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Unified Communications.

A potential cure for communications overload

If you are like most people, you have an office phone, a cell phone, a fax number and an e-mail address. You may also have a home office number and, if you travel, a series of temporary numbers. And it's not unusual to receive 200 or more communications per day. That's communications overload.

A recent survey of high-tech companies showed averages of 100 e-mails a day among their employees, with some individuals getting 200 to 300 messages daily. The escalating variety of communications devices and the ever-increasing volume of messaging activity, both for business and personal life, herald the need for intelligent message filtering, message archiving management tools, and services such as unified communications (UC).

It's not just the volume of communications that creates the problem -- it's also the speed at which the information is required. We can screen and manipulate e-mail, but we aren't skilled in managing multiple messages that demand attention. When a valued customer calls, the last thing they want to hear is your voicemail asking them to leave a message. With unified communications, employees have one number that finds them wherever they wish to be found, call screening that lets them grab the important calls, and one location for all their voicemail, e-mail and fax messages.

It's clearly more efficient for an employee to check just one place for all his or her messages, instead of a separate place for each communications device employees use. The ballpark estimate is that UC can save about 30 minutes a day from time spent retrieving, replying to, or otherwise managing messages. Over a year, that adds up to savings of $2,000 to $3,000 per employee -- roughly 10 or more times the cost of UC.

That's the obvious return on investment. There are other, perhaps less measurable returns, similar to those that apply to e-mail. When e-mail was first introduced into the market, it was a hassle to install and it had limited usefulness because few people had e-mail. But now it's widespread and no one would give up its ease and efficiency. Analysts and industry experts anticipate a similar kind of future for the UC market.

For the short term, implementation is still a barrier to adopting unified communications. Integrating all communication devices from e-mail servers to legacy voice systems is a major cost challenge if an enterprise doesn't see a clear ROI, especially if senior management believes implementation costs are too high and the benefits aren't clear.

But consider this scenario: When an employee leaves a company, all of his or her communications need to be rerouted, deleted, manipulated or forwarded to new people. For someone with a company cell phone, standard office phone, e-mail, pager and faxes, this can be an administrative nightmare. With UC, there's only one record in the database that needs changing -- and the timesavings for IT staff in medium- to large-sized companies can be enormous. UC also reduces the administrative overhead needed to maintain multiple and separate messaging systems, and simplifies such things as the company directory. And, just as with e-mail, once people begin using it, they never want to give it up.

Another key benefit of unified communications is increased responsiveness, especially for mobile workers, who can now conduct business as easily on the road as they can from their own desk. For example, what if a client needs a request for proposal from an employee who is on the road or working from home? Employees with one number for all communications have a better chance of being reached, returning calls, and getting or keeping customers.

Currently, there is no clearly available and easy way for enterprises to adopt UC. Availability is sporadic and not likely to improve until more service providers decide to adopt it as their standard for messaging. But that's changing.

Most legacy voicemail systems are nearing the end of their lifecycles because they can't offer the new unified services without expensive redevelopment. Increasingly, service providers -- from phone companies (such as Aliant) to Internet service providers (ISPs), application service providers (ASPs) and wireless service providers (WSPs, such as Wave3) -- are starting to think about decommissioning their existing legacy voicemail systems and migrating all their customers to UC. When that happens, the choice to use UC will be as easy as the choice to use voicemail.

Jay Hutton is CEO of Vancouver-based Voice Mobility International, Inc., the developer of the Unified Communications software suite.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Society of Management Accountants of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:putting e-mail and telephone services in one place
Author:Hutton, Jay
Publication:CMA Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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