Strength through unified comms

By Gareth Morgan
11 May 2011 View Comments
A mezzanine office at Horizon business centre

People are, so the old mantra goes, the greatest barrier to change. So it should follow that the deployment of a broad assembly of technologies, intended to revolutionise the way staff across the globe work, might be expected to take some time to bed in.

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Not so at global insurance giant Aviva (pictured above). It has rolled out a global unified communications (UC) and collaboration programme in a matter of months.

The trick, says Ismayeel Syed, senior IT authority at Aviva World, is to demonstrate the value in a central business unit, where the IT department can drive the project, and then let other units bid to establish their readiness to proceed.

In some cases, those business units completed the deployment within three months. “When managers have seen the benefits, they’ve really pushed to get on board,” Syed says. In some case, the UC system was implemented in little more than three months.

At Aviva, UC formed part of a broader strategy to address the way the company worked and so was linked to the deployment of a set of collaboration tools. Those tools provide a central storage repository to improve the management process surrounding shared documents, incorporating features such as version control and permission tools that ensure appropriate colleagues can work jointly on documents safely. While collaboration enables geographically dispersed staff to work on documents together, the UC technology provides the foundations that facilitate that collaboration.

While managers in most business units appreciated those benefits and quickly got on board, there were other ways the UC project won its spurs that appealed to all purse-string holders: through cutting costs. This has been done, for example, through enhancing the experience of online meetings to the point where executives believe that they are as effective as face-to-face meetings.

“We have one HR executive that would hire out external facilities for one of his regular meetings. In the first week after the switchover, he tried doing the meeting from one of the videoconferencing suites,” says Syed. “He hasn’t gone back.” Over a year, such virtual meetings will deliver tens of thousands of pounds in savings, he estimates.

Aviva’s UC project has been accompanied by a steely determination to make better use of its meetings facilities, so conference rooms have been kitted out with kit from Polycom.

“It has enabled us to transform traditional meeting rooms that have historically had only conference phone capabilities, to now offer full-blown collaboration, audio, video, desktop sharing functions, with a simple user experience and very quick meeting start-up times,” says Syed.

Enterprises across the globe are seeing similar benefits from video. According to analyst group Infonetics Research, global spending on enterprise videoconferencing and telepresence hit $2.2bn (£1.3bn) in 2010, up 18 per cent on the previous year.

“Communicating via video continues to be one of the top trends in telecoms,” says Matthias Machowinski, Infonetics Research’s directing analyst for enterprise networks and video. “Businesses worldwide are looking for richer means of communications with their employees, partners and customers, and enterprise videoconferencing and telepresence solutions are a natural fit.”

Of course, the concept of UC goes far beyond just videoconferencing, to include a raft of interrelated technologies that provide a single mechanism to reach staff: through fixed and mobile telephony, instant messaging, and status updates, known as presence, that indicate which method will be the best to reach someone.


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