Jun 19 2014

Businesses Collaborate Better with Unified Communications

Companies say UC offers tremendous cost savings and productivity gains.

At Century 21 Northwest Realty in Glendale, Ariz., unified communications reduces travel costs and improves collaboration.

Covering a roughly 50-mile radius in the Phoenix area, the real estate company invested heavily in UC technology from Cisco Systems about two years ago, says CEO John Crow.

Remote sales staff use the find me/follow me feature that sends desk phone calls to smartphones, as well as the instant messaging, presence and video chat features within Cisco’s Jabber technology. The staff use Jabber on their iPads and iPhones, Crow says.

“The sales staff depends on the video technology, especially when they are showing residential properties to investors,” Crow says. “They can make calls back to the home office and share documents even if they are 50 miles apart.”

When Century 21 shows homes to investors, the company dispatches licensed home inspectors to the properties to run a Jabber video session with the sales agent and the investor back in the home office. “The inspector then walks them through the property via video, and the investor typically has enough information to make a buying decision,” Crow says.

Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says unified communications really shines when it helps workers collaborate more effectively. “During the most recent Cisco Live conference, Cisco demonstrated how its UC products could be integrated into a business process and accelerate a workflow,” he says. “This tight integration will really provide value to the business as it improves the time to complete processes and enables higher levels of productivity.”


The percentage of IT managers running enterprise operations who say that unified communications will be one of their organization’s most significant investments in the next 12 months

SOURCE: “2014 IT Spending Intentions Survey” (Enterprise Strategy Group, February 2014)

A Natural Progression

Natural gas company NW Natural has been using the presence, instant messaging and document-sharing features within Microsoft Lync for a few years.

Communications Engineer Robert Lukosh says about 450 of the company’s field employees use Lync, along with 450 employees at headquarters in Portland, Ore. Another 200 employees in field offices will be up and running on Lync within the year.

“People really like that they can be on a conference call with a vendor or a contractor and have an IM chat in the background,” Lukosh says. “Our younger workers who haven’t been with the company that long also use the centralized address book that lets them search for subject matter experts and get to the right person much faster.”

Lukosh says NW Natural plans to gradually deploy the video chat and video conferencing features within Lync. “In the past, we haven’t issued computers with webcams, but that will change over the next three to five years,” he says. “We want our field workers to have the ability to do a video call into headquarters to collaborate on things like a damaged pipe or corrosion issues. It’s our roadmap for the future.”

The move to Lync also coincided with NW Natural upgrading its infrastructure and converging onto a single Voice over IP network. “Now that our networking infrastructure can handle more bandwidth, we’ll definitely be running some test pilots and doing more with video,” Lukosh says.