The mobile workforce is fast becoming a reality

Thanks to the explosion in smartphones and tablets, the mobile workforce is fast becoming a reality; according to IDC, over half of Europe’s workforce will be working remotely by 2013. The opportunities for better communication and more collaboration are vast and yet, even with the latest technology, without a clear unified communications strategy, organisations can find that more points of contact do not automatically lead to increased levels of productivity.

Whilst unified communications is not new, recent growth and interest has been fuelled by significant changes in the way that we communicate. Social media is one such change and is a natural progression partner for unified communications.

For global businesses, knowing where to start is in itself complicated. Understanding which platforms and applications exist within their communications estate and across different sites can be difficult. Even for enterprises that do have an awareness of their existing estate, embarking on a process of alignment may still be a struggle: multiple contracts, different suppliers and end dates can be enough to stall any potential progress. The key is recognising that, with the right solution, alignment can be phased and communications consolidated at a pace that suits the particular needs of an organisation.

Culture and human behaviour also have a significant impact: over the years, we have all become used to a certain way of working. However, those traditional working models are now being called into question through the growth of flexible working, social media as collaboration points and the consumerisation of IT. By understanding the benefits that unified communications delivers to the end user as well as an organisation as a whole, the approach can make working life easier, faster and more productive.

Getting started
An audit of an enterprise’s current communication estate often represents the most pragmatic and effective starting point for organisations to better understand and take control of their communications estate and expenditure. In fact, just by managing communications efficiently there are great cost savings to be had. One major Vodafone client saved around 10-15 per cent simply by conducting a simple fixed and mobile inventory audit.

A new way to work
As workforces become increasingly mobile, the idea of ‘one worker, one desk’ is disappearing fast. To ensure effective work flows managers need to be fully trained and comfortable with the processes as then teams will quickly embrace the new working model.

As a multinational organisation, Vodafone itself has evolved and moved towards a more flexible working culture. For example, when implementing video conferencing Vodafone overcame many challenges by taking simple yet effective measures. It turned offices into meeting rooms to ensure everyone has access to a video conference system, travel budgets have been reduced to ‘nudge’ and encourage usage of each system and meetings ‘hijacked’ to train management on the system.

Organisations are also under increasing pressure from staff wanting to use their own personal devices in the work place, raising security and other corporate concerns. However, the reality is that a hosted unified communications solution can actually enhance security providing the cloud platform is built and designed to recover specific data depending on customers’ requirements. For instance, it allows organisations the ability to block, recover and wipe data from stolen or lost devices, which is particularly helpful given the blurring boundaries between personal and corporate devices.

Getting social
Seven out of ten firms recently reported in a Vodafone survey that their customers expect a less than two hour response to any social media enquiry. Adopting social media as a part of a unified communications strategy is now essential, even for customer communications. By integrating traditional communications with social media, employees have a range of ways in which to instantly contact the customer, no matter how the original query arrived.

Using internal social networking tools such as Chatter, employees can share real-time resources, exchange knowledge and collaborate on projects more easily, all via a central and secure network. Working on social networking platforms across multinational organisations, it enables users to have instant access to the latest information and collaborate on live documents, which ensures key messages are consistent and prevents any version control issues. As a result, teams work together more cohesively, become more productive and build up stronger inter-team relationships.

Time to consolidate
Most enterprises maintain several contracts for communications, including fixed line, mobile voice service, mobile data and broadband, all with separate multiple service level agreements and support services. If each of these contracts starts and ends at different times, the very notion of consolidation can seem too arduous unless clear savings can be demonstrated.

A unified strategy not only resolves these problems but guarantees a level of service. Working with an established provider it becomes possible to phase in changes and consolidate under one supplier, via a hosted opex-based solution – important for businesses working on tight budgets.

Business-wide benefits
Social media is becoming an enabler, it has the ability to speed up the adoption of unified communications as customers and workers find it a familiar platform from which to work. It has the ability to improve collaboration and, in turn, productivity across any organisation if integrated into an efficient strategy.

To make the implementation of unified communications as efficient and effective as possible large telecom providers such as Vodafone are consolidating contracts and billing making the whole process transparent – one contract, one provider. Working with an established telecom provider that offers global end-to-end communications management, practical solutions to real-world communications can be provided – whatever the situation and pace of consolidation.

Nick Webb is head of solutions marketing at Vodafone Global Enterprise


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