In the space of just a few years, Art Johnston has gone from thinking of unified communications as optional to viewing it as "a strategy that we need to implement to be competitive."
As CIO at Argo Turboserve Corp. (ATC), a Lyndhurst, N.J.-based company that provides customized supply chain management and nuclear engineering services, Johnston understands the importance of ensuring that a company's employees are able to access all their communications tools at any time, from any place.
"Our value-add to customers is in getting them immediate responses, solutions and answers," he explains. "The one thing we don't want to have is 'We'll get back to you' as an answer."
UC Heats Up
Unified communications has been around for years, but interest among IT leaders has historically been more theoretical than practical, and infrastructure and cost obstacles have held back widescale implementation at many organizations.
That's changing, says Turek. Trends such as the explosion of mobile technology, the consumerization of IT and an increasingly competitive business environment are causing many IT execs to change UC's status from "optional" to "urgent."
"You have more and more people who are on the soccer field on afternoons working, or working on the weekends and in the evenings," Turek says. What's more, "they're bringing their own devices, and they're using social media tools, using Skype or free audioconferencing services or presence technology if the company doesn't provide it."
That's the kind of scenario that can force a company's hand: It either makes an investment in UC or resolves to live with the consequences of workers piecing together their own communications solutions, along with the questionable security and patchwork reliability that often comes with such do-it-yourself fixes.
Even so, it often takes some sort of trigger event -- such as a merger, a relocation or a major phone system upgrade -- to spur companies toward looking into unified communications, says James Whitemore, executive vice president of sales and marketing at UC vendor West IP Communications, in Louisville, Ky.
Johnston says he's looking at doing a six-month phased-in deployment, with the engineering and sales departments getting access to the UC system first.
When the first implementation is complete, he envisions a system that will allow sales and engineering personnel to use smartphones and tablets to access their desktop software, participate in webconferences, collaborate with one another via voice and video, and share documents through online sites that employees are already using, such as LinkedIn and Dropbox.
"We plan on having complete collaboration using IM, email, voice and video platforms to integrate with our CRM, ERP, DCM and BI tools," Johnston explains. "We've been working on a [bring-your-own-device] policy and how that will fit into our UC solution. Dropbox and other social networking tools have to be evaluated and will definitely have some play into the final UC process," he says.