UC Applications

The following is an abstract from the white paper “Capturing CEBP Value: How Unified Communications Software Delivers CEBP to Reduce Costs and Improve Results for Your Enterprise” by Marty Parker and Don Van Doren.

Enterprises make investments based on compelling evidence that they will achieve benefits from the investment. Primarily, they look for ways to reduce costs, increase revenues, and improve business results. An investment in UC is no exception, and case studies have shown that UC technology can deliver these benefits. Looking across the landscape of UC success stories, UniComm Consulting has identified seven primary UC application categories. Enterprises are using UC to:

  • Optimize Resource Utilization
  • Accelerate Transaction Completion
  • Increase Notification Precision
  • Improve Contact Success
  • Automate Communication Processes
  • Speed Information Delivery
  • Enhance Collaboration Effectiveness

1. Optimize Resource Utilization

Optimizing resource utilization means efficiently engaging the best resource for the business purpose. Too often the human resources in an enterprise – the talented, trained and certified people who produce and deliver the products or services – are underutilized because of communications inefficiencies.

Finding a qualified person to perform a task, answer a question, assist in a project, or approve a request is a challenge with legacy communication systems. An employee might make multiple calls that land in voice mail or send multiple e‐mails requesting a response without making the appropriate contact. The UC tool called “enhanced presence” is a great way to see quickly who is available to respond to the need. In some applications, software assistance can also be applied to consider presence properties such as the location or skills of available resource people to make the best connection immediately.

Compared to the old communications methods, even basic “availability‐only” presence has been reported to save 5 to 10% or more in daily workloads, with the additional benefit of accelerating the business processes. Advanced tools can improve resource utilization even more dramatically, achieving as high as a 70% reduction in labor content in some business processes. In these advanced applications, enterprises are applying Communications-enabled Business Process (CEBP) tools. When a resource person with specific skills, certifications, roles, knowledge, or other attributes is needed, software can assist in the process to automatically locate the best resource to meet the need. This type of application is driving UC investments across industries from government and healthcare to manufacturing and professional services.

By using UC to optimize resource utilization, the enterprise can reduce the labor content in the business processes. They can reduce new staffing requirements through better utilization of existing trained resources. Services and tasks can be completed faster, which often increases revenues and margins.

One company applied these methods to find the best on‐shift, skilled, available engineer to resolve customer issues at their help desk. They now complete problem resolutions via Instant Messaging 70% of the time, and the average number of phone calls per trouble ticket has dropped from 5 calls to 0.3 calls. The net effect was a significant reduction in labor cost per ticket and an 80% improvement in customer response time.

2. Accelerate Transaction Completion

Most enterprises have major business processes that are directed at completing a transaction. For example, manufacturing processes result in producing and shipping a product. Transportation processes manage the receipt and delivery of products. There is a process in financial service companies to generate an insurance policy. Local governments approve building plans through a process. Healthcare organizations have processes designed to complete a program of treatment. In every case, the enterprise serves the customer and earns revenue or fulfills its mission by completing specific transactions. However, many processes are prone to delays, reworks, or errors because of bottlenecks that result from traditional communications methods: missed calls, incomplete or inaccurate messages, or unavailable information or authorization.

With UC, enterprises can eliminate many of these bottlenecks. For example, building communications tools directly into the workflow for a transaction makes it possible to initiate a communication right from within the process software application. If the enterprise uses the full range of Unified Communications tools, the communication can be in the format most appropriate to the situation. It might be a text or IM message to a cell phone. It might be a video session to inspect a defective part. It might be a voice consultation among medical caregivers. These expanded communications capabilities can reduce or eliminate errors, wasted time, and many delays.

Accelerating transaction completion can reduce the labor cost per transaction. It can enable faster time to billing and improve customer satisfaction. It can also increase capacity, which usually grows revenues and margins, and it can increase asset utilization, which reduces capital costs and balance sheet loads for the enterprise.

A leading producer of manufacturing plant automation software embedded communications functions directly into the plant operator interface to accelerate the completion of transactions. Now when the operations center needs a technician, they connect directly to an appropriately skilled and available person. This minimizes downtime and maximizes plant throughput.

A government mortgage company with offices throughout Mexico is using UC to accelerate their mortgage application approval process. The mortgage processing teams use presence and IM to find team members who are immediately available to answer questions, thereby eliminating delays and quickly moving the mortgage application to the next step in the process. The company has seen a capacity increase of 30,000 mortgage completions annually by their 4,000 employees.

3. Increase Notification Precision

Enterprise actions and processes are often triggered by an exceptional or external event. For example, some element of a manufacturing production line might fail or fall below specified thresholds. There may be a complaint from a customer or citizen. A high risk situation might arise, such as a hazardous material spill from a cargo vehicle. Whatever the cause, there are almost always a set of rules that guide the proper response to the situation, and a specific set of personnel who must be notified and engaged. The rules can often be complex, and the personnel to be notified can vary based on shift assignments, time of day, and the skills required for handling the triggering event. As a result, the process for responding to the event can be complex and error‐prone if traditional communications tools are used.

