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Feature Article
October 2004


Targeting Benefits: The First Step To Convergence

BY Tony Rybczynski

Convergence has entered the mainstream in enterprise networking, not only at the network level (everything on IP), but also at the communications (telephony and multimedia) and application (collaboration and customer care) levels. The technologies are mature and are delivering real business value in mission-critical environments such as healthcare, finance, and utilities. Convergence is broadly defined as delivering voice, data, video, and applications over one network — wired or wireless. But it goes beyond this, since convergence can have significant impacts on how business is conducted both internally and externally, with partners and customers. Whether you are a local business, a large multi-national corporation, or a regional public institution, there are benefits to be achieved in lower total cost of ownership, increased employee productivity, and stronger customer engagement. The key to business success in moving to a converged network is to approach the process as an evolution of your existing network capabilities, to initially identify a very specific first phase that delivers real business benefit and to execute it before taking on additional convergence initiatives. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should!

But what are the pragmatic real-world business, operational, and technical challenges you will need to consider and address as you move forward with your plans for convergence? What methodology should you follow to ensure you’re making the best decision at each stage of the process? What are the steps you should take for business success? In this and subsequent articles, we will address these very questions in the context of defining a multi-step blueprint for convergence.

“So What?” Benefit Analysis
The first step in the blueprint for convergence is to understand your business drivers and home in on key benefit areas that convergence brings. Don’t confuse embracing convergence as your long-term direction with the pragmatics of business-driven deployment. Too many enterprises embark on a convergence path, without thinking through what they are trying to do, driven only by a vague set of objectives. However, you need to home in on specific benefits that translate into a business case for your shorter-term investment in time and money. For any potential benefit associated with convergence, ask yourself, “So what?” Does this lower my cost, does it improve productivity that matters for the business and/or does it increase my revenues?

If you are moving to a new site, if your Centrex contract is running out, or if your existing telephony system has reached its end of life (technically and economically), then an IP telephony solution may be the lowest cost alternative and set you down the path to convergence. If you have multiple voice, router, and legacy data networks, or if you are incurring large expenses each month for inter-site or remote access PSTN minutes, and if your employees are being moved around a lot internally, convergence may help you lower your costs.

So ask yourself, what would the cost/benefit analysis be of upgrading and hardening your IP network and collapsing your networks onto a single IP infrastructure? This may be relatively straightforward if you can easily IP-enable your PBXs and if all your traffic originates on Ethernet and if your switches and routers are convergent-ready, supporting features such as QoS, standard power over Ethernet, and resiliency features such as multilink trunking. This may be considerably more difficult if you have a lot of legacy traffic that you have not yet adapted to IP. In any case, any investments in the networking infrastructure should be done with an eye to being able to turn on convergent features.

So do a back-of-the-envelope “so what?” benefit analysis on the following illustrative opportunities:

  • If you have segments of your employee population that are always being moved: reducing the costs of moves, adds, and changes through IP telephony.
  • If you have a number of offshore sites: reducing telecom costs by converging the international portion of your network.
  • If you have a formal telecommuter program: eliminating remote access servers and additional phone lines for off-site telephony and data usage, by equipping employees with broadband access at home and VPNs to securely access internal voice and data networks.
  • If you have a lot of mobile users: eliminating expensive hotel long-distance calling, 1-800 or calling card expenses, by leveraging WLAN hot spots and hotel Ethernet services for voice and data.
  • If you make extensive use of managed voice and video conferencing services: eliminating these expenses including ISDN charges by bringing these services in-house and leveraging a converged network.

If the bottom line is paramount, then the above opportunities can help you focus on the right areas to drive your initial convergence initiatives. Interestingly, most of these do not require you to converge your entire network day one, with the associated effort and risks that this implies but that you can converge the pieces that have the most business impact to you first.

Building Competitive Differentiation
Convergence can help an enterprise build significant competitive differentiation, offering customer service advantages that traditional networks can’t match. A distributed converged contact center integrated with Web and advanced speech self-serve portals can provide seamless customer service across all service delivery channels. It can enhance customer loyalty through personalized and more responsive service, and enhance your ability to up sell and cross-sell your products across customer segments. It does this through an ability to aggregate all customer electronic communications and then facilitate distributed responses to ensure each customer is directed to the best resource (whether human or automated) to answer their questions, quickly and efficiently. For example, directing a banking customer interested in refinancing to the agent most knowledgeable about mortgages results in better customer service and helps ensure that the customer doesn’t go to a competitor for answers.

