Faster, smarter, more adaptable - these are the hallmarks of highly successful companies. Maximizing productivity is the key to their success. And technology plays an essential role in achieving that productivity. Here's how:
First, many highly productive companies have in place a secure network that provides anytime access to information and applications.
Next, they rely on an Internet Protocol (IP) communications solution that helps their workforces share information more easily and quickly, which boosts productivity. Employees can collaborate more effectively and efficiently. They can meet online one-on-one or in teams using voice, data, and video applications—all on a single network.
Finally, highly productive companies have invested in a wireless strategy that extends productivity to factory and sales floors, conference rooms, lunch areas, remote offices—anywhere the job needs to get done.
The end result: Greater efficiency, fewer mistakes, happier employees and customers, and higher profits.
How Things Will Change: The Right Information at the Right Time
How can your company become more productive? Start with a secure network foundation that keeps your workforce connected to your customer database, business applications, and other resources wherever they go. For even greater productivity gains, add to your network infrastructure voice, video, wireless and business applications that integrate with your communications tools, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software.
How will a secure network foundation supporting voice, video, wireless, and/or other applications make your company more productive? A few examples:
Work where and when you need to. From home, a corner cafe, a hotel room or other location, you'll be able to securely access real-time company data and applications. You can gain this access over wired or wireless network connections using a computer, phone, or other handheld device—it's your call. Also, you can spend more face time with customers, partners, and suppliers, while still having access to the information you need to make those meetings productive.
Make decisions faster and resolve problems more quickly. Your workforce can easily schedule and hold meetings online, bringing together the right people to collaborate and make decisions—even when those people are out of the office.
Stop playing phone tag. Employees can determine the most effective method for reaching co-workers even before initiating contact, thereby improving the efficiency in their interactions with others. Example: Using 'presence' applications on the network, you'll be able to instantly view other employees' real-time phone status (busy, available, and so on). Also, organizations with unified communications—an IP phone system running on a single data/voice network—saved an average of 32 minutes daily per employee because the technology enabled employees to reach one another on the first try, according to a Sage Research report.
Reduce wasteful and expensive travel time. The network enables you to set up impromptu video conferencing sessions and to share presentations or applications over the Internet. You'll spend your time and energy on meaningful work—not on travel that consumes hours of otherwise productive time and can leave you feeling exhausted.
Grow your business. Executives can use the network to mine information for greater intelligence gathering and strategic analysis, to create new channels for buying and selling, and to forge new partnerships. Having always-available access to your database helps workers better serve your customers and improve productivity—all of which helps improve the bottom line.
Miss fewer phone calls and reach people more often. Your people will reduce the number of missed calls because they can take their phone numbers with them, whether they're moving permanently to a new office or just spending the afternoon at home.
Be more responsive to your customer's needs. By routing customers to the right resources at the right time, you'll save time for your company and for your customers. You can have customer information dynamically pop up on screen when a call is received, such as notes entered by other employees from previous interactions with the customer. This information helps you deliver even better customer service. And it saves time, because workers don't have to go hunting for a caller's customer records.
Things to Consider: How to Get Ready for a Productivity Boost
Transitioning to a network with advanced communications tools, such as unified communications and video conferencing, is best accomplished with some planning and forethought. Here are some key things to consider before you make the change.
Involve key people in decisions. Before you change the way people work, find out from managers and lead employees what changes they would like to see. Get input from employees wherever possible. The earlier you involve others, the more likely they'll accept and adapt to the changes to come.
Prepare your workers for change. A network supporting voice, video, wireless, and other applications is designed to radically improve your company's productivity. Employees will need to adapt to new ways of working and communicating. Such change isn't always easy for people to accept. Create a transition plan that alerts people to the changes to come. Emphasize how the change will directly benefit them—how it will make their jobs easier, their communications more meaningful.
Determine the level of training needed, When you give workers new tools, they need at least some level of training in order to realize the full benefits those tools can provide. During the planning process, or even before, ask your Certified Cisco Partner for advice on the training your workforce may need. Build that training into your plans.
Ask your partner for an estimate of how long the upgrade process will take. The time required to upgrade your network and add applications depends on such factors as your company's number of employees and locations. Ask your partner for a real-world estimate of how long it will take and how best to make the transition. Also, ask what can be done to minimize any potential down time. Downtime from the network upgrade process is usually minimal and its impact can be lessened when installation is performed over the weekend or other off-peak periods.
Set realistic expectations. Big changes don't happen overnight. After your network upgrade, it may take a little while for workers to become adept at using all the new features. But once they do, you'll quickly notice productivity gains—and so will they.
