Breaking the Commodity Myth
It is time for UK business to ask some tough questions: How much value is the organisation attaining from its ICT investment? How much of the equipment purchased in recent years remains unused or has failed to fulfil objectives? And how much additional productivity could have been gained by making small changes to the ICT specification?
As Chris Potts, sales & marketing manager, ANT Telecom explains, business communication is a fundamental requirement not a commodity; organisations need to understand the pros and cons of any investment and its role in improving business processes, from efficiency to customer service, to attain real value in an increasingly complex marketplace.
Good communication has always underpinned effective business. But today increasing business complexity, combined with technology innovation, is fundamentally changing the way organisations can interact with suppliers, colleagues and customers. From the need for highly integrated and efficient supply chains, to international collaboration and enabling flexible, more productive mobile and remote working, there are now significant opportunities to exploit communications technologies to drive the bottom line.
Organisations can transform productivity with real time management of the remote sales and field service teams; supply chains can be streamlined through the use of active or passive ID tags; and cross-discipline collaboration can rationalise the design-to-build process, driving out errors and reducing costs.
These technologies are compelling; but they are also increasingly complex. Without in depth understanding of technology maturity and functionality, making the right investment is tough.
At the most basic level, organisations need to understand the functionality of new technology;, what it can deliver; and its suitability for specific environments. Whether immediate communication via IM or phone; or near real time via SMS or email, reliability is critical. Equipment needs to be robust and durable; it needs to deliver the range required, and support diverse needs from unified communications to video conferencing and real time on screen collaboration.
However, it is easy to get hung up on the technical aspects of the new solution and fail to consider the business implications of the investment. Organisations need to question not only whether the technology is appropriate and reliable, but also whether it meets evolving business needs.
Indeed, there is a temptation with communications solutions to simply replace on a like for like basis, albeit exploiting the improved quality and reliability of newer technology. Taking that approach, however, limits opportunities to derive additional value. Whilst an organisation would always review processes and explore business change when implementing a new software solution, too few take the same approach to communications.
Why replace the telephones used by customer service staff, for example, without exploring the options for queue management or WFO (Work Force Optimisation) that could reduce costs and improve customer service? Or invest in an asset tracking solution to manage expensive equipment within a hospital without considering the other benefits the wireless infrastructure and solution can provide such as lone worker protection?
By considering the way in which asset tracking may be used in practice, for example, an organisation can not only use the mapping software to improve the timeliness of locating assets but also to identify the historical utilisation of individual units. Armed with actual data like this, hospitals can accurately determine optimum quantities of equipment and quickly identify a surplus or shortfall in the number of assets. It is by adding business process understanding to the essential communication requirement that a business can drive significant incremental benefits.
Another example is where organisations are putting in place a wireless communication infrastructure simply to provide voice throughout the site. But such a system could also be used to improve the productivity of users by providing a real time alert if a machine has failed and needs repair, as well as lone worker functionality to provide workers with robust, reliable communications in the event of a disaster. By integrating these two solutions onto a single communications platform – that exploits radio, GSM or Wi-Fi – a company not only meets its health and safety obligations but also improves the timeliness of repair, minimises the administrative process typically involved in locating and allocating an engineering resource, and increases machine uptime.
One of the key challenges for organisations in making this transition from commodity purchase to strategic acquisition is a lack of oversight of all communications requirements. Too often individuals within IT or facilities management are tasked with meeting specific demands and, without co-ordination, will simply purchase a single function solution. The result is not only a lost business opportunity but also additional cost and, for many employees, the need for multiple devices.
In an increasingly complex marketplace, there is a fast evolving risk of organisations opting for the wrong solution, resulting in under- or unused equipment and wasted investment. Organisations need to take a step back. It is by assessing the real business requirements, which will typically require input from a number of individuals, including end users, that it is possible to identify the communications technologies that truly reflect business objectives. Combining this robust process with a pilot implementation safeguards the investment by both checking the viability of the technology and ensuring it is appropriate to meet specific and evolving business needs.
It is time to take a different approach to the communications infrastructure; time to evolve beyond single, point solutions and a price-first attitude to deployment. Communications is not a commodity; by applying strategic purchasing practices organisations can begin to exploit innovation to drive significant additional value and achieve business transformation.