Blackberry and Email and Videoconferencing. Oh My!

Unified communications promises to integrate your Blackberry, your email and any other tools and devices you use to communicate and collaborate at work. Early adopters share four keys to successful implemenation.

By John Brandon
Wed, August 27, 2008

CIO — During a video conference in Chicago with 12 employees—half of them in Madrid—Accenture CIO Frank Modruson had a brainstorm.

He was, at the same time, holding a private video chat on his laptop with Paul, an employee who is based in Minneapolis. Modruson decided to connect Paul to the video conference so Paul could contribute to the discussion. He plugged a VGA cable into the laptop and clicked a button. In a second, Paul was talking to those in Chicago and in Madrid. By turning the laptop's web camera toward the telepresence screen, Paul could see the participants and they could see him. They engaged easily on a complex topic—infrastructure outsourcing—and reached a decision fast.

As a large enterprise with 180,000 employees in 49 countries, Accenture prides itself on responding quickly to clients: Consultants will jump on a plane at seemingly a moment's notice. The exchange between Paul and his colleagues was possible thanks to a unified communications platform that goes well beyond video conferencing and chat to integrate the many communications technologies Accenture's employees use.

Unified communications is primarily a software undertaking that helps unify disparate technologies. At Accenture, the unified communications platform includes presence indicators on the front end which provides a way for employees to tell people where they are (for example, at a meeting or on the phone); on the back end, the platform unifies technology silos, creating a single inbox that handles voice mail, video, IM and e-mail, so people can communicate wherever they happen to be. Accenture employees can switch seamlessly from a video conference to an online collaboration session or, with the click of a button they can elevate an instant messaging chat to a phone conversation—or even send a fax—all using a common platform.

For Modruson, the key benefits are financial: He says Accenture has saved millions in travel costs by using telepresence. In June alone, 425 employees avoided international travel and another 250 avoided domestic travel by using telepresence. "Our management team is fairly distributed around the world, so the vision we have is for better remote collaboration," says Modruson.

Unified communications constitutes the applications and functions that are used to implement fixed mobile convergence (FMC). FMC focuses on bringing the fixed and mobile components of communications together; UC involves giving people the tools to move seamlessly between multiple communication channels, both wired and wireless. It's becoming a trend, according to Bob Hafner, a managing vice president at Gartner, because there are too many silos, too many messaging "cooks in the kitchen." "Unified communications is a way to provide the tools employees really need so they can communicate more effectively," says Hafner.

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