Businesses Look to Collaborate with UC
When IT managers talk about the benefits of unified communications, they almost always point to collaboration as UC’s most dynamic feature.
That’s the case at BancTec, a global company based in Irving, Texas, that digitizes checks, mortgage applications and claims for banks and insurance companies.
Peter White, director of infrastructure and the IT program management office for BancTec, says the company’s 2,500 workers rely on Microsoft Lync for conference calling and screen sharing in which people run audio calls and share documents and presentations. BancTec employees also use Lync’s presence and instant messaging features, he says.
“From an efficiency point of view, the screen sharing has had a tremendous impact,” White says. “All I know is that if Lync ever has an issue, I hear about it quickly, so it’s gratifying that people have grown to depend on these tools.”
White says BancTec realized a return on investment from Lync in under two years. He attributes the savings from not having to pay maintenance fees for the company’s old private branch exchange system, consolidating conference services and saving on international calls with IP telephony.
BancTec has not moved to softphones, White says, nor do workers extensively use Lync video conferencing. While some employees do use softphones with headsets, he says most use Polycom CX600 IP phones. “We just tied the CX600 phones to Lync,” he adds. “And most people seem to just be more comfortable with a handset when they’re at their desks.”
Rich Costello, senior research analyst for unified communications for IDC, says that while many companies embrace video, culturally it’s not for everybody. “The collaboration piece is huge at many companies,” Costello says. “And combining web conferencing — audio conferencing and data content collaboration — with video really makes people more efficient.”
Certain types of businesses are in a stronger position to embrace video. Take Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (known as KPF), an architecture firm based in New York City with offices in Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, London, Seoul and Shanghai.
James Brogan, director of firmwide strategy and management of information technology for the company’s 600 employees, says the nature of architecture and building demands that architects, engineers, consultants and builders collaborate frequently with one another.
The amount of money organizations can save per T-1 line each month by opting for a hosted UC infrastructure and converging voice and data
SOURCE: “Betting on the Future with Unified Communications: Hosted Services Can Drive Business Value and Create New Opportunities” (Frost & Sullivan, July 2013)
“Collaboration is fundamental to how we work,” Brogan says. “For example, we’ll have a team work on documents during the business day in New York and have the Asia team take over on that work during off hours on the East Coast in the United States.”
Brogan says video also plays an increasingly important role in how KPF teams communicate. The company runs video sessions externally for team meetings and special addresses and internally for project and management meetings.
KPF has a strong Cisco Systems infrastructure that includes Cisco Telepresence along with Cisco Jabber in small conference rooms and on mobile devices. KPF also uses Microsoft Lync for more ad hoc and one-to-one communications between employees.
Brogan says that while KPF likes the way Lync offers presence and instant messaging and integrates well with standard Microsoft applications such as Office and Outlook, he’s not ready to deploy the voice component of Microsoft Lync.
“For special meetings where the president of the company is speaking or the company’s directors are meeting, we really depend on the high-quality, HD broadcasting of Cisco Telepresence and Jabber,” Brogan says, adding that once KPF’s Cisco Call Manager cluster gets older, he’ll have to decide if KPF wants to stick with Cisco gear.
“For now, the Cisco voice and video are solid,” Brogan says. “Sometime in the future, we’ll have to look at both solutions.”
Rich Costello, senior research analyst for unified communications for IDC, offers five tips for IT managers looking to deploy UC.
- Find out what people want. With the help of the organization’s end users, identify the UC technologies, features and applications that are most appropriate for the business. If needed, educate end users about the technology.
- Decide if outsourcing makes sense. Do a realistic inventory of your internal capabilities and determine which manufacturers and channel partners the company will need for UC installation, support and professional services expertise.
- Set specific use cases. Ask the manufacturer or channel partner for business use cases for companies in the same industry to help ease project justification and deployment concerns. Clear and articulated use cases can help demonstrate potential ROI.
- Consider forming a UC center of excellence. Designate a group that brings together individuals from various areas of the business — such as IT, business applications and customer service — to provide guidance and direction for UC plans, project development and ongoing usage. This group could be formed early on for any UC undertaking or, ideally, once more experience and feedback have been gained from initial projects.
- Decide between premises-based or cloud UC. There are benefits to each. An increasing number of cloud-based UC offerings are available today, and transitioning to the cloud can help campuses reduce operating costs, improve application performance and better allocate IT resources. Premises-based solutions offer ownership and typically more control over security, quality of service and application development.