Unified comms keeps companies connected


By Jonathan Nally
Monday, 12 December, 2016


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As more and more enterprises finally ditch the PABX for the latest in unified comms, the benefits become readily manifest.

In order to maintain competitiveness and relevance in our rapidly evolving world, enterprises of all kinds need to keep up with the latest and greatest communications methods. The notion of unified communications has been around for a long while, of course, but the pace of change — and the possibilities unleashed by the mobile communications revolution — means business, government agencies and NGOs have powers at their fingertips what would have seemed like science fiction not too many years ago.

To find out how unified comms is benefiting the enterprise space, we spoke with representatives of three very different organisations. And the message is clear — unified comms is not only beneficial, it has become an essential element of every good business strategy.

Outback comms

Based just outside Adelaide and with four depots in regional centres in South Australia and the Northern Territory, McArdle Freight operates in some of the remotest parts of the country. Until recently, the company had relied on a PABX telephone system for its head office, with separate lines into its branches. However, as most of its team is on the road, it has been heavily dependent on the mobile phone network.

To simplify and streamline its communications, the company has implemented ShoreTel’s Hosted Voice solution, giving it a single telephony system across its five sites and extending the network’s reach to the highly mobile workforce.

Hosted Voice offers a fully managed IP telephony solution including voicemail, unified messaging, click to dial, mobility and conferencing services, with the option for contact centre, call recording and toll-free number services.

As part of the package, McArdle Freight commissioned a dedicated data connection, giving it a guaranteed quality of service for voice traffic.

“In addition to the communications features… the main benefit for us is the guaranteed performance of our data connection, particularly the fast upload speed,” said Tamara McArdle, the company’s office manager. “That means we can operate our accounting system as a cloud-based application and look to move more of our applications over to the cloud. That will give our staff easier and more flexible access to the systems that run our business.”

McArdle Freight has given its team members an allowance to purchase their own mobile phones as part of a BYOD policy. Now, with the mobile app installed on each device, all staff members have the same UC functionality that they enjoy on an office handset. Also, when in range of Wi-Fi, the mobiles operate on that data connection rather than over the more expensive cellular network.

“The mobile app is the icing on the cake. Our staff members don’t want to be carrying around both a personal mobile and a work one. This way, they can use the app on their own mobile device and have all the benefits of unified communications while they are on the road, on the same phone they use every day,” said McArdle.

“We operate over an incredibly large area from Darwin and Adelaide — over 3000 kilometres north to south. We have a whole fleet of drivers we need to contact all the time,” said McArdle.

With the new solution in place, “we will have transparency”, she added. “We will be able to see each other, and use the best channel available at the time to reach someone.”

Rural comms

Wellington Shire Council is the third largest municipality in Victoria, responsible for 11,000 square kilometres of Victorian countryside stretching from the Great Dividing Range and High Country down to Bass Straight. The region has a diverse economy that includes grazing, oil and gas production, manufacturing, defence and construction. The council employs 450 people in a variety of roles, from administration to garbage collection.

“We had very old communications technologies in place across the council, which led to organisational inefficiencies and frustration on behalf of staff who had to use the legacy [PABX] telephony systems on a day-to-day basis,” said Phillip Phillipou, manager information services, at Wellington Shire Council.

Needing a new solution — particularly in the context of an upcoming move to newer, more modern offices — the council partnered with IT consultants IComm to explore best options and settled on Skype for Business. “We found Skype for Business would improve our staff’s efficiency by allowing personnel to get out in the field more,” said Phillip. “By making our staff less restricted and desk-bound it would lead to better customer service delivery to our community.”

Full deployment took six months, but since implementing Skype for Business, the council has seen overall improvements in the way staff interact, collaborate and communicate with one another.

The system facilitates mobile communication, as workers can collaborate within Microsoft Office documents using instant messaging, screen share, voice chat or video call, and stage virtual meetings.

“Skype for Business has allowed us to better improve our operations and integrate staff and services — be those people and activities located out in the field or in the office,” said Phillip.

As well as efficiency and morale improvements, Skype for Business has also led to real, direct cost savings.

“[It has] helped Wellington Shire Council reduce hard costs in areas like printing and toner, along with significantly reducing our telecommunications costs,” said Phillipou. “Importantly, these are all savings that are returned back to the community, which is a great outcome for council.”

Safe and sound

For Adelaide-based social care organisation Centacare, employee safety was the key driver for its adoption of Skype for Business and the development of a bespoke mobile application.

“Our staff conduct over 3000 counselling sessions per year, the majority of which are home visits in sometimes dangerous and unfamiliar locations,” said Dominic Reppucci, Centacare’s CIO. “The application that we’ve developed protects them in these situations by sending automated alerts to the wider team if a staff member is in danger.”

The web-based application syncs with staff calendars automatically to input when an appointment with a client should start and finish, and lists the client’s name and address. When the appointment is scheduled to conclude, the system notifies staff to log out of their appointment. “If they haven’t, it rings back every five minutes for three times after, and if staff don’t answer, it automatically alerts their manager,” said Reppucci. “This way, we know in a maximum of 20 minutes after an appointment is scheduled to end whether a staff member might be in danger.”

In addition to addressing employee safety, Centacare’s goal with Skype for Business was to break down the silos created by disparate systems in its internal communications. Over time, communications had become complex across the organisation’s 46 sites, and Skype for Business has had a big role to play in streamlining that.

Secondary reasons for pursuing the solution were to reduce costs associated with Centacare’s telephony systems and provide an alternative solution for rural clients via Skype counselling services.

“Prior to deploying this solution we were using a manual phone system through an external contractor which had no flexibility and offered very limited options for automated notifications and reporting,” said Reppucci. “Staff had to manually call the service operator and notify them that their client meeting was commencing, and then call them back following. Often they had trouble getting through in the first place and would have to wait until they received a call back.

“We’ve been able to see significant benefits in terms of cost savings on flights and other travel costs for staff who can now use Skype to communicate internally and externally with clients,” said Reppucci. “Other benefits include increased flexibility with communication systems and streamlined approach across all our sites.”

Reppucci said an unexpected benefit has been the use of translation services, which Centacare is currently testing with its staff and clients.

“There’s also been greater flexibility with phone system response groups and faster on-boarding processes for new staff via Skype for Business,” he said. “With our new system, holidays and out-of-office times are preconfigured automatically, while in the past we would have to call the external contactor directly to change the phone systems.”

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