Unified Communications Underpins an Agile Workforce

nec-unified-communications-agile-workforceYour organization’s success will demand and possibly depend upon an agile and responsive workforce, regardless of location and how staff is connected. Enabling mobility plays a key role in achieving an agile workforce, but is only part of a journey that is based on rallying people, knowledge and resources to improve your organization’s outcomes.

Read on to learn more about unifying communications, communications challenges, and how your organization can steer itself towards a lower cost path that enables it to deliver outstanding service.

 

The Business edge: responsiveness and trust
Unified Communications is the cornerstone to agility and responsiveness, but creating the environment for this to successfully take place depends entirely on knowledge. After all, your workforce cannot respond to an event until they are aware that it’s taken place. Their response to threats and opportunities defines both operational performance and your customer’s experience.

Underpinning these hard-won assets is the infrastructure that supports an agile workforce. When it comes to telephony, yes, providing a dial-tone gives the bare essentials, but are there better ways to support agility? Does merely providing a dial-tone place your organization in the best position to adapt when the time is right?

The customer’s perception of dealing with your organization will define the level of trust placed in your workforce. Small overheads on performance, over time, have a cumulative effect that impacts both the top and bottom lines.

Speaking of customer perception, responsiveness and trust are critical to the success of business in a competitive market. Regardless of the organization’s size and physical distribution, the right people need to respond at the right time – whether it’s a client query, a new tender, a patient emergency or a critical supply chain issue.

 

Unified Communications: the journey to mobility
Beyond mobility, the bigger picture is unifying workforce communications at the desk, in the corridor or on the road and providing a platform that allows your business to embrace new processes at the appropriate time. Today’s workforce has a host of communications tools to support business, including desktop telephony, email, instant messaging, presence, social networking, and mobile devices, such as laptops, Smartphones or tablets.

The common thread between all these platforms is that they keep people in touch and up to date. Unified Communications offers business a stepping stone to allow its workforce to take control over communications platforms and manage customer expectations – all while fostering agility.

Unified Communications is an essential step in enabling businesses to control its degree of mobility. This is achieved by putting components of the office at the mobile worker’s fingertips. More importantly, it connects existing processes to the individual, rather than their desktops, providing a path to gradually transform practices.

Now that you know the importance of mobility and Unified Communications in an agile workforce, how will you achieve one? In the next segment we will share five steps to help you get started.

Solving the BYOD Dilemma in Education – Part 2

Part 2-Defining Devices

nec-education-devicesNow that we’ve identified users, let’s take a look at available devices and best application practices. It is critical to keep in mind the differences in the way each of these devices are used.

Laptops: Laptops can be relatively easy to incorporate, as they offer standardized network and Internet access. But are the benefits greater than the risks? Laptops are easy to turn off, and easy to detect on your network. In an educational setting, teachers can clearly monitor laptop usage and if you are designing access to your student portal, creating a website accessible by all operating systems and most browsers is a relatively simple task. On the risk side, however, laptops can be easy vectors for malware and viruses. If left unchecked, these viruses can spread throughout your school infrastructure and affect anyone who is connected.

Smart phones: While voice usage of phones is decreasing sharply among youth, data and text usage is rising – and fast. Take a look here to see how dramatically data services usage is increasing among teens and young adults. Have your schools faced this issue yet? If not, it is likely they will soon, how will you prepare for this?

Smart phones can be difficult to manage on campus due to the fact that there are so many different capabilities and operating systems associated with them. Designing an app for the Apple OS and Blackberry may make most of your staff happy, but what about the percentage who favor Android? Websites, even those designed for mobile devices, have also caused more issues than they resolve for even the most common devices.

Tablets: Similar to laptops, these multi-tasking devices allow for document management, communication and collaboration. Tablets can run a wide range of applications and software, whether it is for educational purposes, general productivity or for entertainment and personal use. Although similar to laptops, tablets tend to be more secure from a virus and malware standpoint, and less useful for writing and collaboration without accessories such as a keyboard. Tablets are associated with a more narrow set of operating systems (e.g., Apple OS or Android), but with Microsoft’s foray into the arena in 2012, and various other vendors such as HP and RIM continuing to fine-tune their own offerings, this may not be the case for much longer.

So where will you go from here? You can see that there’s a lot to consider before moving ahead, and as is the case with most major projects, the more preparation and greater understanding of adapting to your user needs, the better your chances at successful implementation.

Solving the Bring your own device (BYOD) Dilemma in Education

BYOD Part 1-Defining Users

nec-education-communicationsDo you manage IT for an elementary school district, or a college or university? If so, you are undoubtedly seeing more frequent use of personal devices. There is business value in this rapidly growing practice of users wanting to gain access to your network using their device of choice – are you prepared?

When contemplating a solution set or policy switch to a personal device such as a tablet or smartphone, there are some key things to remember. Before you make a decision on what infrastructure to invest in, first look deeper at your users, the devices and available solutions, and then weigh both the benefits and obstacles you will encounter. Keep in mind that each user will require different access, use different devices, and generate their own sets of issues and benefits.

We’ve divided these users into three categories, let’s take a look:

Students: This group will be more invested in new technologies and less willing to use second-rate or “borrowed” tech in the classroom. They also have a deeper desire to be connected and collaborate electronically. The user set within this group varies greatly; for example, middle school students require different solutions and access than high school students. In a university or college setting, graduate students may have different tools available to them than their undergraduate counterparts.

