As an MD or CEO, you’ll know about the importance of good communications. High quality communications around the business, as well as with suppliers and customers, forms part of the bedrock of excellent customer service.
Internally, enabling employees to communicate with each other and to collaborate with extended or matrixed team members wherever they are in the world is a fundamental component of business efficiency and competitiveness.
So, with this in mind, what steps should you be taking to ensure that your whole business is empowered with world class connectivity and communications infrastructure? Let’s have a closer look.
“Connectivity” is a term for a set of technologies that, if pulled together efficiently and cost-effectively, can contribute strongly to greater competitiveness. You often hear people talk about “good connectivity” being a major positive.
On the flip side, poor connectivity within an organisation can be a burden on productivity and performance and can actually hinder employees going about their jobs. Ultimately, good connectivity for business is about empowering communication, personal productivity and team collaboration for greater efficiency and competitiveness.
Each of the technologies mentioned above is – on its own – simply a constituent part of an overall solution. The connectivity challenge is to pull those constituent parts together so they are correctly specified, provisioned and deployed to enable services which not only support the business, but boost its ability to be competitive.
Before we go further let’s take a look at some of the issues often faced by poorly connected businesses:
Poor Customer Service
Where customer queries can’t be resolved quickly because customer service operatives don’t have fast access to the correct information they need, the overall level of service and satisfaction is likely to be low. A well-connected business is more likely to have the systems and process to deliver good customer service in place to facilitate speedy resolution of customer queries and complaints.
Lost Sales Opportunities
Sales people who are hungry for new leads and business opportunities want to be available anywhere and anytime. Typically target driven, they live in fear of missing an incoming sales call or email (possibly even a fax) because they already speaking to someone else or are out of the office when an urgent email requiring a quick response comes in.
Worse still is when a colleague takes a message – which then does not get passed on to the employee it is intended for.In the best-case scenario, missed enquiries can cause frustration. In the worst, it can lead to lost sales impacting on business profitability.
Poor Team Work
When good connectivity is lacking between central and branch offices, work can be duplicated, and confusion can reign about project ownership, responsibility and accountability. With team members distributed and connected using modern communications technology, such inefficiencies can be ironed out.
Lack of Employee Motivation
It’s important that in organisation with a main central office and distributed sites, all employees are kept “on the same page” on company news and developments. A business that relies on internal paper memos and word of mouth messages cascading down to teams is likely to suffer lower levels of motivation among employees than one that is well connected.
One important aspect of organisational efficiency is high quality document management processes. However badly connected businesses lack the ability for filesharing, which means that multiple versions of documents can end up in circulation, key documents can be discarded, and important documents may be inadvertently lost or overwritten.
Loss of Competitive Productivity
Organisations lacking modern connectivity are effectively opting out of using modern, often cloud-based applications such as finance and CRM tools, all of which can boost team efficiency in an agile, well-connected business. If your competitors have already deployed advanced connectivity solutions with all the benefits they can bring, then your business is going to lag behind in both efficiency and productivity in comparison.
Most businesses these days (even the smallest ones) encourage employees with appropriate job roles to work remotely from time to time, be that on the road, at customer or partner sites, or at home. If those employees cannot connect easily and efficiently from wherever they are, they can effectively be isolated while away from the office. Supporting mobile or remotely based employees with a solid connectivity solution benefits employee and business alike.
One solution for improving communications and productivity issues around the organisation is to deploy a “unified communications” solution. A unified communications solution ensures that all forms of communication (such as phone calls, emails, faxes and messages) can be routed to single or multiple points such as a mobile phone, secretary or a business reception/answering service.
Landline extensions can be diverted, emails can be sent to mobile phones, and voicemails can be sent to email. Yet underpinning even the simplest of unified communications solutions is the connectivity layer we talked about above. We talked about the ‘constituent parts’ – or key elements – of a connectivity solution.
These key elements consist of a basic ‘stack’ of connectivity services that must be pulled together to enable communications:
- Internet – connectivity to get ‘online’ including leased line, broadband and ethernet
- Networks – mainly private networks to connect branch offices
- Mobile – to connect people and internet-enable devices
- Voice and data – conventional telephony to enable person to person calls, conference calls, video conferencing etc
- Private Branch Exchange (PBX) – either on premise or in the cloud, to enable Voice Over IP and control over how the data and voice network is configured and managed.
Let’s look at the challenges associated with bringing all these disparate connectivity components together to form a communications solution that works for your business.
