Improving business with better communications

Minhaj Zia, Business Development Manager, Cisco India & SAARC

Peter Drucker, the late management visionary, invented the term knowledge worker in 1970. With the pervasive growth environment evident across India today, there is an increasing need for an academically capable workforce, as the most important role in business (according to Drucker's predictions) would be "to make knowledge more productive." Hence, empowering knowledge workers is a key business imperative as it has been found to be linked to productivity.

However, knowledge workers from India operate in today's global environment and frequently travel away from their offices or workgroups - or are located in distributed locations away from peers, subordinates, and supervisors. There are also a large number of knowledge workers who telecommute from home. Organizations of all sizes - from the enterprise to the small and medium sized business (SMBs) are spending large amounts on communications devices and applications to keep their knowledge workers connected. But productivity suffers and projects often get delayed when customers are unable to reach these primary players.

Business and technology decision-makers already place a high priority on providing optimized communication between remotely located knowledge workers and their teams. Indeed, the modern organization is already awash in communications devices. A Sage Research study (Unified Communications Application: Uses and Benefits; January 2006; based on a survey of 200 small, medium and large organizations) revealed that even though more tools should lead to easier coworker access, if the devices are not properly integrated the net effect can be counterproductive. Hence, in practice employees must often guess which method (e.g., desk phone, cell phone, email etc.) is best for reaching their colleagues at a given time. Their first attempts often fail and 56% of organizations report that employees are unable to contact coworkers on the first try at least on a weekly basis. This scenario can not only lead to annoyance but also has been shown to have real economic impact.

In today's dynamic environment it is not surprising that India's broadband subscriber base stands at 2.21 million as of February 2007 and it is envisioned to touch 20 million by 2010. According to another study currently laptop sales comprise 20% of total PC sales in India and is growing at about 86% per annum. But the core problem - how to create and sustain an effective communication environment for mobile personnel and distributed workgroups remains a critical business issue.

Communication Challenges in Organizations
Business communications have become more complex. Despite investments in technology such as instant messaging and mobile devices, companies still have difficulties contacting key decision makers in a timely manner. In order to solve this problem, modern organizations must overcome two major challenges:

  • Gain visibility into the availability, schedules, or presence status of primary decision makers and primary players in a timely way.
  • Improve collaboration - spontaneously, productively, cost-effectively, and on an ongoing basis, regardless of their location or the device being used - to produce tangible results and business benefits.

The failure to address these challenges could have severe repercussions including: delay in projects, risk to customer and channel relationships, effects on business process reform and financial performance, decreased productivity etc. Moreover, poor communication affects strategic initiatives such as lean or just-in-time manufacturing, supply chain optimization, and customer relationship management. It can have negative results in high-turnover environments that are highly dependent on customer service or in the perishable goods industries. And it can frustrate the development of next-generation contact center environments that depend on the ability to quickly escalate customer inquiries, route them to the right "expert" across the distributed contact center, and resolve them quickly using the optimum mix of media.

Knowledge workers need ways and means to resolve urgent questions across an entire project lifecycle. Upstream decisions affect future decision making and even the ultimate viability or relative success of the project itself. With a distributed or mobile workforce, primary players must be accessible and fully enabled to
communicate effectively-spontaneously and fully-with team members. Research indicates that when issues come up, many workers find it difficult to quickly assemble their team in real time to discuss a critical problem. Trying to schedule informal or unplanned conference calls often results in delays while waiting for others to respond.

An Emerging Organizational Need: Unified Communications
These developments have created a need among businesses-from SMBs to the enterprise-for an effective communications system that enables them to streamline business processes; reach the right person the first time; make communications more personal, collaborative, and mobile; improve the user experience; and improve profitability. Unified communications is an emerging class of applications and services designed to improve communications within the modern organization-to keep workgroups connected, enable them to collaborate effectively, streamline business processes, and provide a competitive advantage.

Today when the Indian economy is growing in leaps and bounds and the number of knowledge workers is steadily rising, unified communications is being viewed as
the new paradigm for employee communications that improves the flow of information and allows employees to reach each other rather than an unattended communications device. The Indian telecommunications market is growing at a rapid pace spearheaded by the mobile industry. The mobile industry is adding more than six million subscribers every month, making this to be one of the fastest growing markets in the world today. In such conditions, a comprehensive IP communications system of voice, video, data, and mobility products and applications can help organizations communicate more effectively, more securely, and in a more personal way.

Unified communications enables people to find peers or decision makers using a single telephone number or Internet address. It integrates e-mail, instant messaging, and calendaring applications with communications devices and applications-telephony-wired and wireless; voice messaging; and audio, video, and Web conferencing. Unified communications applications support advanced presence-sensitivity and find-me capability, and media independence. They are easy to use, with a familiar intuitive interface linked to powerful functions. They also provide voice access to applications and data. In other words, unified communications provides an easy and improved user experience with advanced desktop functionality allowing the user to point and click to set up collaboration sessions and conference with others (blending audio, Web, and video as needed within the same session). Corporate executives, business managers, and others charged with protecting the operational advantage for a business want to strengthen their comparative advantage with unified communications. It has been proven to reduce user frustration and cycle time and accelerate decisions through an easy-to-use, reliable communications system. By using the network as a platform to enhance comparative advantage by accelerating decision time and reducing transaction time with the security, resilience, and scalibility of the network, it enables users in any workspace to connect anywhere, anytime, and anyplace, using any media, device or operating system.

As the India growth story continues, fueled by the slowdown in the US markets, appreciating rupee against the US dollar, increased strategic outsourcing, expansion of large Indian companies beyond India etc, Indian businesses are demanding ways of simplifying communications for their mobile and distributed workforce and their knowledge workers to improve communication flows, access primary decision makers quickly, enhance collaboration, and improve productivity to positively affect their business.


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