Unified comms - the path to efficiency and savings

By Jonathan Nally
Wednesday, 04 February, 2015

Unified comms - the path to efficiency and savings

Companies can achieve significant savings and dramatically boost efficiency with a UC system.

According to IDC’s ‘Unified Communication & Collaboration (UC&C) Market Analysis and Forecast, 2013-2018’ report, organisations are beginning to adopt more UC&C features. “There has been tremendous innovation in UC&C solutions resulting in products that are more affordable and easier to use, which will start to drive adoption,” said Siow-Meng Soh, research manager, IDC Australia. “We are seeing a rapid shift of demand from hardware-based, on-premise UC&C solutions to software-based and cloud-based solutions as companies look for greater flexibility, cost efficiency and less technology to manage.”

IDC also believes there is potential for growth as companies deploy UC&C tools to gain competitive advantages - from offering better customer service through the use of multichannel contact centres, to improving speed to market by enabling staff and business partners to collaborate better.

It’s all about mobility

In Perth, the City of Nedlands council is reaping the benefits of having changed to a UC system. Council CEO Greg Trevaskis had a vision to bring the council into the 21st century with its communications.

“The challenge for all councils is to constantly look for efficiencies and improve services to the community. Technology can assist here. It doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult to implement. Our transfer to a cloud environment has opened up many opportunities and more flexibility for our operations,” said Trevaskis.

Mike Fletcher, manager of corporate strategy and systems, was the man given the job of turning the vision into reality. He implemented an Avaya cloud solution incorporating UC that would integrate with Microsoft Office and provide a virtual environment.

“From a staff point of view, it’s all about mobility; it’s about being able to work from anywhere at any time with any device,” said Fletcher. “I think we’re probably the first council in WA to go into the cloud. As a part of that process we’ve done away with the physical phone and PABX infrastructure, so the Avaya is purely a piece of software that sits in the cloud. My calculations indicated we are saving the council about 33% of its telco costs; we are projecting a future saving of around 44%.

“The strategy of going cloud is a strategy of reducing cost, becoming more efficient, providing staff with up-to-date tools to enable them to work anywhere they wish at any time, including the mobile office component,” adds Fletcher. “We now have building and pool inspectors out in the field with their iPads. Phone calls follow them to their iPads, so they’ve got a fully mobile office; they have a virtual connection back into the office and have access to all of their documents - Word and Excel and key systems.”

Becoming virtualised was a part of the council’s business continuity and risk management strategy. “If our administration building burned down, we’d just go hot-seat somewhere else and keep working,” said Fletcher. “We did have the local Telstra exchange die some months back, for 24 hours - it made no difference to our business whatsoever.”

Nedlands is now in dialogue with some rural councils to provision them with a pilot service, including the Avaya UC. “We anticipate the provision of service to provide positive outcomes for them,” said Fletcher. “For example, within the group all calls are free - you can make as many calls as you like and for as long as you like. Outside of the group, the shire councils only pay local call rates when calling Perth. They, too, can enjoy the UC experience, from virtual desktops to mobile devices and videoconferencing.”

Breaking the tyranny of distance

“When we had the opportunity to update our system, we said, ‘Look, we need something that can do it all,’” said Andrew So, infrastructure manager at EzyPay, a company that provides direct debit services to businesses.

“We’ve had an office in Malaysia for the last three years, and that’s predominantly been our software development centre,” said So. “We have a small call centre in Sydney, and we wanted the opportunity to create a bit of a blended environment, to be able to accept different kinds of calls, emails, talk to our remote users.

“So one of the big decisions when we spoke to ASE about the opportunity to update our system to unified comms was to allow all of our users to be on the same system,” said So. “And to have the ability to chat and Skype, videoconference, screenshare and talk to all our users. All through the one channel.”

“We’re not a large organisation, and we just wanted the ability for everyone to have a bit of flexibility in their lives and work life, but still be able to communicate with anyone in the organisation,” adds So.

The opportunity to go UC came when the company was moving offices. “We centralised all our server environments into a data centre and we don’t have any physical servers on location here in our Chatswood office any more,” said So. “The chat, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, desktop screen sharing, are all on virtual servers.”

What are some of the benefits he has seen with the UC system in place?

“There is the ability to create new call flows through the system for our inbound phone calls, and to distribute them to the right users,” said So. “It doesn’t matter where they are - you can distribute those calls into our Malaysian office, or someone who is working from home can still receive phone calls as if they were all sitting in our office.

“We’re doing more business in Malaysia and other Asian countries now, and we’ve been able to reduce the telco costs by not having to make overseas calls,” said So. “Vice versa, a lot of our support happens out of the Malaysian office - when they need to contact one of our customers, they’ll just dial an Australian number and it is an Australian phone call.”

The right solution

Peoplebank is Australia’s largest IT recruitment company, headquartered in Sydney and with offices around Australia and Asia. With around $500 million annual turnover, it has approximately 2500 to 3000 contractors out on-site, and hundreds of thousands of candidates on its database.

“Peoplebank has grown throughout the years through acquisitions. Maybe three to fours years ago we had quite a lot of companies and we had disparate phone systems, different suppliers, so we had different hardware that were not connected across the offices,” said Gerard Hughes, the company’s national IT manager. “They were ageing systems, they were expensive and difficult to maintain, and multiple platforms made it difficult for us to administer. But also there was no real connection across the business.

“So we wanted to go to a common platform, and a modern platform that would enable us to do things like VoIP, SIP trunking, unified communications, and one that would bring the whole company together and be on one single platform,” said Hughes. The company chose a system from ShoreTel.

“The real savings came firstly from the telco side of things,” said Hughes. “Going to a built-from-the-ground-up VoIP and unified communications system, we were able to go from ISDN over to SIP trunking, which allowed us to negotiate with our telco a fixed-priced agreement where we don’t pay for local, national or calls to mobile. So we’ve seen a 40% saving across the board on our telco costs.”

A prime benefit for the company was a boost in collaboration across the business. Beforehand, many of the phone calls they’d make were expensive long-distance calls, which sometimes led to reluctance to make the call. “Now, we just run the voice across internet links, a VPN, between our offices in Asia into Australia, so even our international calls to our offices overseas are free as well,” said Hughes.

Peoplebank uses its system to do training and helpdesk functions across the businesses and offices, plus it makes use of instant messaging, point-to-point video, voicemail integration and click-to-dial.

“We didn’t anticipate how much we could share workloads across the business. So we’ve had instances where in Sydney we’ve had a spike in the workload, so we’ve got someone from our Singapore office to help us,” said Hughes. “Sometimes we do it between offices in Australia; we didn’t anticipate that, but that’s been a real benefit.”

Image credit: ©Nmedia/Dollar Photo Club

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