What Are the Key Connectivity Challenges?
Sourcing, deploying and managing the correct technology components to deliver business-wide connectivity and enable communication and collaboration requires significant in-house knowledge, experience and expertise. This is costly, time-consuming and can be inefficient. Dealing with multiple suppliers means managing multiple points of contact and can result in interoperability issues as well as a lack of overall accountability for the connectivity solution.
Here’s a little more detail on each of these challenges.
Selecting the Services
Services to improve business efficiency may be cloud, local server or client based. Productivity tools may include video-conferencing, project management systems, filesharing, CRM and marketing automation tools and other enterprise resource planning systems.
Your organisation may need an internal network (intranet) which provides shared information within the business such as sales and marketing resources, expense policies, HR policies and other vitally important operational information. Underpinning these tools for collaborative and efficient distributed team working is the network infrastructure that binds them together.
Recruiting a Highly Skilled IT and Comms Team
If you’re going to connect your whole business together to enable effective and efficient communications, you need a hefty amount of in-house information and communications technology (ICT) expertise. This means you’ll need a broadly skilled and potentially expensive headcount. If your business is large enough to recruit, accommodate and manage such a team that may not be an issue, but for many organisations this might be a stretch.
High quality, project-oriented management is very important in keeping a large ICT motivated and efficient. As well as the skills and expertise, you’ll need the space to house the people, and a range of operational IT management systems and software for monitoring network performance. These resources are typically concentrated in a network operations centre (NOC)
Managing Multiple Suppliers
Moving on to the other aspects of operating a complex corporate network infrastructure, a major challenge is to manage multiple different suppliers of component parts. For example, going back to our list of component parts above, it’s not uncommon for organisations to source network infrastructure, internet access, and voice, data and mobile services from different suppliers.
This coupled with the requirement for desktop and back-office hardware (e.g. phone handsets, PBX technology and the like) can make the sourcing and supplier management process very complex.
Resolving Technology Compatibility Issues
With multiple providers of network components such as leased lines, internet, mobile, and voice and data telephony services, it is not always straightforward to diagnose the root cause of technical issues. In the worst cases, one supplier may point the finger at another when identifying the source of an issue, rather than working together to sort out the problem. At best, suppliers will agree to work with one another, but with the inevitable delays that inter-company communication and co-operation bring
Uneven Solution Optimisation and Evolution
All technology evolves and (in general) improves over time to provide better performance. Updates and patches are released and applied to software, and hardware OS and firmware updates also come out regularly. It’s the word ‘regularly’ where the devil may be in the detail. Multi-vendor solutions comprising technologies from different suppliers may be updated over differing timescales, resulting in potential incompatibilities at a later point. Something to watch out for.
Multiple, Points of Contact, Bills and Pricing Models
When you need to work with multiple suppliers, you’re going to have multiple points of contact (both on the business side and in technical support). This may not seem too much of an issue to begin with, but again can bring unwelcome delays, complicated chains of communication as your connectivity solution scales and becomes more complex. Furthermore, your pricing and billing may also be harder to managed and understand — requiring time to interpret and understand.
Connectivity Solution: The Single-Sourcing Advantage
The points described above are all worthy of consideration as you scope and select solutions and suppliers for the technologies that will connect your business and its employees together. Above all you need your technology choices to be enabling and empowering, so that your workforce has all the communications and collaboration tools at its fingertips and can maximise productivity and efficiency. Best of breed, marketing-leading connectivity technology products are widely available through resellers and distributors, but unless sourced from a supplier that is big enough and skilled enough to be a “one stop shop”, you may still find that you encounter some or all of above challenges.
This may in large part be negated by sourcing your connectivity solution from a single supplier. One that has the supplier relationships, in-house technical skills and accreditations and which can allocate a multi-layered team to working with you.
Your team will work closely with you, firstly understanding your goals and objectives for where you want to get to, then will scope, specify and source the correct components to build a customised connectivity around the needs of the business and its employees. With this will come economies of scale, efficiencies in purchasing and billing and more attentive service from a multi-skilled team that is motivated to support your business.
We hope you have found this article on “Connecting the Business” a useful and interesting read. As your business grows, and as you recruit more employees and open new sites in the UK or abroad, you may find that your organisation is faced with some or all of the challenges we have described here.
If you believe you could benefit from assistance in scoping and planning your business connectivity, Chess is ready to help you every step of the way. We can to plan the optimum, scalable and future proof solution for your organisation, no matter what your size or sector.