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April 2007
Volume 10 / Number 4
Inside Networking
Tony Rybczynski and Todd Schofield

Unified Communications Goes Global

By Tony Rybczynski and Todd Schofield, Inside Networking

Many of us have breathed a sigh of relief on arriving home from an international business trip without experiencing the anxiety (and in some cases the horrors) of requiring medical treatment in some far-off land. Fortunately, many organizations provide overseas assistance coverage to their employees by contracting a global assistance company and then issuing an assistance card with a telephone number for services while traveling abroad.

Global assistance companies provide a variety of services, often including medical assistance, international healthcare and security services. This could be a security or safety advisory, referral to a local medical provider or in a critical medical situation, an emergency evacuation, transporting you from a remote location to a place where you can receive proper medical care.

Unified Communications for Worldwide Reach and Human Touch
The business of a global assistance provider is highly customer- centric, very time sensitive and heavily communications- oriented reaching the far corners of the globe. The values of Unified Communications are well aligned with the business needs of global assistance providers, by delivering a unified presence-enabled highly adaptive user experience anytime, anywhere over any device. This allows global assistance providers to rapidly respond to emergencies anytime, anywhere and to collaborate more effectively in delivering these services.

A case in point is International SOS, the leader in global assistance, services 83% of Fortune 100 companies among its customers. With a “Worldwide Reach, Human Touch” philosophy, International SOS employs 4500 staff, 30% of whom are medical professionals, across its 27 Alarm Centers, 51 offices, 24 medical clinics and 150 customer sites worldwide. International SOS has adopted Unified Communications as a core technology strategy, targeting two key goals: enhancing its communications capabilities and controlling its telecommunications expenses.

Their assessment of Unified Communications started with a clear analysis of technical and business needs. From an end user perspective, International SOS was looking to address user requirements and demands for more effective communication with a common look and feel throughout the enterprise. This included enhancing communication capabilities internally and externally, keeping a highly mobile and distributed work force in touch. From an expense perspective, International SOS wanted to mitigate increasing local and long distance telecommunications costs, and more generally to lower the IT infrastructure of currently siloed telephony, conferencing and email communications systems. As part of this, they needed a scalable communications architecture to support business growth objectives in terms of the number of customers, geographic reach and breadth of services; all while leveraging and integrating with existing technologies, including Nortel (News - Alert) telephony and contact centers and Microsoft desktop, Exchange and directory systems.

The solution selected by International SOS was based on the integration of its Nortel IP-enabled PBX (News - Alert) and Microsoft’s Live Communications Server, the cornerstone of the Microsoft- Nortel Innovative Communications Alliance. The initial phase focuses on internal users in Singapore as well as in Asia-Region offices, and is designed to prove stability and usability before implementing Unified Communications functionality in customer- facing roles. A telephony-enhanced Microsoft (News - Alert) Office Communicator client provides a single personal and intuitive interface for PCs, laptops, tablet PCs and mobile devices for voice calls, IM, application sharing, video and presence, creating an opportunity to replace physical phones by soft clients. The UC client is tightly integrated with Outlook email and calendaring, with Office applications, with Active Directory, and with the telephony features of the Nortel IP PBX.

In the longer term, International SOS expects to evolve to a full suite of Unified Communications capabilities across its customer- facing employee base, including its Alarm Centers/Contact Centers and provide integration with business processes and web portals internally and out to its partners and clients (e.g. including multimedia conferencing). They see a path to a unified software- centric platform for Unified Communications which will establish a global communications architecture with transparency, ease of use, and enhanced business continuity capabilities.

Keeping Your Business First
Whether your business is global or local, you can learn from the strategic positioning of Unified Communications by companies such as International SOS that there is a lot to gain. When looking at Unified Communications, focus on both the functionality of the user experience as well as taking the opportunity to solidify and enhance the underlying IT infrastructure. You can initially focus on those users who are tightly associated with time critical business processes- this will help you justify the investment. Of course, partner with the targeted communities of users- their acceptance is very important. Finally plan for short-term gain, but understand that you are establishing a visionary communications structure with a path towards growth and increased business effectiveness.

Tony Rybczynski is Director of Strategic Enterprise Technologies in Nortel, and has over 35 years experience in the application of packet network technology. Todd Schofield is Chief Technology Officer of International SOS headquartered in Singapore, and has written a number of business articles in the Asian press.


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