Jun 17 2014

Reaping the Benefits of Unified Communications

IT managers say UC reduces costs and makes staff more productive.

Minnesota’s Dakota County has found that by holding online meetings via unified communications, it saves considerably on transportation costs.

The county has three buildings that are separated by about 27 miles each, says David Miland, IT infrastructure manager. “People used to drive that distance to hold a meeting, but now we can run a video conference with Microsoft Lync,” he says. “And some of our staff who occasionally work from home are surprised by how easy it is to remotely attend meetings back at the office using Lync with a PC webcam.”

Along with standard features such as presence and instant messaging, the staff can collaborate in new ways. For example, the IT department holds a weekly technology update in Lync with representatives from all county departments. Miland says it would be difficult to coordinate the necessary meeting rooms and work schedules for a potential audience of more than 100, but with Lync, workers can attend without leaving their desks. The virtual meetings include a PowerPoint presentation conducted with live audio, video, screen sharing and interactive question-and-answer sessions. The meetings are also recorded for playback and sharing.

“The ability to hold video conferences remotely and easily share information speeds our decision-making,” Miland says. “There’s no question that Lync improves our overall productivity.”

Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says as awareness of UC spreads, more organizations are tapping the technology.


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)

While local governments may use video differently, based on their organizational culture, most take advantage of document-sharing tools for collaboration. “Now, people can meet online, actually show their colleagues the data and information they are talking about and get people to make decisions as opposed to waiting for a set time to meet at a physical destination,” he says.

Slashed Phone Bills

Sacramento County, Calif., uses UC technologies from both Microsoft and Cisco Systems to its advantage, says Debra Nadolna, IT division chief.

The county began its UC journey by deploying Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise (UCCE). The Voice over IP phones alone have paid off because the county saves $2 million per year in maintenance on legacy gear, circuits and staff costs.

“Our telephone rates declined from $34.80 per month for a telephone with voicemail in 2001 to $18.80 per month today,” Nadolna says, adding that all but 150 of the county’s 14,000 phones now run over VoIP.

The UCCE system also pays numerous other dividends. First, call center employees use the UCCE’s recurring outbound dialing feature to collect money from taxpayers or parents who are late on child support payments. Second, the county integrated UCCE with Calabrio software to record call center phone calls so agents can learn from their mistakes and improve customer service. Finally, the county also uses the real-time location-tracking database in UCCE that directs 911 calls to the specific location of an emergency, or the county’s public-safety answering point.

Nadolna says like many other organizations, Sacramento County deployed Cisco UC several years before Cisco marketed Jabber. In 2006, the county began using Microsoft Office Communicator (now Lync) for instant messaging, presence and video chat. “We use Lync for presence quite a bit,” she says.

While Lync video applications are limited in Sacramento County, its consolidated permit center uses the technology, says Nadolna. When a builder comes to obtain a permit, the staff conduct a video Lync session with a civil engineer or other needed expert who might be 15 or 20 miles away. “Now, the engineer doesn’t have to leave the field,” she says. “He can meet with the builder and review the plans online to get a permit expedited.”

Jürgen François/ThinkStock

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