Connections: Looking to the future of business communications

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Enterprise communications is being significantly influenced by a series of trends -- many of which originate from the consumer market, particularly from Generation Y -- that are changing the way organizations do business.

According to a survey conducted by Loudhouse Research, these trends include:

" Enhancements to the user experience -- Improved consumer interfaces are leading employees to demand more user-friendly corporate applications.

" Seamless mobility -- Employees are increasingly accessing corporate data on mobile devices, from a variety of places. Keeping this information available and secure is a high priority for IT.

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" Social media -- As individuals participate more in social media, businesses are taking advantage of new opportunities to connect with customers. They are also searching for strategies to stay relevant with the communications channels that Generation Y is used to, which are different from the generations before them. 

" Flexible deployment -- Cloud computing is redefining IT, providing flexibility and reducing costs.

" New levels of reliability and security -- Reliability and security are significant challenges that need to be addressed as more corporate information and applications are moved to flexible deployment models such as the cloud.

These trends are collectively bringing the world of business to a new world of communications that has the potential to improve efficiency while reducing costs for organizations. The majority of survey respondents (72%) felt that organizations failing to respond to major trends are at a disadvantage. And virtually all of them -- 98% -- are convinced that they can gain a competitive advantage by investing in their communications system.

Now is the time to begin preparing for these trends, for several important reasons. For one thing, it's no longer financially viable to cling to outdated communications systems. Waiting for answers from colleagues due to disjointed communications can cost individual employees several hours per week. Multiplied across the organization throughout the year, that loss of productivity really adds up.

In addition, an ineffective communications system results in the need for more business travel, setting up expensive face-to-face meetings that waste thousands of corporate dollars.

Customer service is also a hot topic. The Loudhouse survey shows that 87% of organizations see customer strategy as more important than in the past, and almost all of them (95%) see customer service as the next area of competition within the market.

Creating an effective communications strategy

The communications strategy depends on three main factors: the staff, profitability and innovation.

It's easy to see how employees make a difference -- knowledgeable people are better at responding to customer needs and are easier to do business with. Customer retention, in turn, leads to reduced overhead and increased revenue. And with an innovative communications system, employees can be fully connected in the way they want, which allows for efficient communications and data movement throughout the business.

The ability to easily schedule meetings and facilitate collaborations through a simplified voice portal means that people are available when customer issues need to be resolved. Let's not forget the power of many - it's all about using social collaboration to solve problems in your enterprise.

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Adopting innovative communications technology allows organizations to reduce risks and avoid downtime, to get ahead of the competition. These solutions also streamline business processes and provide increased functionality for existing tools. Linking all of it together is the differentiator. You choose the solution that best suits your organization, whether it is software-based, deployable either in a cloud or standard environment, or off-the-shelf servers that deliver a single point of management.

Putting it all together

The ideal solution for corporate communications will bring all the pieces together, with a focus on social collaboration, mobility and user experience. By embracing the trends and strategically employing emerging technologies, organizations can stay ahead of the curve.

But how? An open unified communications system is ideal for working with existing products from varying vendors, while providing scalability to meet future needs. As organizations look for the solution that will best benefit them, look for these specific features:

" Seamless communication between office, mobile and home-based end users, reducing the time employees spend waiting for crucial information.

" An easy-to-use Web collaboration platform, providing a way to share information quickly and avoid excess business travel.

" Multi-party videoconferencing, allowing for visual communication that further reduces traveling expenses.

" Unified capabilities that integrate with Microsoft Outlook and Google Apps, making it simple to click a contact and select from a variety of actions, including videoconferencing.

" Cost-effective deployment of a reliable SIP-based platform built on open architecture without the need for an infrastructure overhaul.

" Employee collaboration via social media channels, email or instant message, enabling users to share their availability to facilitate real-time collaboration between employees as well as customers.

" The ability to utilize workflow in the tools that are used most often to add tremendous value to customers' business processes.

By deploying a communications solution with these capabilities, enterprises will improve the effectiveness of their end users and provide a better experience for their customers, lending them competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

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