|Issue:||Latin America 2009|
|Topic:||The challenges of unified communications|
José Formoso is the CEO and President of Embratel. Prior to joining Embratel, Mr Formoso served as Vice-President of Telmex América Latina, President of Telecom El Salvador, General Manager of PCS Nicarágua, President of Telgua S.A, (Guatemala), General Manager of Cablevisión (Mexico), and Operations Manager and Business Manager of Condumex (Mexico). Mr Formoso played a key role in the acquisition of Embratel and since then has been the Vice-Chairman of the Administrative Board of Embratel Participações S.A., Vice-Chairman in the Administrative Board of Embratel, Vice-President of Embratel Participações S.A., and General Manager of Embratel. José Formoso got his Engineering degree from La Salle University, Mexico and his degree in Business Management from Instituto Panamericano de Alta Dirección de Empresas, Mexico.
Unified Communications - the integration of almost all business communication services, including IP telephony, instant messaging, presence, video conferencing, voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax - helps businesses facilitate the interchange of information, so customers interact better with the company, service-delivery is accelerated and business costs are reduced. With UC, company personnel can easily be found on the device of their choice, using the most efficient and economical means available at the moment. Accordingly, contacting anyone is dramatically simplified and efficiency multiplied.
Regardless of the area in which your company operates today, certain strategies and tactics are the same: simplify and integrate the means of communication, integrate the processes, reduce response times, and enhance productivity. Competitiveness is directly linked to your ability to generate value for your clients so they go to you - not your competitors - to satisfy their needs. Certain premises are critical - you must have a clear strategic position and, based on that, build your organization internally to achieve it. Inevitably, the process includes issues that are related to the internal efficiency, the commitment of the leaders and other employees and, as well, the culture of the company. The development of new products and innovative services is a challenge faced by all telecommunication companies; they are called upon not only to solve technical issues, but primarily to develop business strategies along with the clients. Today, Unified Communications - a major technological trend - is playing an increasingly important role in the strategies of many companies. Unified Communications (UC) is the integration of real-time communication services, such as IP (Internet Protocol) telephony, instant messaging (chat), presence information and video conferencing with non real-time communication services such as unified messaging - the integration of voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax. In recent years, the market has considered the simplification of services as a type of productivity, but although the concept of UC has been known since the 1990s, the expression has only recently assumed its real meaning - through the comprehensive use of IP networks to totally manage the enterprise communications infrastructure. In the beginning, UC-capable networks were known as multi-service networks, and consisted of multiple platforms that allowed voice and data convergence, integration of communications and applications throughout the enterprise, integration with clients and suppliers, audio and teleconference, multimedia services and VoIP. However, these multiple systems could not always coexist. Many of these features and services were not - and still are not - totally IP; they just adapted existing technologies to use the Internet Protocol. The advent of IP platforms made UC feasible. IP platforms made it possible for all communications traffic - voice, day, images and the like - to use compatible, standardised, mass-produced, networks and systems throughout the telecommunications sector. The telephone, for example, was no longer a separate product - just another of the many communications services provided by the data network. Benefits Without a doubt, the first benefit was the change of the services paradigm. Before IP, every product or service had its own cost and its benefits were isolated. Today, they are increasingly considered, and sold, as just one of a series of services aggregated into a basic communication package. The unification of all communications services - including mobility and presence - onto a single platform creates synergies that extend the advantages people and companies have at their disposal. In the long term, UC helps businesses, regardless of size, to streamline and facilitate the vital interchange of information. This lets the customer interact with the company better and faster, speeds service-delivery, and cuts cost for the business. The major benefits of UC are immediacy, simplicity and interoperability. UC means that company personnel can easily be found, on the device of their choice, using the most efficient and economical means available at the moment. Every person has a unique phone number and receives personalized messages, in the desired format - calls can be received via the mobile phone, an extension at the desk, by voice mail or via SMS. Accordingly, contacting anyone is dramatically simplified and efficiency is multiplied. Simplicity in telecommunications, at least from the user’s point-of-view, is growing. Ten years ago, the complexity of corporate telecommunications systems required companies to maintain groups of highly qualified professionals. Today, with UC, a