Brian Bauer, IT operations manager at Alps Automotive, ran into a disconnect when implementing his company's just-in-time manufacturing solution. "When you're a global manufacturer, communications between your locations, vendors and customers must be seamless," he says. "We didn't have the timely communications we needed for just-in-time scheduling."
Like many manufacturers with global manufacturing infrastructures, Bauer made the jump to a Unified Communications (UC) platform. Generally understood to mean the integration of systems and devices for voice, audio, video, Web conferencing, instant messaging and other services over the Internet, UC is gaining ground both for its efficiency as well as cost-effectiveness and, often, the simplified vendor management environment of "one-stop shopping."
For Alps. Bauer chose a NEC program that offers unified IP telephony and managed services. From his experience, the four biggest payoffs were:
- Cost savings on long distance telephone charges amounting to about $35,000 per year.
- Streamlined operations in processing calls with all company extensions reachable by dialing six digits.
- Seamless communications between all locations and employees.
- Centralized management, which saves money when it comes to moves, adds and changes.
According to Bern Elliot, research vice president with analyst firm Gartner, the streamlining of communications eliminates some of the crucial "human latency" that slows down enterprise operations. In a 2007 research report on the subject, Elliot sorted UC solutions into three general approaches:
- One is to bundle most functionality tightly in a single solution; examples of this include Nortel's Multimedia Communication Server, Siemens' OpenScape, and Interactive Intelligence's Customer Interaction Center (CIC) products.
- A second approach is to take a broad portfolio of separate communication functions and tie them together through shared services, such as presence, administration and directories. Examples of this include Cisco and Microsoft solutions.
- A third approach is to offer a common communication framework, or middleware, that can be used by unrelated communication applications. IBM and Oracle are taking this approach.
Elliot advises companies looking at implementing UC to first undertake a thorough review of how individuals and groups are using their existing communications infrastructure, and then undertake pilots and trials that could lead to improved processes.