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How to Leverage the Tools of UC to Best Serve Enterprise Communication Needs

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Organizations around the globe are increasingly implementing unified communication systems to enhance collaboration and productivity internally as well as to offer better service to customers and clients.

Research has shown a substantial growth in the UC market over the last several years, and the data underscores how significantly the market will continue to expand as more organizations, both big and

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Organizations around the globe are increasingly implementing unified communication systems to enhance collaboration and productivity internally as well as to offer better service to customers and clients.

Research has shown a substantial growth in the UC market over the last several years, and the data underscores how significantly the market will continue to expand as more organizations, both big and small, leverage the benefits of the communication technology. Between 2010 and 2011, the worldwide UC-capable market increased 8 percent, reaching $12.3 billion, according to recent research by COMMfusion and UCStrategies.com. Additionally, the research indicated the UC market will increase to $20 billion in four years, growing by a 17-percent compound annual rate.

For the businesses that are planning to implement UC in the near future, it may seem unified communications is complex, involving a range of possible components and features. But the benefit of UC is simplicity. A well-implemented UC solution will radically simplify your business processes by improving workflow efficiency. Furthermore, determining how to best leverage all the available UC tools to best serve your needs does not have to be a stressful and complicated undertaking. First, look outward: Learn about the potential capabilities of a unified communication system. Then, look inward: Consider some key characteristics of your organization to determine what UC tools to deploy and how to deploy them to maximize benefits.

The UC Toolbelt

To determine how your business can leverage the benefits of a UC system, it’s necessary to understand what the communication solution encompasses. According to global market research and analysis firm IntelliCom, unified communication systems often include five capabilities:

  • IP telephony - Technologies that use the internet protocol’s packet-switched connections to allow users to communicate through voice, fax and other means that have been traditionally been enabled over a public switched telephone network (PSTN).
  • Instant messaging - A collaboration tool that allows users to communicate through text-based messages in real time over the internet.
  • Conferencing - Another feature of UC that enables collaboration, virtually bringing together groups of people in different locations over the phone or through an online video.
  • Presence - A UC tool that allows users to track other’s locations and their devices when connected to an enterprise’s network.
  • Unified messaging - Integration of different communication tools like voicemail, fax and messaging over one interface, making it possible for users to access information from remote locations.

What to Consider to Best Leverage UC?

To best leverage all these tools of a unified communication system, businesses and other organizations need think about how all the UC elements can best work together given the characteristics of the organization and its needs.

Business Size
UC works well for businesses large and small, but the size of an organization will play a role in determining how to leverage UC features. For instance, how many employees will be using the UC features? If your business is expected to grow in the near future, that should be factored in when choosing a UC system that will offer the most benefits to the organization.

Small businesses need to ensure the UC system is small-business friendly. Often, this will boil down to a system that is simple to use, as many smaller organizations do not have the internal resources available to implement and support a system that demands a significant amount of day-to-day management.

Case Studies

Halliday Financial Group
An independent financial planning firm with 50 employees occupying four different offices in New York - is an example of a small business that implemented a UC system to leverage tools in a savvy way, focusing on the company’s primary need while also utilizing other benefits. As with many SMBs, Halliday’s challenge was related to resource allocation: The company did not have a full-time, central receptionist, so phone calls had to be fielded by available employees, interrupting their daily workflow. In response, the company leveraged the unified messaging capabilities of an IP phone system. With ShoreTel IP phones and voice switches in place, the whole Halliday workforce now shares a phone and voicemail system.

“We didn’t have a central receptionist function. I decided it was time to look into a more efficient way of handling the phones, one that enabled customers to call a central receptionist and quickly be able to reach anyone at any of our locations,” the president of the company said.

Thanks to a simplified UC system, the company is able to have all incoming calls routed to the right employee, saving the business time and money while also enhancing communication with clients. Although this was the primary UC capability the firm sought to leverage, it has also benefited substantially from conferencing, instant messaging and other collaboration features. The president of the company said “we didn’t realize … we’d be getting all these other features that would improve our bottom line.”

Larger enterprises will also find unified communication can radically simplify operations. Big businesses face the challenge of maintaining communications through numerous office locations and among hundreds of employees.

CNET Networks
CNET Networks is a San Francisco-based media firm with 1,600 employees in seven offices throughout the United States and in London. The company realized it needed a simple solution to connect everyone through one system. A unified communication solution served the company’s needs of enabling employees to collaborate and share information despite the thousands of miles between them.

“We knew that whatever we chose, we would have to stick with it for the next 10 years,” said CNET’s director of client services.

End Users
In addition to thinking about the overall size of the enterprise, organizations can better leverage UC by thinking about what communication tools specific employees will need, and then training these workers to maximize the benefits.

Even though many of the capabilities of UC are intuitive, end-user training will still prove useful and allow employees to leverage the tools properly. Provide initial training on basic functionality, and follow up later on additional capabilities. Without this reinforcement, users may become comfortable with just one or two of the system’s features and miss out on many of the others. Preparing employees properly will not only ensure they are taking full advantage of the UC system, but that the company sees a very significant return on investment.

“Enterprise workers use communications devices to complete specific tasks relevant to their role within the organization,” Frost & Sullivan analysts wrote in a 2012 report. “Consequently, a worker’s ability to leverage communications devices to successfully complete business tasks is a fundamental part of an enterprise’s overall ability to deliver on business objectives.”