So do a “so what?” benefit analysis on the following illustrative opportunities:

  • If you’re struggling with staffing your contact center during busy hours: lowering waiting times and lost calls by leveraging IP telephony to remote (e.g., home-based) agents.
  • If you’re concerned about disaster recovery for your contact centers: dramatically improving recovery times and minimizing revenue impacts with plug-and-serve agent connectivity anywhere in the network.
  • If you’re losing customers on the Web who can’t get an answer to their questions: eliminating obstacles to closure and increased revenues through context sensitive chat, e-mail and click-to-call.

If the top-line is paramount, then the above opportunities can help you focus on the right areas to drive your initial convergence initiatives. Again, most of these do not require you to converge your entire network day one.

Improving The Effectiveness Of Your Organization
So far, we have talked about convergence opportunities to impact the bottom and top lines directly, thus moving your enterprise towards convergence in a business-driven phased approach. There’s another area in which convergence can deliver value to your business and that’s by delivering new tools and capabilities to your most important asset — your people. Convergence can improve productivity for important user segments, such as executives, sales, IT, internal mobile users, telecommuters or road warriors, and distributed teams. Cell phones, and to a lesser extent, devices such as Blackberries have become indispensable to mobile business users for always-on voice and e-mail connectivity respectively.

Convergence extends this always-on connectivity model in two primary ways: by enriching the communication capabilities provided to these mobile users, and by delivering collaboration tools to distributed teams leveraging wireless LANs to provide enterprise-wide connectivity. As we look at these areas, ask yourself who could benefit most from these capabilities and what the business benefit might be.

Convergence allows your mobile users to take their office anywhere where broadband wired or wireless connectivity is provided and be able to securely conduct business as if physically in their offices. This means making and receiving voice calls on their PCs or PDAs using their listed phone numbers and the same features they have at their desktops, using a unified mailbox for their voice, fax, and e-mail, being able to establish conference calls on demand and collaborating with colleagues worldwide. If broadband connectivity is not available, then they can download their e-mail or listen to them over a standard phone. When they’re back in the office, a converged desktop integrates the phone with the power of the PC.
Convergence also delivers collaborative tools to distributed teams (including mobile members of these teams). For example, at the simplest level, employees can have voice and data connectivity over converged WLANs when they are not at their desks, for example, in meeting rooms, common areas or in someone else’s office. They no longer have to look for a free Ethernet jack and cable when they are at another facility. Presence management can instantly tell them whether other team members are available, while multimedia conferencing, instant messaging, application sharing, and white boarding can enhance the collaboration across the team.

The business benefits of the above could include:

  • Quicker decision-making with anytime, anywhere, connectivity (e.g., shorter sales cycle or faster problem resolution).
  • More effective project execution (e.g., less wasted time, higher quality outputs and/or faster time to completion).
  • Higher employee satisfaction through better communications tools (e.g., improved mobility and collaboration).
  • Better employee communications (e.g., lower risks via security alerts delivered to IP phones).
  • Improved emergency responsiveness (e.g., better coordination across the distributed response team).
  • Better use of contact center agents (e.g., better agent utilization through home office tools).

Measuring or benchmarking employee productivity is neither a simple nor straightforward endeavor. Environments that would benefit from productivity enhancement through convergence are those that are dependent on the reach and exchange of timely information for the purpose of completing a task or job function.

Next Steps: Defining Requirements And Executing
You should seriously consider embracing convergence at the network, communications, and application levels for your business direction and targeting benefits of cost reduction, revenue generation, and productivity enhancement. The starting point in developing a plan for convergence is to clearly identify convergence capabilities which deliver the biggest bang for the buck and best match business objectives.

The next major step is to define the requirements of your first phase implementation consistent with business objectives. With these upfront investments in understanding what you need and why, then you can turn to assessing how to evolve your existing network and telephony environments, selecting solutions and vendors, executing a phased deployment (possibly starting with a pilot) and ending with a project assessment, including identifying further opportunities. These will be discussed further in next month’s column.

Tony Rybczynski is Director of Strategic Enterprise Technologies at Nortel Networks. He has over 30 years experience in the application of packet network technology. For more information, please visit www.nortelnetworks.com.

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[ Return To The October 2004 Table Of Contents ]



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