Create a long-term vision. Productivity is an ongoing activity. Will you be adding software or solutions to your network down the road, such as customer-relationship management (CRM) software integrated with your phone system? If so, make sure your plans today enable your vision of tomorrow.
Decide how much support and maintenance you'll need. Discuss with your partner a service-level agreement (SLA) that guarantees specific levels of support at varying fee structures. Alternatively, or in addition, you may want to hire one or more people to provide ongoing support and maintenance. Whichever direction you take, carefully consider the pros and cons of each as early in the process as possible.
Down the Road: Planning Ahead for More Productivity
It's never too early to start planning how to raise the productivity bar in the future. With a secure Cisco network foundation in place that supports data, voice, video, wireless, and other applications, the possibilities for future productivity enhancements are endless. Here are some of the things you'll be able to easily and cost-effectively accomplish when you're ready:
Open new locations quickly. As your company grows, it may need to expand its physical space. A wireless network helps your workforce stay connected to the phone system and data resources, such as your customer database, without the costs and limitations of wiring. And by extending your network anywhere with a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you can have a new location up and running in the amount of time it takes to flip open a laptop computer and connect to the Internet.
Add new employees, suppliers, customers. Your flexible network foundation is designed to grow with your needs. You can easily expand the size and scope of your network, without tossing out equipment because it can't keep up with you.
Add applications. Your network infrastructure will enable you to add and integrate applications to your voice and data network, such as calendaring and customer relationship management (CRM) programs that improve productivity.
Route calls to the best available employees. Combining CRM with your phone and data network lets you intelligently route calls to contact center agents or those employees most qualified to meet a caller's need. Agents receive pertinent customer information the moment a customer calls. Also, management can gain insight into the contact center so they can staff at the appropriate levels, manage agent performance and optimize customer service.
Go global. A single network supporting such applications as unified communications, instant messaging, and video and Web conferencing makes it easier to effectively, affordably transact business with partners, suppliers, and customers around the globe.
Collaborate with customers. Are your customers too often abandoning their shopping carts on your site? Engaging them in interactive online chats can help give customers the information and personal touch they need to go from indecision to purchase.
Go paperless. Converting your paper records to electronic provides a wealth of benefits. Employees don't waste time trying to find customer files—and the files can be accessed anywhere, not just in the office. You'll dramatically improve customer service. You'll reduce costs associated with paper, printing, file storage, and office space. And going paperless helps you become a “green,” or environmentally responsible, business — a trait customers are increasingly looking for when making buying decisions.
Offer online training. Enabling employees to get training online significantly boosts productivity. Your people don't have to travel, and they can receive training when it's convenient for their work schedule—rather than taking them away from their duties.
Stay in touch wherever you go. With wireless IP phones, your workforce can roam the sales floor, office, campus, or warehouse, answering customer inquiries and accessing company data, such as an inventory database.
Top Five Questions to Ask Your Partner about This Solution
Here are five key questions to ask potential partners who offer SMB Solutions:
Do you specialize in working with small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)? Cisco has a network of certified partners who specifically focus on providing technology solutions and support to SMBs. Many of these partners are SMBs themselves, so they understand the business challenges you face and the goals you have in mind. Cisco certified partners have proven their qualifications in specialized technologies. They have the training, support, and services to design, deploy, and optimize networking solutions for your business. They also stay up to date on the latest software and hardware changes as well as upcoming Cisco products and solutions.
What type of service and support do you offer after the sale? Ask your partner detailed questions about the support they can offer after the sale. For example: Does the partner offer after-hours or emergency support? If so, during what hours is that support available? The specific support levels offered should be detailed in a service level agreement (SLA). Also, keep in mind many Cisco partners offer award-winning technical support service that offers anytime access to Cisco engineers and an extensive range of technical resources.
How will this new solution integrate with my existing IT environment? A Cisco partner can discuss your business requirements and evaluate your current systems and network infrastructure. From there, a Cisco Partner can present solution options that will meet your needs today, grow with your business over time, and fit within your budget requirements.
How will this solution help me save money and control my costs? An end-to-end solution from Cisco is easier to maintain and support than a multivendor solution. Also, when budgeting for network enhancements, always take into account the cost of any software not included with your hardware purchases; maintenance; training; support; additional staff (if needed); and other factors. Research firm Gartner estimates such indirect costs account for up to 60% of an organization's total technology expenditures. As a result, by working with your Cisco partner, you can achieve the best possible TCO.
What do we need to do to prepare? Before the installation, ask your partner what information about your network, users, business procedures, and security requirements they need from you to make the network upgrade go as smoothly as possible. Also ask your partner what are the common oversights or challenges businesses like yours face when upgrading their networks, and how you should prepare for them.