“Productivity” - in business it refers to the value produced from the assets employed. Generally speaking, the greater the productivity, the better. People, the staff of the organization, remain the most important asset of almost every company. People working together get things done, they produce stuff. To work together, they need to communicate, they need to know what each other is doing, what each other is thinking. For the five guys at the local pizza shop this isn't a problem. However, for enterprise sized businesses, with thousands of employees, multiple locations, and millions of customers, coordinating projects and executing strategies depends upon a vast network of “conversations”.
Over the last century, a plethora of technology-based tools was developed, aimed at improving communications between people, and thereby improving productivity. Some of the more obvious and ubiquitous are the telephone, fax machines, pagers, cell phones, conference calls, e-mail and Internet file sharing. Within an enterprise there could be a half-dozen methods by which any given employee might be contacted. It was certainly possible, though cumbersome, to keep track of each of these methods. However, negotiating and managing all the types and forms of communications surrounding even a minor project has become a significant overhead expense. In a large organization, the combination of increasing communication expenses and declining improvements in productivity has driven management and their IT teams to look for ways to integrate the various methods of communication. This emerging trend is called Unified Communications.
Otiose Prognostications (OP for short), a fictitious international consulting firm, provides an example of how unified communications can be put to use in a 40,000 employee global enterprise.
A client has requested a study of a market they wish to enter. The market is defined by a combination of geography and customer needs. The project management team, made up of staff located in Paris, New York, and Austin, Texas, meet up with their counterparts from the client's team, located in Cleveland, Seattle, and Mexico City, via a video conference. This is a sensitive project, so the head of the OP team assures that everyone calling into the conference is held in a virtual waiting area to be verified before connecting them to the others. The members of the conference can share files and collaborate on documents as needed. There is a virtual white board where ideas, concerns, and references can be posted so all can refer to them as the discussion proceeds. The complete proceeding is recorded for future reference. When the scope and schedule are agreed upon, the members of both teams provide each other with a single contact address.
Rather than forcing the caller to try several phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or messaging systems, the single contact address or phone number is routed through a sequence of devices as specified by the owner. In this case, each of the parties involved in the project chose to set the sequence in the following manner: their office phone number, their cell phone phone number and their softphone all ring at the same time, if none of these devices are answered the call is put into a voicemail system and notifications are sent to PDAs, smart phones and PCs. Based upon their responsibilities and other commitments, team members can adjust their “presence” settings so that the calling party will know if they are available or not before placing a call. Individual presence (availability) is also automatically adjusted for meetings, events or other commitments by their calendar tool.
The OP project manager needs to bring together people with unique expertise to accomplish this project. He is able to search the entire database of employees within the Otiose Prognostications organization for the right skill sets, using keywords. From the same interface, he sends each of those with the needed expertise a summary of the project, a description of the work to be done, and a request for their help.
Over the course of the project, conference calls, instant messaging, and hundreds of phone calls are all organized, tracking the progress of the effort. The final report is a collaboration of the management staff, the cadre of experts brought together by the project manager, and field agents from around the globe. Each of the team members is able to review and edit their portion of the document, as well as make suggestions or comments about other portions of the report.
As the project began, so it is concluded. A video conference, bringing all the geographically diverse members of both the OP team and the client team together for a presentation and diiscussion of the results is conducted four months after the initial kickoff meeting.
Unified Communications, especially at the enterprise level, is the way to do more by making efficient use of your number one resource, your staff.