May 26 2021

How Companies Use Unified Collaboration Platforms to Drive Business

Such suites simplify management, and businesses are using them in new ways.

When the time came for LifeStore Bank and Insurance to replace its aging on-premises phone system, Josh Rountree, senior vice president and CTO, didn’t initially look at Unified Communications as a Service. The prospect of delivering voice, video, instant messaging and more from the cloud was compelling, but Rountree wasn’t convinced that a unified solution was right to support the organization’s 120 employees.

“I just didn’t know if the technology was ready for prime time,” he says.

The more Rountree learned, however, the more intrigued he became. He read about unified collaboration successes at larger financial institutions and was enticed by the opportunity to streamline management and maintenance of the company’s phone system. Additionally, Rountree realized that a unified suite of communications tools would help the bank’s employees to both better collaborate with one another and provide the high-touch customer service that the organization is known for.

“When you call in to the bank, most of the time, you’re going to get a human first,” says Rountree. “It’s a big deal for our customers — something they expect, and something they are used to.”

Collaborating with More than Video

Video collaboration tools have received the lion’s share of attention over the past year. Some observers have even dubbed members of Generation Z “Zoomers” due to the widespread use of the online platform in education during the COVID-19 crisis. However, many organizations are leveraging the full capabilities of unified platforms to streamline all types of collaboration.

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After a pilot program, LifeStore which is based in West Jefferson, N.C., deployed RingCentral across the organization. The platform has given employees new ways to connect with customers. “It creates such a huge e­fficiency boost in the way users co­mmunicate,” Rountree says.

The multiple collaboration tools that organizations support often overlap with each other, notes Art Schoeller, vice president and principal analyst for contact center and collaboration technology for Forrester. Now that the initial chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic has settled, he says, companies should take care to consolidate their environments and also provide training and adoption support to employees where needed.

“It’s like a garden,” Schoeller says. “You do the best planning you can, but you also have to understand that you’re going have weeds, so you have to go out every once in a while and prune things back. Companies should be looking at the level of adoption and level of satisfaction for different tools. It’s not that you want a pure popularity contest, but we often don’t invest enough in adoption.”

LifeStore deployed RingCentral across its 12 locations late last year, and the organization instantly reduced the management burden associated with its phone system. LifeStore’s entire IT staff is just Rountree and one other person, and the previous on-premises phone system required hands-on support for issues that sometimes popped up without warning.

“You could come in at 8 a.m., and the server room might sound like a jet about to take off, and you would have to assess the situation,” he says. “Complexity was one of the biggest drivers of this move.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Learn how collaboration can immerse your organization in business resilience.

LifeStore relied on CDW for services around the design, building and adoption of the RingCentral system. Corey Buskirk, a principal consulting engineer for CDW, notes that a network readiness assessment revealed bottlenecks in the bank’s network, and CDW engineers configured switches and firewalls to improve performance.

“I can’t preach enough how important a stable network is for UCaaS,” Buskirk says. “If you don’t have a solid foundation, the whole house will crumble.”

RingCentral provides each user with a single number for phone, text and fax, and many employees are already making effective use of integrated instant messaging capabilities. “The uses are so different across our company,” he says. “You may have some people, all they use are their desk phones. Then you have power users who spend more time on IM. A customer service representative can have five different IMs going on and just get so much more done.”

New-Age Communication for the Workforce

In the construction industry, a unified approach to communications can improve not only efficiency but also safety. The fewer devices that workers need to carry with them, the more attention they can pay to their surroundings. “It’s clearly a better experience and a safer experience to be working on one device,” says Doug Myers, CIO at Suffolk Construction, a national building construction company headquartered in Boston.

The company adopted Microsoft Teams in 2019 and uses the collaboration suite’s Walkie Talkie app to keep workers connected on job sites. The feature gives workers the familiar push-to-talk experience without the range limitations and interference issues common with traditional two-way radios.

Along with the typical back-office workflows familiar to most organizations, Suffolk has uncovered a number of c­onstruction-specific applications for Teams. For instance, the company began using thermal imaging at the beginning of the pandemic to screen workers for fevers, and the data from that screening is housed on a secure, accessible Teams site. The company is also using the Microsoft Lists app to help project teams keep track of tasks at complex project sites.

“The fact that these folks can do all this with one handheld device is a real win,” Myers says. “A spreadsheet is certainly a step up from paper, but when it’s in Microsoft Teams, it’s all in one place, easily shareable, easily updated. That might seem like an incremental improvement, but when you’re building these buildings over months, if you can move the needle a little bit every day, that can really add up over the life of a project.”

Suffolk will uncover other valuable Teams applications as time goes on, Myers says: “We knew that once we got the technology in the hands of the people closest to the work, they would do amazing things with it. I don’t dictate the use of the tools. My job is to make people aware of the capabilities of the tools and then let them run.”

WATCH: Prepare your employees for the future of work with a work from anywhere model.

Staying Connected Outside of the Office

Students Rising Above, a nonprofit that invests in low-income, first-generation college students who have demonstrated a commitment to education, adopted Zoom several years ago as a way to connect its staff with students spanning nine Bay Area counties. It also relies on a mix of collaboration tools from Google, helping the organization’s 62 employees to avoid situations where they must email documents and spreadsheets to one another, sometimes losing track of who has the latest version.

Elizabeth Devaney, CEO for the San Francisco-based organization, notes that a sense of connectedness is critical to its work. “The sense of belonging is so important,” she says. “We needed to have a way for people to commune — not only to transact and communicate, but we also needed a way to just bring people together and spend time together.”

The organization’s employees do not have dedicated desk phones; Devaney says the organization conducts its “entire business” through Zoom, including board meetings, student workshops and even team-building activities like yoga classes.

“For us, going to a virtual environment really felt seamless, because we already knew how to use Zoom,” she says. “I feel as connected to the staff as when we were meeting in person.” 

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