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The real benefit of unified communications: Integrating business processes

Forget the fuzzy benefits of combining your communication modes into a single point; that’s more of a convenience play. Where the real value is to be found is when business processes (or workflow) is integrated into the communications environment.

That’s according to Colin Steeples, general manager of Amtel. Describing the integration of business processes into unified communications (UC) as his favourite subject, Steeples says the benefits become far clearer when delivering such solutions.

"While much is made of the ability to communicate by voice or video, and to potentially avoid having to travel on jet planes and so on, these are not direct, measurable advantages.”

He has a point, too. Even with the awe-inspiring clarity and performance of telepresence suites, for example, executives will travel. Business is still done in person, over dinner, on the golf course, in stuffy boardrooms. Until the teleporter makes it out of Star Trek and into the CEO’s office, the airline industry has little to fear.

“The idea that UC can save money in this way ignores how the bulk of business is conducted,” Steeples affirms. “But when you integrate workflow it really brings the potential of presence to bear.”

That’s because the UC solution now has the potential to intelligently assign work to the most appropriate person, based on presence information which can include the workload of the individual, the nature of the task to be assigned and the abilities of the ‘agent pool’, so the job can be routed to the best available man.

“Any number of factors to determine how to route work can be programmed in,” says Steeples.

And the business process, be it an externally-originating item such as an application for bank or telco services, a web query, or an internal one such as a request form for leave, is kicked off by the communication event.In keeping with the UC theme, that event can be any form of communication: a web form, a phone call, an email. “By integrating back office applications, UC suddenly becomes the point at which various departments within a business can be integrated, allowing for a potentially substantial improvement in efficiency,” says Steeples. Indeed, he reckons this is ‘the next big thing’ for efficiency.

“It also enables visibility; managers can see who is doing what as all the reporting one would expect from a contact centre –such as wait times, accordance with SLAs and so on – can be introduced for the business processes which are tied into the UC solution.”

It is this capability, Steeples says, which flicks the switch from UC being a ‘nice to have’ to making it a ‘nice to buy’ (because a more solid value proposition and return on investment can be demonstrated).

For example, he says Amtel has just finished a deployment for a client where no fewer than 12 separate business systems were integrated into a UC solution; agents in this case are processing applications which involve interaction between multiple departments and disciplines. Previously, flicking between these apps and using ‘cut and paste’ just meant hassle and time consumption – hardly efficient.

“With the new system, double handling and data re-entry is eliminated. A unified view of the business process is enabled, meaning communication and interactions are all far more effective,” Steeples concludes.