Freedom to work

It’s crazy. People use lavish technology in their personal life. They have the best smartphones. They can send e-mails from the same account on umpteen devices and use apps galore. They’ve got it all. And then they go to work and have to make do with archaic systems which mean they can’t do anything unless they are sitting at their own desk.

A dismal 48 per cent of British firms permit home-working. The other half either can’t or won’t connect workers outside the office. The drain on productivity is appalling.

Fortunately, life doesn’t have to be like this. Installing Unified Communications is easy, cost effective and gives staff everything they need to work wherever they want, on whatever they want.

It starts with connectivity – broadband, mobiles and wide area networks, backed up with the software and hardware to create a seamless user experience. The goal is to ensure staff can access their desktops from any device – tablets, smartphones and laptops – and collaborate in real-time from any location.

Duncan Higgins, marketing director at Virgin Media Business, says the first question to ask is what your company is trying to accomplish. “Different firms will need different solutions. We work with our customers to find the right models for them,” he says.

Virgin Media Business offers two main technologies for Unified Communications. There is Microsoft Lync, which comprises instant messaging and video conferencing, with integration to other e-mail and Office products. And there’s Cisco’s suite of products, which cover everything from high-definition video conferencing to mass collaboration tools.

Mr Higgins emphasises that end-users don’t need to be technologists to enter the new era of communication. “Do you need a full understanding of the architecture? No. That is where we come in. We want you to focus on running your business better,” he says.

By delegating the implementation to a single provider, Unified Communications means you can wave goodbye to a number of headaches. Take billing. Mr Higgins explains: “We come across businesses who have been dealing with seven telecoms suppliers. Throughout the course of the year, the IT manager will spend five to seven weeks managing those processes.

The goal is to ensure staff can access their desktops from any device – tablets, smartphones and laptops – and collaborate in real-time from any location

“Merging that into one supplier means one single invoicing system. And if anything goes wrong, there is one throat to choke. Our clients have the luxury of telling us they have an issue and ordering us to fix it. They don’t need to worry about whether it’s the mobile side of things or a software problem – they just tell us to sort it.”

The advantages of Unified Communications have been articulated so often that it’s a wonder there are still firms resisting the switch. What’s going on?

Mr Higgins says it comes down to a few basic fears. “Chief information officers worry about the cost. We can address this pretty easily. There are risks around security too. Giving staff access to company data through an iPad can seem pretty scary. We can talk you through the security issues. The risks are fundamentally irrelevant, as there are proven ways to deal with any vulnerabilities. It shouldn’t be a reason to hold back,” he says.

When choosing a supplier, it is important to consider the customer service ethos of your partner. It is revealing that, when businesses partner with Virgin Media Business, they expect a higher standard of service from day one. “People just expect so much more from us,” says Mr Higgins. “The pressure is on me and my team to live up to the Virgin brand.”

The hype around Unified Communications comes down to the ability to free employees to work how they want, where they want. In a world where your average ten year old can rely on a host of tools to chat with friends and talk to team-mates while playing Call of Duty 3, it’s odd that so many British workers are lagging behind. Especially when solving it is so easy.

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