Unified Communication as a Step Toward Lean Operations
May 30, 2014 @ 11:04 AM | By Bob Wise
The emergence of Unified Communications (the integration of multiple modes of voice, video, web, and text-based communications) has fundamentally altered the employee productivity landscape. The amount of benefit an organization realizes through the deployment of UC, however, varies widely.
Companies that have fully leveraged the potential of UC solutions have approached the deployment with a frame of mind as though they were implementing another dimension of a lean operations system.
Lean is a way of thinking about processes that is inspired by the classic Toyota Production System and seeks to preserve/maximize value (output) with less work (input). When we think about a typical day’s worth of communications with our team, customers, vendors, and others, it’s fairly easy to chart out the waste in that system. Phone calls made but unanswered. Trips down the hall only to find the person we’d like to see is out. Meetings scheduled but attendees late or missing.
How much time is lost to each individual during the day from these null outcomes? How much time wasted for the organization? What’s more, beyond the salary and wages spent to no good result, what of the opportunity cost inherent with the lost resource of time?
At its core, unified communications tools allow the enterprise to minimize these costs. Several elements are particularly helpful:
A UC solution should provide others with some insight into your status. On the phone? Away from your desk? No need to dial now if you know you’ll just go straight to voicemail.
Call routing logic
The days of being chained to a single desk for a full eight-hour day is an amusing fantasy in today’s drinking-from-a-firehose world. But not being at your desk is no reason to miss a call when you can have a set of easily updated rules for where calls should ring, on what days and times, and even depending upon who’s calling.
Comprehensive mobility support
Having a call forwarded to your mobile is only the first step. Today mobile users can easily participate in voice, video, and web conferences. They can participate in collaborative work around document creation and editing from nearly anywhere and at any time.
A big part of opportunity cost is the result of those heart stopping outages where everyone’s phone goes down. Could be the result of aging infrastructure or perhaps a storm or maybe a new utility worker with a back hoe. But as above, sophisticated call routing plans can ensure incoming traffic is still handled and the business of your organization continues without interruption.
So having the right tools in place is a required first step. But as important as having the right tools is making the adjustments to key business processes that allow the enterprise to make the most of the new capabilities and flexibility that come with those tools. This is where the Toyota-inspired approach again becomes instructive.
There are two dimensions to consider – the elimination of outright waste and the smoothing of process. Process smoothing is about minimizing start/stop or time spent in the process where no value is being added. Much has been written about the application of lean in many processes and across many industries, suffice it to say that optimizing the balance between tools and work flow helps to achieve faster, higher quality output. But in part, smoothing is about keeping the process flow balanced and moving – avoiding situations where backlog builds at a single point in the process.
Examples of these ‘unsmoothed’ areas could include contact centers and the flow of information in/out of them, or perhaps there is a single decision maker who is difficult to reach. So requests for decisions pile up until that person returns to the office.
Can UC tools help facilitate a smoother flow? Of course. Using UC tools to tailor the flow of information, and even the modes of response, mean that more time/capacity opens up for that decision maker and the entire process becomes more efficient.
What are the key processes in your business and how can the improved flow of information facilitate improvements in those processes? Consider both customer facing and internal processes as equally rich sources for improvement. Approach this challenge in a cross functional way, bringing together IT representatives along with drivers of your critical processes – from engineering, marketing, sales, operation, and finance.
In fact, finance should play a critical role in helping the teams to identify the costs, to develop metrics around the reduction of cost, and to help measure the improvement in overall ‘throughput’ of the organization. In many ways, the CFO, in coordination with the CIO, has the opportunity to lead a reinvention of the organization as a whole.
For more on Lean, and the critical role of the CFO in making it happen, I’d suggest you read The Lean CFO: Architect of the Lean Management System by Nick Katko.