A business that is small today may become much larger very quickly if they are positioned to take advantage of opportunities, so enterprises need to think about their plans for future growth to most effectively leverage UC tools.

If a company is expanding to different geographic locations and employees need a way to stay in touch, it will be crucial to leverage video conferencing tools, instant messaging and other VoIP technology included in a UC system to support constant collaboration between the dispersed workforce. Luckily, as UC adoption continues to rise, vendors are offering solutions that can be scaled to support more users as needed.

Scalability
A business that is small today may become much larger very quickly if they are positioned to take advantage of opportunities, so enterprises need to think about their plans for future growth to most effectively leverage UC tools.

If a company is expanding to different geographic locations and employees need a way to stay in touch, it will be crucial to leverage video conferencing tools, instant messaging and other VoIP technology included in a UC system to support constant collaboration between the dispersed workforce. Luckily, as UC adoption continues to rise, vendors are offering solutions that can be scaled to support more users as needed.

Case Study

DeHaven Eye Clinic
DeHaven Eye Clinic in Texas was growing, and needed a phone system that could accommodate this expansion. The company’s existing phone system wasn’t making the cut, as the system would reach capacity and voicemails would be lost. The clinic took a look at available solutions, and settled on a plan that demonstrates how a growing business can best leverage UC. It chose a VoIP phone system that is more scalable than a traditional phone system, as it works with existing Internet infrastructure. As a result, the clinic is saving about $500 monthly on interoffice communication charges. However, in addition to choosing an affordable, scalable solution, the clinic chose a solution that allows it to leverage UC tools for cross-site collaboration. Notably, the organization is using an intuitive call management interface compatible with a variety of devices, Web browsers and operating systems. This makes it simple for workers to leverage features like instant messaging and video conferencing.

Enterprise Mobility
To best leverage a UC system, an organization not only has to think about how to use UC features to meet internal needs, but how to use available features to keep up with industry trends. For many organizations, enabling a more mobile workforce is emerging as a pressing need.

According to Channelnomics, mobility will likely become the focal point for UC systems within the next five years. This should come as no surprise, as smartphone adoption rapidly rises. IDC expects there will be 804 million smartphones in use by 2015 - 500 million more than were in use in 2010. Within just three years, 149 million tablets will be in use, according to iSuppli. By next year, IDC estimates, more than one-third of the global workforce (1.3 billion employees) will be mobile workers, who are employees that can work from any location thanks to mobile devices and unified systems linking them to their enterprise’s network.

Enterprise mobility is a main driver in the growth of the over mobile market, representing more than 30 percent of mobile services-related revenue. According to ABI Research, mobile business users around the world will create $340 billion in revenue for the industry by 2017. Employees are also increasingly using their personal devices for work functions - about 38 percent of CIOs expect their workforce to be using their own smartphones and tablets by year end, a Gartner report titled “Bring Your Own Device: New Opportunities, New Challenges” stated.

Security
A final, yet major, consideration to getting the most out of a UC system is ensuring it is secure. To best leverage the system, identify potential security issues that may arise. For example, when adopting a BYOD program, as discussed earlier, the organization will have to think about how to keep its network secure as workers access it on a variety of personal mobile devices.

Too often, companies fail to include a security plan in the implementation of a UC strategy, according to Nemertes Research. In other cases, involvement of the security team comes too late in the implementation. To avoid any security threats becoming reality, which will prohibit an organization’s ability to reap the benefits of the UC system, executives should follow some best practice tips.

A UC system should include firewalls and other security features - such as intrusion prevention/detection and session border controllers - that prevent unauthorized users from accessing the network. Security settings can also be automated to keep the solution simple while guaranteeing that worker productivity is not compromised by efforts to keep enterprise data and IT infrastructure secure. For example, a UC solution might include a security component that automatically detects when a mobile device has left the corporate firewall, and launch a virtual private network (VPN) application to maintain security. VPNs protect remote workers by connecting off-site phones to the rest of the UC system, creating a secure route for communications.

Simplicity Makes Leveraging UC Tools Possible

Businesses of all sizes from a variety of industries, ranging from construction and manufacturing to healthcare and government, are taking steps to leverage UC in the most effective way possible. Take the Broad Institute, which uses a unified communication system to enable more than 1,500 researchers and students from Harvard, MIT and around the world to constantly share their findings in the field of genomic medicine. Or, the City of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which implemented a single UC system that linked municipal buildings including city hall with the city’s libraries and other departments.

With these examples, and many more, the simplicity of the UC system empowers workers to take advantage of the features that best serve their needs and equips IT professionals with functions to maintain the security of the enterprise systems. An easy to use UC system also gives decision-makers peace of mind about the investment in the technology, as they can be confident the system is being leveraged to boost organizational morale and improve bottom-line results.

ShoreTel. Brilliantly simple business communications.

ShoreTel, Inc. (NASDAQ: SHOR) is a leading provider of brilliantly simple IP phone systems and unified communications solutions powering today’s always-on workforce. Its flexible communications solutions for on-premises, cloud and hybrid environments eliminate complexity, reduce costs and improve productivity.

Between 2010 and 2011, the worldwide UC-capable market increased 8 percent,reaching $12.3 billion.

Enterprise mobility is a main driver in the growth of the over mobile market, representing more than 30 percent of mobile servicesrelated revenue.

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