Unified communications, collaboration can help save cash

By Denise Dubie, Network World |  Unified Communications, collaboration, voip

Considering the current economic climate, some companies might not see an immediate need for unified communications and collaboration tools, but IT leaders argue the technology can help businesses increase productivity, cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

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IT leaders at companies such as State Street Corp. invest in unified communications and collaboration technologies to help it better link its employees worldwide and enable virtual teams for the global business. Madge Meyer, executive vice president of Global Infrastructure Services at State Street in Boston delivered the keynote at Network World's IT Roadmap: Boston Conference & Expo and explained how her organization built a global model with virtual teams. She said despite regional differences, customers should be able to expect services delivered consistently around the world.

"The challenge of globalization is managing change across all the regions," Meyer told some 400 attendees at the conference. "You have to leverage all these technologies to share information, even down to inexpensive desktop monitors and cameras to simulate group meetings with people around the world."

That type of desktop Web conferencing and collaboration tool is also part of a unified communications and collaboration project recently completed and made available to employees at Danone, the Paris-based parent company to consumer packaged goods companies such as Dannon and Evian. Mike Close, CTO of the company's North American operations, said the company worked to transform "the way we do business" to better serve customers, but also to "attract the next generation workforce."

"We started the project focused on instant messaging and e-mail, but when oil prices spiked, videoconferencing became the first technology to put in place," Close said.

And so far this year, Danone has hosted 1,050 videoconference calls with 70 high-definition monitors. The company estimates that 15% of all videoconference calls reduce travel costs and employee carbon emissions. Yet the challenge faced with adopting such technologies isn't always financial. For instance, Close said getting people to change the way they work required his team to pay special attention to training.

"We had to constantly communicate and provide training again and again to get a critical mass of people using the new tools," Close said.

That is not uncommon, according to Irwin Lazar, vice president for communications at Nemertes Research. For many companies, the biggest hurdle following business buy-in is an organization's culture. He said companies looking to justify an investment in unified communications during the downturn might be challenged with a simple cost-savings argument. Creating a more productive work environment could help address the financial as well as the cultural challenges.

"VoIP, for instance, is a difficult argument to make based on cost savings alone, but if you work in disaster recovery and other unified communications tools such as video conferencing, more tangible benefits become apparent," Lazar said. "Companies can cut travel costs with video tools, enable collaboration and cut phone bills with instant messaging and keep an increasingly virtual staff connected."

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