The pothole and the patchwork fix

How to pave the way to a sustainable telecoms strategy
 

ANT Telecom’s Klaus Allion explains why developing a long-term telecoms roadmap is a must for all businesses.

When the council resurfaces the road outside your home – only to allow the gas board to dig it up again a week later to carry out scheduled maintenance – allegations of inefficiency and public sector myopia reverberate like a pneumatic drill. Yet many businesses seem happy to adopt the same patchwork approach to the development of their telecommunications infrastructure – and end up paying a high price for hitting the predictable potholes they encounter along the way. It’s time for companies to take a more proactive, joined-up approach to telecommunications – and to develop long-term telecoms strategies that help internal stakeholders make cohesive and cost-effective purchasing decisions. 

The telecommunications requirements of modern businesses are broad. Organisations need a robust telecoms infrastructure to assure business continuity, effective customer communications and on-demand business intelligence. They also need to ensure their systems maintain internal connectivity, support productivity and protect employee health and safety.  Moreover, as the number of remote, mobile and lone workers in the UK rises, and the number of businesses that operate across multiple sites grows, communications systems must also cross both organisational and geographical boundaries. The need for an integrated approach to communications is therefore significant. In reality, however, the piecemeal way in which some companies evolve their telecoms capabilities means that many fall short of true integration – presenting stealth-like risks to productivity and profitability.

Patchwork purchasing
It’s not unusual for businesses to operate in departmental silos, particularly – though not exclusively – when working across large or multiple sites. The ramifications of this are well-documented; decisions made in isolation can lead to disjointed thinking, operational inconsistencies and poor overall business performance. However, the financial implications of silo decision-making, whilst potentially significant, can sometimes be overlooked. Divisional managers often, quite naturally, procure solutions to suit their departmental needs without first considering the bigger picture. This can lead to inefficient spending, sub-optimal purchasing and short-term decision-making that’s misaligned with wider business strategies.

This approach can be particularly prominent in the field of telecommunications where investment in specific equipment such as lone worker devices or internal pagers can seem entirely separate from a decision to implement a new enterprise-wide telecoms system. At a casual glance, one appears to be a relatively low-cost commodity purchase that meets immediate real-world needs, while the other is a strategic investment that should factor in longer-term considerations. In reality, however, these purchasing decisions sit side-by-side and should be taken holistically. When they’re not, the risk of wasting company resources quietly increases.

As we all know, the digital revolution has meant that the old communications roadmap has been ripped up and replaced with new mobile, wireless and immersive technologies. However, as new solutions emerge at a rapid pace and organisations’ existing systems either age or become unsupported, companies can sometimes be guilty of making new buying decisions based on old or familiar approaches. Worse still, some decisions are made without considering the changing landscape – both in terms of the evolving technological environment and, perhaps more crucially, the wider strategic objectives within their own organisations. The knock-on effect can be significant.

Isolated examples
Consider the following hypothetical examples:

  • The large teaching hospital where a lead clinician has orchestrated the purchase of a replacement pager system – while the Trust’s Board is poised to implement an organisation-wide Wi-Fi system to meet the national objective for paperless patient records.
  • The utility company where the health and safety manager has bought a batch of replacement radio devices to enable lone workers to stay in contact with head office – while the operations department is procuring Wi-Fi capability to give remote employees real-time access to their CRM system.
  • The multiple-site manufacturing firm where one plant has decided to maximise its healthy coverage by replacing its old DECT system with GSM – whilst another site is maintaining its radio system and a third is implementing Wi-Fi.

In each example the purchasing decisions made may, on the face of it, appear to be the most cost-effective. They may also satisfy the needs of individual departments – having been made by key stakeholders that understand their real-world business requirements rather than being cocooned from them. However, in each case, the companies are investing in the wrong technology because they are not aware of their business’s wider telecoms plans. In the process, these decisions ultimately become far from cost-effective. Though hypothetical, these are not isolated examples – yet, ironically, they’re examples of how isolated decision-making can, in the long run, turn the cheapest option into the most expensive.

In reality, the best solution follows a simple logic: no-one would buy new winter tyres for their 4x4 if they knew they were getting a new Land Rover in three weeks’ time. If we can adopt the right approach as consumers, there’s no reason why we can’t practice more joined-up thinking in the workplace too. But how?

Strategic telecoms roadmap
The solution is for senior and Board executives to take ownership of telecommunications strategy and, in the same way that they define and develop long-term business strategies, construct an overarching telecoms plan that aligns with known objectives and is properly communicated across the entire organisation. The optimal telecoms strategies will have been developed through cross-functional collaboration, combining insight from all key departmental stakeholders and the expertise of specialist telecoms partners. The best telecoms partners will draw on cross-sector experience, product knowledge and best practice exemplars to inform the strategy and help design the optimal solution.

An effective telecoms plan will, of course, outline a structured roadmap to deliver the strategic vision – but in a dynamic business environment, it will also need to be a ‘rolling’ plan that can adapt to change. It will be agile and responsive but will also drive towards clearly defined goals. Ultimately, however, with a robust and integrated plan in place, internal stakeholders are empowered to make optimal purchasing decisions based on a common framework and a well-understood direction of travel.

The importance of good telecommunications in assuring business continuity, productivity and growth cannot be overstated. But it can often be overlooked. However, with a little thought and more proactive planning, organisations can make wiser investments that save money and accelerate growth. With a concrete telecommunications strategy, businesses can remove the need for patchwork fixes, avoid the oncoming potholes and enjoy a much smoother journey to work.