Like many technology buzzwords, unified communications (UC) has had many meanings in its short life. It's now an umbrella term that covers an array of technologies--including instant messaging (IM), web conferencing, IP telephony, expertise identification, e-mail, unified messaging, mobile devices, etc.--that can be delivered behind the firewall or through the computing cloud.
Still, a singular thought resides at the heart of unified communication and collaboration (UC²): minimizing the human latency inherent in every business process. One definition found on Google describes latency as: "the amount of time that one part of a system spends waiting for another part to catch up." Human latency is the delay in closing a sale, resolving a critical customer situation or resuming production because we can't find the needed information or expert quickly enough.
This same need is reflected in the results of IBM's annual CEO study in May: 83 percent of CEOs expected substantial change in their industry and were concerned with their company's ability to keep up.
And UC² is bringing benefits to all types of companies and industries:
A mid-sized US property and casualty insurer was facing stiff competition from industry giants that were using the Internet to serve its traditional customers. Dependent on phone and paper-based communications, its network of independent agents simply couldn't respond fast enough to new customer inquiries or assist existing clients in a timely manner. With a UC² software platform, they opened communication channels for salespeople to immediately contact underwriters. In a typical encounter, an agent sees the underwriter's name on a policy and clicks on that name to begin a chat. Both parties have access to the same policy via a link, which allows complete discussions and rapid decisions. As a result, the company and its representatives can cut through clutter and delays to respond to customer needs by providing instant quotes. These new communication channels worked to dynamically increase the exchange of information and ideas, bonding a scattered workforce via the web. Phone calls and related costs were reduced by 50 percent, helping the company achieve its most profitable performance in years.
A large global bank based in Europe with more than 40,000 employees spread across 3,000 branches had a major problem. Customer satisfaction was down as half of the calls into their support centers were from their own employees looking for information on their own myriad products and services. This bank implemented a UC² infrastructure that integrated presence awareness, expertise identification, IM, VOIP chats and IP-based telephony into a common user interface. Branch representatives can now easily identify product experts and reach them without having to tax the support center's resources. Customers are also able to engage bank employees in text chats through their favorite public IM client. And by integrating their telephony infrastructure, they cannot only click-to-chat, but click-to-call and click-to-conference from the same interface. Keeping track of office and mobile phone numbers is no longer an impediment to direct contact. This bank has identified 3.5 million Euros of productivity gains and cost reductions from eliminating internal long distance charges and obsolete telephony equipment.
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