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Communications Choices: Minimize, Maximize, or Optimize?

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We are all learning as we go during this pandemic. Yes, in many cases, we were able to execute on our business continuity plans at the onset of the crisis. But as disruptions continue, we might find the need to change or create new plans for the future.
 
A lot depends on what industry your enterprise is in. The disruptions in airlines and the travel industry are already far greater than the changes in retail grocery stores. Online services are booming, but we don’t yet know what changes will come to physical spaces for retail, office, or production activities. In any case, the changes everywhere look to be significant.
 
A lot depends on how your company’s leadership is responding to this situation. Are they feeling defensive or opportunistic? Do they believe the pre-COVID-19 business model will work fine when the crisis has passed, or are they compelled to revise some or all of the business model? Big questions. As an enterprise communications leader, you are certainly seeing this first-hand and are likely getting a sense for the answers to those questions in your company and industry sector.
 
This creates an opportunity to contribute to the new operating mode, and to be a leader that brings today's amazing communication tools to bear in the most effective way. And, you will likely be welcome at the planning table, since one clear outcome of the pandemic and mandatory WFH orders has been the realization throughout the business community that the tech sector had tested solutions available to meet these unforeseen requirements. Since we came through in the crisis, we will likely be asked to help plan for the future.
 
As you prepare for and participate in those discussions, you will likely want to perform some triage, focusing on which things are most important and letting other things continue as is without consuming time or resources. In considering this, three words come to mind: minimize, maximize, and optimize.
 
Here are some suggestions for each:
 
Minimize — For some communication elements, you can minimize the costs, time, effort, and future investment. You can minimize these in many ways:
  • Minimize attention to any communication elements that are working well. You can practice the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some examples might include the analog lines to security devices, monitors, or various utility phones such as in elevators or parking lots.
  • Minimize the functionality provided. Make sure that the service catalog offers only what is needed for basic or utility services. Even if the vendor is “throwing in” licenses for other features, don’t let those add unjustifiable complexity. This will also minimize help desk support time for those functions.
  • Minimize the quantity being used. You may want to do a quick audit to find those lines, phones, 800-numbers, etc. that have no usage and decommission them. In some cases, that will generate immediate savings; in other cases, it may not produce savings until the next contract renewal. Either way, there will be a saving in time, support, monitoring, reporting, etc.
 
Maximize — Some communication elements may be working so well that you will want to leverage them or deploy them to the greatest extent possible. Some examples of that approach include:
  • Maximize cellular communications. Most likely, this crisis has shown that the necessary communications for many types of workers (i.e., usage profiles) in your organization can be done very effectively on a cellular phone. There is no need for an enterprise number, line, trunk, phone, or license. Today’s excellent SBCs can easily include a cellular number in your “dial plan” so that cellular users can easily be reached by on-premises users. When the cellular users come on-premises, they can use the voice-over Wi-Fi feature of the phone to stay connected or could even use micro-cells in some areas. So, consider maximizing the use of cellular technologies to produce the most flexible and cost-efficient voice communications future for those users. Note that this isn’t a recommendation for the mobile device app that is bundled with a UC license, rather it is pure cellular for voice. Also, note that cellular users are already very likely to be using apps that keep them connected via texting, instant messaging, email, and meetings.
  • Maximize text-based communications. Help your organization’s leadership utilize the power of text-based communications as they design their post-crisis business processes and operating models. And be sure to include the increasingly powerful speech interfaces for texting without touching. This maximization could use the cellular carrier’s SMS service (with or without the RCS capabilities), services like Apple iMessage or text functions that are included in almost all UC and “Teams”-type applications and mobile Apps. You will also find text-based communication built into many line-of-business applications in your industry, ranging across first responders, care providers, facility maintenance, retail services, et al.
  • Don’t maximize just because you own licenses or have maintenance coverage. A popular phrase today is “maximize your assets.” Well, that’s bad business advice. You really want to “maximize the return on your assets,” which is a key measure of operational efficiency known as ROA. Sure, if you have licenses for communication tools that can measurably improve your enterprise’s operations, go for it. But avoid pushing functions that aren’t justified. Some things are total boat anchors and should be minimized. Some don’t fit the future business processes and shouldn’t even be considered.
 
Optimize — In some cases, there is a sweet spot between minimize and maximize, which we can call optimize. This can describe communication tools that are designed or configured to fit the process or job or worker’s preference optimally. It can also define a blend of solutions that is optimal for your enterprise’s bottom line and communications team’s effectiveness. Here are a few suggestions:
 
  • Optimize by integrating communications into the business processes and the business software applications of the new or ongoing post-crisis operations. This is more and more prevalent, and it’s a great time to jump onto this bandwagon. Examples are everywhere — Vidyo.com solutions categories, Microsoft’s Firstline Workers ideas, etc. Twilio's Engage Everywhere event will also take a look from a healthcare perspective. Look at the communications tools and integrations that are built into most business applications such as Salesforce, Slack, and others.
  • Optimize by differentiating your communications services to support the differentiations that are key to your enterprise’s success. Bring communications technologies to the table as the post-crisis models are being defined. Use usage profiles to guide the selection and deployment of communication tools and services.
  • Optimize via automation. At a minimum, your communications team can be more effective and resilient if monitoring, deployments, changes, and reporting are automated. This will minimize cost and maximize effectiveness while letting your team work remotely whenever needed. Also, look for opportunities to automate communications in every operational area of your enterprise. This is really a rich opportunity given the new power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), both of which are rapidly being commoditized by the cloud-based providers of computing platforms (Azure, AWS, etc.) and by communication platforms as a service (CPaaS) like Twilio, Vonage API, etc. Apply recent successes in customer experience management and contact center technologies to other areas of your business.
  • Optimize by blending. The industry buzz is that the post-crisis world will all be in the cloud. Not so fast! Optimizing your communications services may work best by following the work, rather than by following the buzz. Only move communications to the cloud when it will optimize the work, such as the collaboration usage profile, or based on the location, such as for the field, retail, and parts of production usage profiles. You and your team are the best people in your enterprise to optimize this, so be proactive.
 
Five years from now, hopefully, your team will be seen as the key to a new (and better) post-crisis way of working and living. Perhaps you’ll be assisted by minimizing, maximizing, and optimizing. And you have my best wishes for good luck!

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This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.

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