company can focus on their business, rather than the communications technology needed to keep it going. UC saves time and reduces costs. Teleconferencing systems, for example, let groups from all over the country, or even the world, meet and discuss work issues without leaving their offices. This not only saves travel expenses and time, it reduces the stress and fatigue of travel and increases executive productivity. UC works at all levels of the enterprise - it helps knowledge and information workers, service workers and even works on the shop floor. Workers can use UC to facilitate real-time collaboration on a document, do a price-check on a product, verify a technical specification or resolve an incident using a hand-held device. UC makes fast response possible in almost any situation; by responding to a client’s needs in real-time losses are reduced and quality of service enhanced. UC enabled automated systems and incident response processes help business teams communicate quickly with one another, or with the required specialists, whenever needed by simply clicking a button or entering a command. Incidents will be managed and resolved through the best available means of communications. Essential tools According to Gartner, six tools are an essential part of a balanced portfolio of UC solutions - telephony, conferencing solutions, messaging, IM, UC clients and interfaces. Telephony ranges from PBX and IP-PBX to IP telephony, fixed and mobile phones (cellular, WiFi and DECT - digital enhanced cordless telecommunications); it also includes video telephony as in the Office Communications Server. Conferencing solutions include voice, video, Web and multimedia conferencing applications. Messaging includes e-mail and calendaring as well as voice mail, voice-mail-as-email, and unified messaging in multiple forms, including voice mail to text. IM, presence and richly differentiated versions of presence are clear indicators of communications becoming unified rather than just operating as disparate modes of networking. They are central to emerging innovations in UC. UC clients perform a special role by acting as a consistent interface for component communications interfaces, such as thick-desktop clients, thin-browser clients, mobile PDA clients, telephony soft-phones, administration clients and clients from Web services. Interfaces to emerging CEBP (Communication Enabled Business Process) applications will allow automated alerts and notifications or conferences to be triggered by event or context-driven architectures. At first, when considering the use of UC, it seems the system is complex and costs are high and not affordable. However, after analyzing the added value, it becomes evident that by using UC client software to manage all its communications a company can also establish a single corporate image on its desktops and define a standard operating environment for its IT. The benefits become clearer when companies truly integrate their communication with their businesses by establishing rules for their UC interfaces and by targeting and monitoring the benefits derived from UC to clearly identify the return on investment. The justification of the business case for UC rests upon increased competitiveness, acceleration of business decision making and enhanced operational efficiency and productivity. UC gives companies a whole new set of capabilities and tools. To create an effective unified network it is essential to hire specialized IP professionals. In addition to implementing the network, the engineers and technicians will be vitally important in building the company’s UC systems constantly evolving it to bring new benefits, and consolidating the integration of new technology in the enterprise’s network. To implement UC, start by testing it with internal systems that will not interfere directly with the company’s productivity to identify problems and make the needed changes before the system is put to use throughout the entire organisation. Although relatively easy to implement, UC does require deep knowledge of enterprise networks. Many times, a network that is not yet totally adapted to IP makes it look as though the UC solution, itself, is not working, so deep understanding of the new technology - all the professionals involved in its handling and use must be well trained - is needed to fully understand the problems and their causes. Business Strategy Enterprises are discovering ways to incorporate UC into their business strategies, but many companies need help and information to understand the alternatives, the variety of approaches, as well as where and how to implement them. Technology brings together, converges, the physical communications, channels, networks, devices and systems; a software client consolidates control over them. Software clients can be stand-alone product suites or portfolios of integrated applications. The disparate modes of communications are organized by the software to deliver a generally, customisable, communications and messaging experience. In some cases the software ties voice mail and email together; voice, video and web conferencing can converge; and IM’s capabilities expand to manage voice, conferencing, video and email. Desktop communications can converge presence, voice, multimedia, video, messaging and conferencing. UC can manage routing, filters, notification, user profiles, business rules, reporting, analysis and workflow integration. UC’s design will eliminate the barriers that have traditionally separated voice calls, email, instant messaging and conferencing in all forms. As I always say, companies can transform their business processes and be much more agile and competitive.