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We Must Re-Think the Business Process

As an independent technology consultant, I have been advising clients and giving vendor-neutral options on technology for the past 28 years. In this article I wish to share with you our past experiences of why enterprises need to know the importance of proper planning and preparation when making any technology change.

In the early days of my career it was all about providing an apples-to-apples comparison of PBXs (how each box compared to the other box; how many different feature sets one had over the other; the pros and cons of each, the limitations, strengths and weaknesses, etc.).

Those days have diminished; though we still do comparisons on IP-PBXs, it's more about the convergence of all the technologies. Now the most important driver of change is technology advances and using these to your competitive advantage. We have shifted from mass production to mass customization.

When I first started consulting I read a thesis by Dr. David M. Runge titled, "Using Telecommunications as a Competitive Advantage." How visionary was he 28 years ago? Roll up to 2014 and the title of his thesis is in full swing. We now understand the importance of integrating all business processes for competitive advantage.

The objectives are simple: productive, motivated employees, more streamlined operations and a competitive business advantage. The capabilities that make it possible are here today: open, flexible technologies, high-speed networks and a choice of personal communications devices.

Several elements are converging rapidly. We have replaced aging PBXs to reduce the cost of doing business, streamlined the call center to improve customer service and helped increase employee productivity, or capitalized on collaborative technologies to enable collaboration.

Large and small businesses alike need to recognize the importance of re-thinking the business process. More than just phones or VoIP, now communications is about connecting, communicating and collaborating using almost any device, any media and any method of communications from voice to data to video - virtually any time or anywhere.

I have been forwarding my office line to my cell phone now for the past 7 years. It has reduced voice mail tag and made me more accessible to my clients. Last month I was at a technology symposium in California; one of my clients called to ask a question, and I answered the phone (he thought I was sitting at my desk) and responded to his question immediately, without him knowing that it was 6:00am in California instead of 9:00am when he actually called me. Now the only time clients get voice mail is when I choose to send them to voice mail, such as when I am in a meeting, instead of them getting sent to voice mail whenever I was away from my desk.

We just recently completed a project for a group of doctors in Ohio. After doing my research and preparation for a new system, we were asked to review the present way calls are being answered. We interviewed several employees and made test calls into the system. We reviewed call statistics from the voice mail and Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) system and found that the practice was receiving approximately 4,000 calls per day.

However, over the years, the doctors had practically dismantled how the contact center was originally set up and had their individual secretary/nurse answering only their DID calls, instead of the group. From the reports, we observed only a 40% answer rate, so 60% of the time the caller was going to voicemail when all they wanted to do was make a change in their schedule that anyone could have done for them. They were not getting a returned call until the next day due to the load of voice mail messages to be returned.

It was awful. The patients were angry; the employees were stressed and unhappy. I had to tell these doctors that they had to change their business processes. They agreed with me after I explained that I had observed an angry patient who had actually got in their car to drive over to the practice to let them know they had to reschedule an appointment. This would happen up to 5 times per day, where angry patients would drive to the office to speak to someone after stating they could not reach a live person and the system in place was awful. I knew before we put any new technology in the practice that the business processes had to be changed before another step could be made.

Some companies' existing aging communications infrastructures may not support the increased functionality required by ever-changing employee needs and customer demands. Typically, these infrastructures were built in separate environments and have undergone modifications, customizations and upgrades. Most of the time they represent a jumble of different voice, video and data technologies that were never intended to work together but have to do so. Not to mention a hodge-podge of inaccurate phone bills for network costs that don't even match what is actually in place at the business.

We have also found that adding to this different infrastructure problem are the changes that businesses of today are experiencing:

• Doing business with employees, customers, and business partners dispersed around the globe
• Employees are mobile now, requiring new communications devices often with voice, video and data capabilities
• Employees want access to their company's networks anywhere, anytime from any device
• Managers want presence information of the status of employees, i.e. are they in the office, on the phone, in a meeting, on vacation, etc.
• Customers are demanding increased capabilities for communications and collaboration
• Employees want tools that make collaboration easier and more straightforward providing continuous connection and interaction with people, applications and information virtually anytime or anywhere using a range of devices and access points

Here are few steps to get started in understanding your business processes before implementing newer technologies:

• Know your business in detail before developing new specifications
• Sit with key employees to understand how the existing processes work
• Develop team consensus on the root causes of problems
• Provide a means for employees to submit ideas at all levels
• Develop a solid project plan
• Develop a list of well-defined tasks to be performed in a prescribed sequence
• All interfaces or integration expectations must be described in detail

We are just beginning to see what is possible when we re-think our business processes to take advantage of all the technology solutions available today. I hope this article has helped you assess projects in real time and decide whether to alter, abandon, or continue them with a clear understanding of the likely impact on your business.

Even with all these challenges, this is a very exciting time to be in this industry!

Barbara A. Grothe, is CEO and Principal Consultant of Telecom Resources, Inc., an independent IT and Technology Consultant specializing in giving unbiased advice to enterprise clients throughout North America on SIP Trunking, WAN/LAN deployments, Unified Communications applications, VoIP, and Cloud vs Premise. Barbara is a member of the Society of Communications and Technology Consultants International. Her web site is www.tel-res.com or you may reach her at [email protected].

The Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC) is an international organization of independent information and communication technology (ICT) professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide

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