Teachers: Teachers are bringing their own devices into the classroom, and not just for personal use. Tablet and smartphone use to run presentations and manage in-class participation are practically required by some schools. This trend is likely to grow, and determining your teachers’ needs and capabilities is paramount to a successful implementation.

The good news here is that teachers using their own devices can not only save your institution money, but can enhance the educational process for your students. Advanced presentation styles, greater sense of ownership, and “always-on” connectivity with students can help your teachers make a profound connection with their learning community.

Staff: Your administrative staff can be the most vocal and have the most to gain in accessing school systems through personal devices. Allowing access to student data records, attendance charts, personnel forms and other information needed on an ad hoc basis can increase productivity and efficiency tremendously, which can result in less training and more usage with reduced capital investment.

Remember to also include your maintenance and other support teams in this category. Rather than supplying cell phones and paying for usage, why not allow staff to use their own cell phones, or even connect seamlessly with Wi-Fi to your internal PBX, thus saving you mobile charges altogether.

Each of the user types in your environment are unique and should be treated as such. Identifying who will be granted access to your network, and the scope of that access before you make deployment decisions is critical in preventing unnecessary network tampering and security risks. Now that we’ve identified users, the next post will take a look at available devices and best application practices.

SIP as Part of Your UC Considerations

sip-unified-communicationsToday IT professionals and businesses in general understand the importance of unified communications (UC). Information speed is faster than ever – and continuously accelerating, so your information stream needs to be able to keep up. Whether it’s presence, voice, data, chat, video, messaging or email, everything needs to be synchronized. Using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)as a part of your UC deployment is something that should be considered during the planning process – if you haven’t already jumped onto the SIP bandwagon.

SIP trunking isn’t new, but it has seen a considerable increase in adoption in recent years. Initially used as a form of business continuity or redundancy to traditional T1/PRI lines in the enterprise space, SIP trunking is now commonly viewed as a secure way to reduce costs. These cost savings, along with the productivity gains, are often considered as part of the business case for UC. Of course, traditional benefits such as improved customer service and satisfaction, along with reduced travel are often sited too.

The addition of SIP end point applications enable benefits like single number reach and extending enterprise communications to mobile employees. SIP provides a way to identify and set up various forms of communication sessions among endpoints capable of supporting a simple software client, over any kind of wired or wireless link. The value in SIP is that it enhances interoperability, provides alternatives, and promotes portability across telecommunications and applications. Combining mobility with presence and availability information accelerate collaboration and problem resolution. These are often key elements in the user-specific requirements in a UC deployment project.

As you consider your UC deployment, and define the goals of the project, take care not to overlook the flexibility of SIP applications and lower costs of SIP trunks. Not only do SIP trunks play a valuable role in building a justification based on cost savings and the business value of UC, they add to executive buy-in and user adoption, which is key in any successful project.

Implementation Options for Unified Communications

nec-unified-communications_optionsUnified communications (UC) is about connecting employees, business partners and clients with information in an efficient, collaborative workplace. Today’s users expect complete compatibility across all interfaces, including tablets and smart devices. A communication framework that can accomplish these aims must be reliable, secure and, above all, extremely versatile.

If implemented successfully, UC will yield results across an entire company. The existing business will adapt more immediately to market changes, and new products will be envisioned and brought to market in a much shorter time frame.

Three approaches to unified communications that stand out as presenting the greatest, most effective opportunities for the forward looking company are: expanded voice systems, enhanced desktop functionality and communications-enabled business processes. However, every business situation is unique and faces its own set of challenges as it relates to UC adoption. Selecting a partner that can provide a customized approach utilizing any number of techniques is the ideal way to meet your specific requirements.

Expanded Voice Systems

Voice communication systems are easily the most used (and sometimes overlooked) communication tool. The addition of web collaboration, audio and video conferencing, presence, instant message, support for mobile devices and the integration of business applications can substantially improve the usefulness of your voice communications system. These options are varied but always versatile, scalable and cost effective. This approach also allows you to take advantage of your voice system and integrate elements of UC with installed desktop applications.

Enhanced Desktop Functionality

You can choose to add elements of unified communications (instant message, presence, and click-to-call) to desktop applications such as e-mail and calendar. Desktop applications are an obvious necessity to any successful business, as they provide the interface to, and are the focus of, all the information systems of the business. This information is the lifeline of your business, and enhancing access to them is imperative.

Communications-Enabled Business Processes (CEBP)

A picture is worth a thousand words. This statement is as true in business as anywhere else. Integrating your core business applications with your communications network can allow your employees, partners and clients to experience rather than just read the information you want communicated. Simply put, representations of complicated or highly technical information can be portrayed as images. Everyone from sales associates to senior management will benefit tremendously from the ability to quickly grasp and adapt to this information and use it to act more decisively.

These benefits encompass all business departments and industries. Every department will be able to make rapid, informed decisions based on the same information and, if needed, further detail is always available on the system. Industries as diverse as manufacturing and education as well as government offices can be confident in their ability to communicate across every user interface.

While the market definition of UC seems to be ever evolving, the drivers remain constant. The value of UC is most evident when one recognizes the vast amounts of information that are communicated across formerly separate communications technologies. But the true value is reaped when, as a result of UC implementation, innovation, collaboration and teamwork are all enhanced and significantly increase the efficiency of a business.