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Issue Date: June 2007

Driving unified communications

1 June 2007

As technology has become ubiquitous, companies are faced with the challenge of maximising their business investments and streamlining their operational processes to integrate these once disparate systems.
To see the results of aligning strategy, organisation, motivation, and leadership with business success, companies need to provide their employees with the right tools, information, and opportunities. Ultimately, success comes down to the people at an organisation. Microsoft calls a business that adopts this philosophy as one that has become 'people-ready'.
"As organisations continue to battle the information overload, the adoption of unified communications (UC) is becoming mission critical," says Roy Blume, IT services manager at BMI-TechKnowledge.
While Blume believes that the true adoption of unified communications will only be a reality late next year, he emphasises that organisations should be adopting a modular approach to adopting a UC strategy and that there are already organisations that have received benefit from such a strategy.
Cyril Belikoff, information worker business group executive at Microsoft SA says that communication and collaboration is a strategic capability and, if aligned to business imperatives, can have a significant impact.
Cyril Belikoff, information worker business group executive at Microsoft SA
Cyril Belikoff, information worker business group executive at Microsoft SA
"Only through the alignment of people, processes and technology can organisations truly realise the benefits of UC. People form a very important part of this value chain," says Belikoff. "Businesses do not garner insights or make decisions. Businesses do not close deals, invent new products, or find new efficiencies. People do. Companies excel when they empower their people to drive the business forward. Software is instrumental to the people-ready business. Software enables people to turn data into insight, transform ideas into action, and turn change into opportunity.
"Our communication and collaboration vision is about providing software and services that deliver pervasive capabilities to enable people to work together more effectively."
Microsoft is addressing the challenge of making this a reality in four areas that are critical to effective communication and collaboration: integrated communications, collaborative workspaces, access to information and people, and people-driven processes.
Software is already enabling shared workspaces where workers can collaborate far more effectively than in the past. There is no longer a need for team members to manually update each other on progress, because everything is in a single place for everyone to see. Routine notifications can be automated.
"Over the next decade, these shared workspaces will become far more robust, automating more document lifecycle management tasks and archiving all the team resources surrounding the creation of documents, along with the documents themselves, in a single logical repository as a store of institutional knowledge," says Belikoff.
These repositories will capture 'live' data as well as documents in ways that will benefit organisations dispersed across multiple time zones and geographies.
Cameras in conference rooms will automatically capture video of most meetings and store the footage for later viewing by those who could not attend, or by people searching for information on a topic covered at the meeting. A 360°, voice sensitive camera in the middle of the boardroom will track whoever is speaking and display that person's image. Anyone joining the meeting by videoconference will, similarly, have their image recorded when they are speaking. Notes taken on a whiteboard will automatically be captured electronically, e-mailed to the participants, and attached to the video of the meeting.
The key here is the ability to deliver on all of this while being fiscally responsible and without replacing existing communication investments. This is possible and many organisation have already seen benefits. In the New World of Work, Belikoff believes that organisations that can work together effectively will enjoy competitive advantages in a number of areas.
"Those who sell information or expertise can draw on a wider pool of human talent and data to generate new insights and new innovations, and bring them to market more quickly."
"Those whose businesses are built around fixed processes - manufacturing, distribution, resource extraction - can discover and drive new efficiencies that bring down costs. Those who rely on expertise can cast a wider net for talent, seamlessly extending rich capabilities and access to remote and mobile users."
To cope with today's always-on, always-connected business environment, organisations need to equip information workers with the tools they need to focus on high-value work. Empowered information workers can produce high-value work more efficiently, work together in teams anywhere, anytime to arrive at business-critical insights or spread best-practices, forge better relationships with customers and partners, and effectively manage unexpected situations as business conditions change.
"Enabling this kind of productivity requires a strategic approach to communication and collaboration - one which allows organisations to streamline their operational environment and reduce the number of point solutions that require vast amounts of IT staff time to integrate, maintain, upgrade, and troubleshoot," concludes Belikoff.

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