A technology quick-win

In the unsettled economic climate, organisations have a challenging year ahead with the decisions they make around where to invest and where to cut back, having long-term affects. Do they simply cut back on the ‘non essentials’ or do they look to invest in areas that could either deliver short term reward or put them on the front foot for when the economy show more signs of recovery?
    
These concerns are not just applicable to the private sector – indeed the public sector is perhaps more under scrutiny as these organisations not only have to deal with the concerns about the economy, but they also have to consider how they are going to reduce carbon emissions to meet government targets. Is there a technology ‘quick win’ to be had? I believe so.

Financial savings
Like many other organisations, Microsoft has had to think about how it can reduce is operating expenses while still enabling people to do their jobs. One way that Microsoft has cut costs considerably is by implementing unified communications, i.e. taking all of the discounted communications platforms and bringing them together, allowing people to communicate.
    
Microsoft has saved around $212 million annually changing where and how people work – reducing travel, reducing the amount of space people require at work, and making savings from a number of other areas. Some of the most significant savings that have been made include $93,000,000 or 10 per cent reduction in trips per employee, $3,100,000 reduction in audio conferencing costs, and $644,000 or 50 per cent reduction in square footage per employee.

You can benefit too
I imagine you might be thinking to yourself that it would be great to save $212m but my organisation is not similar to Microsoft and therefore this doesn’t really apply to me. While the numbers involved may differ, I believe that any organisation, including those in public sector, have the ability to save money through unified communications. The flexibility afforded by unified communications can help organisations to make their employees more productive and enable them to work remotely when unpredicted challenges like the ‘snow days’ earlier this year or even a flu pandemic mean that getting to work is difficult. Two organisations that have benefitted from using unified communications are Tayside Fire and Rescue and Salford City Council.
    
Tayside Fire and Rescue is one of eight fire authorities in Scotland. Headquartered in Dundee, the organisation provides emergency services to 400,000 people in a 7,500 square kilometer area in the heart of Scotland. Tayside’s mission is to protect the communities it serves by providing the highest standard of fire safety and emergency response services. Tayside Fire and Rescue employs 750 people, who work out of 24 fire stations. Six stations are staffed by resources 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; a mixture of retained and volunteer personnel operates the other 18 locations. At any given time, approximately 300 people are on active duty.
    
Tayside has estimated £47,000 in potential annual benefits related to increased productivity and time savings with Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007. This includes end-user productivity gains of an average of three minutes per day per user in reduced time to search for e-mails, as well as three minutes per day per user with reduced time accessing people or information. In addition, Tayside realised time savings of over seven minutes per day per user for their improved ability to work outside the office for mobile users.
    
Tayside estimated that 10 per cent of their staff travels for meetings, an average of five times a year at a cost of £500 per trip. The ability to conduct audio or multimedia web conferences has also significantly improved communications and will potentially reduce travel by up to 10 per cent at a cost saving of £18,750 a year.
    
“We used to struggle to get everyone who was working on a project together in one place to meet,” Gary Bellfield, ICT manager at Tayside Fire and Rescue, said. “With Office Communications Server 2007, there is no reason to be in the same physical location. We can join a conference from any end point.”

Remote working
With Salford City Council, the benefits have occurred through enabling people to work from home when they have not been able to come into the office. Jonathan Burt, network and infrastructure manager, Salford City Council, said: “While on holiday I broke my leg. I couldn’t drive and commuting was impractical. With Office Communications Server 2007, I could work and communicate with my team from home, keeping my central role. I can even fully participate in presentations and conferences. Clients and suppliers can connect their personal computers to our servers and use Office Live Meeting to transmit their demos to me at home.”
    
These are two great examples of how public sector organisations have used unified communications technologies to save money and enable better communication. Does this also apply to education or health?
    
United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust (UBHT) is one of the largest NHS trusts in the UK. It employs 7,000 people, runs eight hospitals, and manages an annual budget of £350 million. The Trust is the major NHS teaching and research centre for the South West of England and provides acute healthcare services to local people.
    
“Until recently, it was difficult to know which of our colleagues was on-site, and whether they were available to answer queries,” says Dave Oatway, computer services managerUBHT. This led to a number of communication issues.
    
As in any organisation, it could be difficult and time-consuming for employees to get responses to e-mail and phone messages left with colleagues. It was impractical to resolve complex queries using pagers, which typically only allow short messages to be transmitted.
    
Mobile phones are off limits in most areas of hospitals, requiring investment in alternative communications media. Employees wasted time looking up contact details, such as phone numbers, for their colleagues.
    
It was also difficult for employees to answer patients’ queries immediately without fast access to specialists in other departments, such as radiology, paediatric cardiology, and pharmacy.
    
Integrated communications channels and presence awareness features are helping support clinical staff in their delivery of excellent patient care. “Previously, we had a problem of voice-mail tag, with messages being left constantly. In addition, it was difficult to know when colleagues would be free to answer voice-mail and e-mail messages,” said Oatway. “We have now addressed these issues with instant messaging and multi-channel communications options. We won’t call unless a person is available to collaborate.”
    
These are just a few examples of the opportunities that exist to make cost savings with little investment – and the return on investment can be seen pretty quickly.
    
Instead of viewing IT as a cost to be cut, I would encourage you to think about where you could work better and smarter and consider how technologies like unified communications save money and increase productivity and efficiency. This could simply be by making communication easier between employees using ‘presence’ to determine availability. Or it could be more immediate and significant like reducing travel, whether that is between two offices at Microsoft, between hospital departments or classrooms in different schools.

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