Save money by mobilizing unified communications

Still looking for ways to cut costs? Consider mobilizing your unified communications. You can save considerable money on cellular communication plans while also making employees more productive.

In talking with a friend the other day, she told me her company has asked employees to cut back on using their mobiles phones for unnecessary calls, and to use their desk phones instead of the mobile phones when they are in the office. Apparently the cost of the cell phone plans is a big expense that the company is trying to trim.

Perhaps a better way to cut costs without sacrificing employee convenience and productivity would be to mobilize unified communications (UC), which allows you to take the existing infrastructure for your wirelines and extend it to your mobile devices. This way the company could take advantage of networks that already exist to route calls to employees' mobile phones without running up the cellular charges.

I turned to Pejman Roshan, one of the founders of Agito Networks, to get some advice and best practices about mobilizing UC. Agito Networks is one of the leading companies in mobilizing UC solutions.

Roshan agreed that the leading driver of mobilizing UC is cost savings. Employees of all types of organizations prefer to use their mobile phones, even if they aren't on the go. "A mobile phone is personal," Roshan says. "You carry the phone everywhere, and it's set up the way you like to use it. Your contacts are on this phone. People know they can reach you even if you aren't at your desk. It just makes sense to allow employees to use this phone no matter where they are." Unfortunately, that can get expensive, particularly for people who travel and want to use their cell phones in other countries. "It's expensive to call internationally with a cell phone," Roshan says. "With calls costing a dollar or two per minute, a traveler can run up a bill of hundreds of dollars in just a week's time."

If cost savings are the goal of mobilizing UC, then employee productivity is icing on the cake. "When people can use their mobile smartphones for voice communications, IM and other instant communications, and presence applications, they become more productive," according to Roshan. "You can eliminate phone tag and make communication and collaboration so much simpler and more straight-forward."

So, let's consider the following best practices for mobilizing unified communications.

First, choose a mobile solution that will maximize your savings. For example, it should work with your existing UC infrastructure. You shouldn't have to deploy a new PBX to support mobile devices. Your solution also should work across both cellular and Wi-Fi networks to minimize cost -- and not just the Wi-Fi in your office but also the wireless networks in places like hotel rooms and remote offices or work sites. Say you have an executive that travels from the corporate office in New York to a regional sales office in London. If his mobile phone can utilize the Wi-Fi in the London office to make and receive calls and avoid use of the expensive international rates for cellular time, he can save considerable money. Most large companies have already deployed W-Fi in their branch offices, so this is simply taking advantage of what you already have in order to save money.

Next, increase user productivity by keeping it simple. For example, the user interface of the mobile UC solution should leverage the native phone interface where possible. That way users won't have to learn anything new -- they'll already feel comfortable with their device. Mobile UC applications should be optimized for the real estate of the small screen, and automate as much as possible for the user. If a person is using his mobile phone on a Wi-Fi network inside the building and he steps outside, the transition to cellular coverage should be automatic and seamless so there's no interruption in the call.

Maximize your return on investment by extending mobility to everyone, not just to a few people who travel a lot. If you think about it, everyone is mobile, even if they are only moving around the building or going from home to the office. You can eliminate some of the costs of cellular service if you shift connectivity to your local networks instead.

Research solutions and make sure they fit within your enterprise, and are scalable to today's and tomorrow's needs. In addition to a scalable architecture, the solution should provide security for wireless voice communications and should integrate with enterprise directory stores to secure and simplify management of the solution. You should ensure that the mobile UC system you select supports the breadth of your mobile devices and IP-PBX systems.

And finally, choose a mobile UC solution with simplicity of deployment. For example, Roshan says it's possible for your existing staff with minimal training to set up Agito's mobile UC solution. If they can administer your regular network, they can set up mobile UC by performing a few basic configuration tasks. You can roll out your solution quickly and begin reaping the benefits without modifying your dial plans or hiring experts to do the work.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.