Flexible and unified communication technologies, along with a slew of work-focused mobile devices, are now abundantly available to help drive greater enterprise productivity. Such systems and tools encourage employee commitment and more diligent work, wherever an employee may roam. Yet, organizations have been slow to fully integrate these solutions into the workflow mainstream.
So, what’s holding organizations back?
It may be that the organizational teams most responsible for championing new technologies — enterprise IT departments — are now the stumbling blocks for enabling enterprises to take full competitive advantage of communication tools and solutions. Hiding behind old attitudes and fears about new collaboration tools and potential threats to security, enterprise IT seems to be more adept at disabling rather than embracing emerging communication solutions.
Just take instant messaging as one example. According to a new 2005 Nemertes Research study, while 76 percent of IT executives say employees use IM on the job, only 37 percent say they have standardized on an enterprise IM application. This compares to 90 percent of IT executives who reported employee IM use in 2004.
“We are seeing a knee-jerk reaction that deals with IM security and compliance problems by just shutting it down altogether, which is of course not something we recommend as a viable long-term strategy,” said Melanie Turk, a principal at Nemertes.
How entrenched are the misgivings about the adoption of unified communication tools, in general? Take a look at some recent seminar titles at this year’s RSA conference in San Francisco:
• Airborne viruses;
• Remote instant messaging: vulnerable anytime, anywhere;
• The next generation of messaging threats.
From an IT perspective, it’s clear that there are few warm-and-fuzzy feelings about unified communication. This has tremendous business consequences in a global economy where knowledge is the only scarce resource and one that only has value at the moment the business needs it. Blocking the flow of knowledge to any degree can be detrimental for a business. This is especially so for an enterprise whose competitors are embracing emerging technologies that accelerate the flow of business knowledge and therefore make faster, better-informed decisions.
Said one professional working mom who works from home 75 percent of the time: “I didn’t realize I was being an enterprise renegade when I purchased a PDA with a built-in phone. My IT shop wasn’t buying mobile devices it so I bought myself, thinking I could use it to keep myself more connected to my team in the many places I work.”
Hers is a common complaint. A recent Siemens survey found that despite the growing number of communication tools and devices available, most workers remain dissatisfied with their ability to reach colleagues and obtain critical information when it’s needed. Among the top complaints: 67 percent of U.S. workers say they must leave multiple messages in different places when seeking immediate responses; and 65 percent say that decisions are delayed because colleagues fail to respond in a timely manner. The problem is that various communication tools and devices continue to exist on isolated islands, with nothing tying them together.
Millions of slick new mobile devices are sold each year to consumers looking for a personal competitive edge. However, only a fraction of these tools’ capabilities are ever realized. “My smart phone could have made me more available when I’m between locations and tied me into critical enterprise applications and databases. Instead, it’s an expensive phone/organizer completely unsupported by IT. Plus, it’s making me work beneath my potential — it’s their loss.”
For IT, the fact is that mobile or nomadic workers are here to stay and, in fact, their numbers are growing. According to analysts at IDC, the number of mobile workers in the United States will reach 105 million by 2006, representing roughly two-thirds of all workers. This mobile workforce will continue to demand highly flexible communication tools that deliver greater efficiencies — at, around and outside of the corporate campus environment. The influence of this group will also continue to grow, whether IT is a willing participant or not. Today, more than half of U.S. companies actively support at least one wireless network and 22 percent plan to deploy wireless technology by the end of the year, according to Jupiter Research.
Enterprises do not have to accept communication chaos and communication limitations. Better solutions and tools exist, but enterprises and IT leaders need creative new strategies to turn unified communication and mobility into competitive advantages.
Start By Listening
An organization-wide communication assessment, from the end-user community’s point of view, will begin to shed light on collaboration and productivity enhancement needs.
Begin with the most valuable workers: revenue generators, customer-facing experts, and knowledge workers (the people you’d never want to lose to your competitor). Ask them what applications they have at work that they would like to access when mobile? What systems and devices can you put in place to make critical decisions faster? Do they need wireless access on campus? Do they need more presence-driven and permission-based collaboration tools? Would speech access to workflow applications help? Think globally too. What tools do workers need to be more successful collaborating across time zones and across domains? A soft client on a laptop, integrated with a corporate IP/PBX, for example, may be the perfect solution for global workers in different time zones from colleagues and customers.
Stretch beyond issuing a laptop or desktop to every employee. Seriously explore the costs and benefits of other tools and devices. In a bold move, Volvo Cars, a division of Ford, recently announced that it would completely do away with desk phones for 5,000 of its most mobile employees and equip them all with wireless phones, unified messaging and a one-number service solution. By packaging together a large solution, Volvo was able to negotiate a fixed, predictable rate for mobile expenses and, at the same time, equip high-value employees with better unified communications tools that are more suited to how they work.
This is where IT can maintain control of its voice and data infrastructure. IT staffs must methodically think through how devices will be procured and supported with the right applications needed to maximize user and team productivity. They must also think through how these valuable devices will ultimately be returned to the enterprise if an employee leaves. A great deal of valuable enterprise knowledge is generated on communication tools and devices used by high-value employees. Formalizing, documenting, and communicating policies are critical to retaining information such as customer contacts, future product roadmaps, sales strategies, competitive knowledge, etc. In fact, this is a major benefit of enterprise-issued gear. How likely is it that an employee will leave behind information on a mobile device they purchased with their own money?
Stay abreast of and ensure foundational enterprise support for the next generation of unified communication tools (presence, IM Push, soft client support, and more). This includes complete IT support and planning — across secure platforms — of all tools that make new business process speeds achievable (including wireless, fixed, premise-based, and service-provider solutions). Competitive advantage goes to the company with the most equipped and informed users, who are able to apply their knowledge and expertise at the moment it is needed. Otherwise it is lost.
The communication choices that workers need will become clear, and they will also be the choices that are most important for the organization, as long as the evaluation process starts with users, business processes and communication needs that drive workflow.
Wainhouse Research shows a tremendous difference in results when planning and deployment starts with business process versus technology. When IT planning and support begins with studying daily processes and user behavior and then applies the right technology tools to achieve improved workflow, organizations achieve as much as 30 percent cost savings, in addition to accelerated business processes. On the contrary, when IT plans and deploys technology because it’s exciting, cool, and new, then tries to find the right users and processes for it, organizations typically experience as much as a nine percent cost increase.
While the majority of organizations, according to Larstan Business Reports, believe that getting mission-critical information to mobile employees is vital to strategic objectives, only 22 percent have enterprise-wide mobility initiatives in place and only 24 percent say their current infrastructures are optimized to support these initiatives. Fewer still appear to have put much strategic thought into how mobility may change the fundamental operations — and therefore, the competitive rules of engagement — in their industries, according to the report, “Managing the Mobility Imperative.”
It’s time for IT and security managers to work with enterprise executives to actively adopt real-time unified communication strategies that give workers a complete set of voice, data, video, and Web-based collaboration tools that operate across time, distance, and network barriers. Simply put, it means strategic support of anywhere, any device communication. IT
Grace Tiscareño-Sato is global marketing manager, Unified Communications, at Siemens Communications, Inc. For more information, please visit www.siemens.com.