, email, SMS and fax).
“Communication can be costly,” says McCracken. “The complexity of multiple communication devices with different interfaces and technologies results in a lack of integration that hinders the efficiency and effectiveness of communication.”
UC is not a single product, he says, but a set of products that provide a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple communications devices and media types. It is a solution that is well suited to service-oriented businesses that offer products and solutions to a large customer base.
“Aspect assists companies in formulating their UC strategies and visions, and allows customers to ‘test drive’ UC applications via conferencing programmes,” he says. “Aspect’s UC value proposition is encapsulated in six areas that relate to employees and business:
1. The cost of lost productivity
2. Real estate costs
3. Flexibility over compensation
4. Typical spend at main office
5. The average time to commute
6. Impact on the environment
McCracken says Aspect offers businesses an ‘account profiling’ service that accurately identifies and addresses UC requirements. And with clients in financial services, healthcare, public sector, services, technology and consumer products, it is well placed to provide real scenarios, examples and savings of businesses that have already adopted UC.
He goes on to says that, while the economic climate may have slowed down adoption of UC, it is encouraging to note that fourty one percent of respondents in the 2010 survey expect to deploy unified platforms within the next two years.
“There is an important conclusion to be drawn here and that is that if implementing UC is perceived to reduce travel costs and improve productivity – and that extending UC to customers improves multichannel communications and access to external knowledge workers – then, conversely, the opposite must be true.
“By supporting multichannel communications WITHOUT investing in unified platforms then productivity isn’t as high as it could be, travel costs are higher than they need to be, contact centre communications with external knowledge workers are not optimised, and so on. These are not only missed opportunities to impact the quality of internal and external company communications, they are also missed opportunities to improve business performance.”
“Companies who understand the role UC can play and are currently planning their UC strategies will play a role in setting a new standard, leaving those without a UC strategy behind.”