This article originally appeared in the March issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.
CIOs are seeking to define their enterprise communications vision. And according to senior midmarket IT executives gathered at a recent industry conference, they are increasingly looking to cloud UC solutions as a way to execute this vision simply and affordably.
Legacy premises systems, in the view of several of these CIOs, while historically working pretty well at solving individual technology tasks, are not a cost-effective choice today when the communications needs of enterprises necessitate solutions that lower front-end capital investment to meet corporate as well as IT budget realities, are open standards-based to allow ready integration of a range of business software applications, eliminate maintenance headaches, can be deployed rapidly, and offer demonstrable cross-functional business ROI.
Now more than ever, these CIOs said, a UC vision must be pragmatic and reflect not only current and future technology needs and priorities, but overall business goals. In short, CIOs in a range of industries – from manufacturing to health care, accounting to retail – now believe that aligning cloud UC and other technology investments with key business success metrics is the gauge by which their effectiveness will be judged today, by CEOs and corporate boards alike.
Leading analyst Brent Kelly (News - Alert), vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research Group concurs, noting, “It no longer matters where the hardware and application servers are physically located. What is important are the applications themselves. Virtualization and centralization have made location unimportant, and it is not a far stretch to think of moving collaboration and communications capabilities from a centralized private cloud to a cloud service provider which may offer equivalent or lower TCO along with fixed opex costs, less IT headache, and no back-end servers to operate, maintain, power, and patch.”
Disruptive Forces at Work
The running theme of this IT conference focused on the transformation already taking place within today’s midmarket enterprises. Of course, discussing IT evolution is not a particularly new idea at industry events such as this. Yet the change moniker here was particularly apt, as the roughly 140 attending CIOs explained the multifaceted challenges of addressing the growing strategic business nature of their professional responsibilities, the rapid clip at which new technologies appear, as well as the disruptive nature of an increasingly global knowledge workforce and the burgeoning bring-your-own-personal-device-to-work movement.
In conference roundtable sessions, executives spoke candidly and forcefully about the need to develop and implement a UC communications strategy from a myriad of business perspectives. “How well does it serve departmental needs as well as those of the organization as a whole?” “Will it provide the required tools necessary to increase collaboration and to streamline business processes?” Overall, participants said, they view implementing a cloud UC strategy as a catalyst toward helping their IT organizations become viewed more as a business success driver and high-value organizational service provider – and not simply as a cost center.
Call this line of thinking the business alignment imperative, running IT as a business, or one of several other analogies popular in the trade media, among industry analysts, and in the technology blogosphere. But however it is referred to, if the attendees at this conference are any indication, more and more CIOs are viewing cloud UC solutions as a highly effective way to invest limited and often shrinking technology budgets to derive tangible business value and high ROIs for the entire enterprise.
One Chicago-based Fortune 1,000 manufacturing organization has worked hard to utilize cloud-based solutions to achieve just such strategic business objectives and is currently executing a full cloud UC solution. In developing its enterprise UC vision and strategy, the CIO sought to not only lower costs, but to enhance workforce collaboration and productivity. To achieve this, the company began by unifying its communications infrastructure, moving from a self-described “hodge-podge” of TDM and VoIP parts to a consolidated MPLS network to support such applications as point-to-point and multipoint videoconferencing via a cloud video bridging architecture. The idea was to better connect knowledge workers throughout the company’s global operations and shorten product development cycles.
Cloud UC Drivers
Several key business drivers were at work in the company’s decision to move to a highly-integrated cloud communications solution.
First, the CIO had already driven several key business applications to the cloud, notably the company’s CRM and ERP systems. Success with these projects gave the IT team leverage to advocate for other cloud projects that mirrored the corporate mandate to utilize managed cloud services and applications as a way to better focus the company on its core business. Second, the firm’s antiquated premises-based PBX (News - Alert) was not only at end of its lifespan, annual maintenance costs were staggering, the system had a limited range of internal applications, and business application integration was virtually non-existent. Finally, the company wanted to utilize a range of integrated cloud UC applications – including IP voice, videoconferencing, contact center, presence/IM, and analytics – to gain visibility into and streamline personnel activities, shave time off product development cycles, and be more responsive to customer demands and market fluctuations.
In just nine months, the company deployed cloud VoIP and analytics services to five of its office locations as part of a phased implementation plan. In addition, the company now benefits from video presence in 22 facilities, including its domestic headquarter offices along with manufacturing facilities in China, India, and the United Kingdom.
Now, product development and manufacturing teams meet in daily videoconferencing “scrum” sessions in which goals are set and reviewed, obstacles identified, and resources allocated. Senior management gains key visibility into these and other enterprise-wide workforce functions via actionable analytics-driven data which is gathered from across communications applications, correlated against company-defined benchmarks, and presented in the form of tools, dashboards and key performance indicators. The results included the improved collaboration both the CIO and senior management were looking to achieve along with faster decision making in all functional areas that impact product time-to-market.
Cloud UC ROI
Beyond the product development and manufacturing areas, this same manufacturer is using the integrated UC business intelligence environment to gain better insight into the sales engagement and customer support processes. On top of this, the CIO estimates that his organization is already realizing approximately 30 percent operational cost savings from its cloud communications investments and providing better service and support to its internal customers.
Another enterprise moving communications applications to the cloud to secure broader business advantages is a nationwide residential real estate concern. For this company, getting a new contact center online quickly was the driving business imperative and the first step in deploying a full cloud UC service suite. As important as getting its new contact center capabilities in place and functioning fast (the initial project implementation plan was completed in little more than 30 days) was the ability of the new hosted UC platform to meet several other key business requirements.
First, the cloud solution needed to be an open-standards based platform and able to immediately integrate with the organization’s homegrown CRM application, software functionality critical to the firm’s day-to-day business operations. Second, it needed to provide extensive call routing and call masking capability to allow representatives to utilize local numbers when completing outreach to prospective clients in other locales, as well as give the parties called the ability to use this local number to return calls to specific agent representatives. Third, the cloud offering needed to be capable of combining voice and contact center applications with presence/IM, mobile UC capability for its in-field agents, and videoconferencing for branch office-to-branch office collaboration. Finally, the business intelligence engine needed to provide management with the ability to track and analyze key customer interaction and performance data, not just in the contact center, but across the organization and specifically with its hundreds of mobile sales professionals.
“Doing more with less is not a new concept to most IT organizations or overall businesses for that matter,” noted the CIO of a leading healthcare staffing organization who attended the conference. “What has changed within my organization is a mandate from my CEO and our board to have all areas of the company in sync with the overall technology direction we are setting and executing. And developing and implementing a cohesive UC strategy is a high priority for us. Like never before, we are looking strategically to see how such technologies as highly-integrated cloud UC platform applications can impact workflows, allow us to provide better services, and more greatly influence our top and bottom lines.”
Edited by Jennifer Russell