Now, with UC tools, software can recognize the triggering event or alert and can initiate, guide, and track the communications from start to finish. The right personnel, both inside and outside the enterprise, can be notified via the most appropriate communications method to achieve effective outcomes. The software can track and log responses to the notifications, creating records that assure compliance to standards or regulations.

UC applications focused on Notification Precision reduce the rate of errors and rework because the right people are notified promptly. Customer service levels or SLA performance improves, as do safety and quality for the enterprise. Other benefits include lowering risk profiles and insurance costs.

One utility provider is using this UC application in a crew dispatch system that has a CEBP solution for rapid, software‐assisted notification. The utility can respond more quickly to utility system or network outages because they can immediately notify and assemble the right crew for the task based on location, skills, availability, and labor rules. They can send notifications via outbound phone calls, instant messaging (IM) or short text message (SMS). They collect the confirmations and declines using Interactive Voice Response for calls and query response bots for IM and SMS, and dispatch crews based on this information.

4. Improve Contact Success

Enterprises engage customers, suppliers, business partners, constituents, and many others outside the enterprise boundaries. These relationships involve many communications events as customers and partners try to contact enterprise personnel, and as enterprise workers try to contact customers and suppliers. While some customer and supplier interactions flow through a contact center where contact success is measured and managed to specific service levels, many of the most important communications to and from the enterprise are not measured or managed.

Legacy communication tools are very inefficient and ineffective for these contacts. According to some studies, 70% of phone calls don’t reach the intended party on the first call. In some cases, this leads to voice messages, which then trigger callbacks sometime later. More often, the contacting party wastes time in attempts to reach the person by calling a different number, such as a cell phone number, or calling a different person. Sometimes they try using a different media such as e‐mail or text message. Most enterprises recognize the low success rate on phone calls and have shifted to e‐mail, but e-mail has its own delays and inefficiencies. Another approach is to use the “follow me” feature to ring multiple devices – a desk phone, a cell phone, or a home office phone – in an attempt to reach the person. None of those options is ideal.

Basic Unified Communications can help improve contact success. If an enterprise can “federate,” or connect its presence and instant messaging system to that of the customers and/or suppliers, the contacting party can see who is available and the best way to communicate with them. This greatly improves the chances of contact success on the first attempt.

Here again, software can help. One approach is to offer alternatives to a caller if the called employee is not available. The software can check presence to determine if other team members are available and offer the caller the choice to speak with another team member. Another increasingly popular solution is the “communications‐enabled portal.” Here, an authenticated partner or customer can indicate the type of contact they need, such as sales, service, or accounting. Or, they can see the presence availability of the people with whom they usually interact. The caller can make contact in the medium of their preference – instant messaging chat, voice call, video call, and/or information sharing. Some enterprises are using UC technologies to create contact success solutions that displace their higher cost call center solutions, especially where there is no need for the full complement of contact center features.

Applications designed to improve contact success can improve customer relationships and loyalty, usually increasing revenues and margins. They can provide more efficient interfaces with partners and suppliers, lowering costs and minimizing errors, rework and delays. They can also lower labor costs by reducing expense to revenue ratios for account management in sales and service, and for supplier management in logistics.

One Swiss financial services company reduced the number of unanswered calls both within their organization and with their customers by using presence and instant messaging. They employed federation with their financial services partners so that employees of both companies can see the presence status of other parties across enterprise boundaries. They have seen a dramatic improvement in efficiency by eliminating delays and lowering costs.

5. Automate Communication Processes

Some communication events are highly repetitive or are part of a very specific workflow. In those cases, the communications often can be automated. For example, some workflows utilize e‐mail for tasks such as expense report approvals or future delivery of business announcements or reminders. Other examples are self‐service web sites and interactive voice response for telephone banking or online shopping. Similarly, RSS feeds automatically assemble information to meet a user’s needs.

With UC, even more complex communication tasks can be automated. For example, parties can be automatically joined to an audio or web‐sharing conference. Communications tools can be integrated into business processes so that confirming messages or documents can be sent automatically with no manual intervention. Electronic signatures can be used instead of having to fax signed documents. Communication recordings and electronic transcripts can be incorporated into project files in place of manual notes or transcriptions. Software can determine a time for two or more parties to meet at the earliest opportunity, instead of the parties having to broker a meeting time themselves.

Increasingly, the tasks performed daily in many business environments will have communications capabilities built into the software applications associated with those tasks. Then when an issue arises, a worker can access additional information or assistance from within the business application. The employee engaged in the process will be able to launch presence‐enabled communications in the context of the task at hand. For the past two decades, enterprises have used Call Centers and Contact Centers to automate communications through call routing, automated agent desktops, and interactive voice response. Now UC solutions can also deliver communication automation for other enterprise workflows.

When communications can be automated, there can be significant reductions in labor costs. Self‐service can eliminate the need for having staff available to provide information. Labor costs can be reduced for basic tasks such as faxing order confirmations. Customer responsiveness and service improves, which usually increases revenues and margins, and the cost of waste, rework and delays caused by late or overlooked communications tasks is substantially reduced.

A California health services provider, which serves approximately 200,000 low‐income and disabled members, used UC technologies to avoid staff increases. The company functions under state regulations that require members to have health screenings with primary care physicians. The physicians complete an Initial Health Assessment (IHA) for each visit. The company streamlined the appointment making process by using UC tools to automate calling to schedule appointments. They also automated the process for physicians to complete the IHA form. These steps enabled them to achieve regulatory compliance without increasing staff or budget. They also reduced the time physicians spent on completing their reports.

6. Speed Information Delivery

Many communications events in an enterprise are simply a request for information. For example, many employee cell phone calls or mobile e‐mail messages are made to office staff simply to get information from the corporate systems. When management or staff are mobile, they often must suspend an important task or project until they can “get online” or “return to the office” to get information required for proceeding with the business action. Most communication systems now have a software client that runs on many brands of mobile wireless devices, but those clients are usually limited to the communications functions being offered or promoted by the communication system vendor.

With UC, enterprises can create user interfaces that combine communications tools with access to information in a way that meets the business needs of the user. For example, if field engineers have access to inventory and logistics information while servicing customers, they can be more effective in meeting service level agreements (SLAs). Some enterprises are even creating “query‐response” bots (software robots) to allow instant messaging queries for information.

Similarly, if an employee is in a voice or video session with a customer trying to solve a problem, they can resolve the issue more quickly and with better quality if they have access to the appropriate information or relevant images. For example, a technician might need access to machine diagnostic information. A doctor might need to access patient data. It may also be possible to capture, collect, and share information during such sessions and automate the file update or documentation requirements. The key for this type of solution is to combine information and communication in ways that match the task at hand and follow best practices for that business process.

When an enterprise can speed and automate information delivery, it can reduce the labor costs for maintaining staff to provide information to mobile personnel. It can reduce the costs of errors or rework caused by misinformation or lack of information. Tasks can be completed faster and customer service can be improved, often resulting in increased revenues and margins. Also, the enterprise can better utilize its assets by knowing the availability and location of needed supplies or equipment.

A leading global producer of complex tunneling equipment enabled their field personnel to send instant messages to a software “bot” to access inventory data and locate nearby parts. The inventory system delivers information and alerts to the field staff, avoiding wasted time and travel and enabling faster issue resolution.

A leading supplier of architectural sheet‐metal machinery improved its support operations by building communications capabilities into each machine to speed information delivery. Customers can directly communicate with the company’s support personnel, using voice and video over IP as well as application sharing. This reduced the company’s travel costs for support staff and gave customers enhanced support and training experiences.

7. Enhance Collaboration Effectiveness

Many information workers depend on collaboration. They share information and ideas to create content, products or services to meet the business needs. Communications is critical to the collaborative process. Even though voice, web, video conferencing and document sharing are more readily accessible today, communication bottlenecks still exist. For instance, there is the challenge of scheduling meetings and getting complete attendance at those meetings. There is the challenge of using single‐dimension communication tools such as telephony or e‐mail to share information or to discuss issues.

Unified Communications helps solve these problems. It can enable easy, presence‐supported conference setup without the delays in current methods. Communications tools can be linked into collaborative workspace products, or even into more basic business tools such as Microsoft Office and Outlook. Some of the newer UC solutions can seamlessly include parties outside the enterprise in secure team collaboration activities. For example, UC can facilitate product focus groups or interactions with outside contractors such as advertising agencies, architects, attorneys, etc.

Software tools can support the collaborative processes by managing the movement and sharing of information, tracking team involvement in review cycles, and providing action or escalation messages only to the appropriate team members. Other solutions can make collaboration more effective by recording and automatically sharing appropriate meetings, conversations, or message strings. They can automatically link events in the collaboration workspaces with relevant enterprise data, news, or web references that add perspective to the project.

When collaboration effectiveness is enhanced, there can be a significant reduction in labor costs per project because team operations are faster and more efficient. Revenues and margins can increase when products are brought to market or projects are completed more quickly. Revenues and margins can also increase if higher quality collaboration improves competitive differentiation or lowers risk profiles for the enterprise. And, when capital intensive projects are completed faster, asset requirements can be reduced.

A global oil field services and exploration company enabled communications in their oil field exploration and analysis software package. This allowed immediate collaboration with experts who could assist in the evaluation of an exploration site. The company was able to complete a site analysis in 20% ‐ 25% less time. They conserved resources and assets, improved equipment utilization, and reduced the time to make critical decisions.

These seven major applications for UC summarize industry experience to date in deploying UC applications. They show how enterprises have successfully used UC to optimize their business processes, reduce costs, and improve revenues by removing communications barriers and bottlenecks, and can inspire ideas for how UC might be used in your enterprise.