When 50 Employees Become 900, UC is the Solution

By  Jessica Binns — April 26, 2011

Laptops, smartphones, desk phones, notebooks, tablets, e-mail, address books, calendars—today there are myriad tools to help employees do businesses but how can enterprises ensure that these tools are always available to its employees, wherever they are? It isn’t enough simply to have information; it’s critical to have access to the right information at the right moment. Enter unified communications, a broad term for a general technology solution that enables enterprises to mix and match productivity-boosting and process-streamlining solutions for their employees, from voicemail and e-mail to smartphones and tablets.
 
UC “a custom solution”
Brian Kopf, UC sales manager for CDW, a supplier of computer hardware, software, and accessories, says that unified communications is inherently a custom solution. “Every organization wants different things. The federal government wants more efficient responses to constituents. For healthcare, it’s quicker access to medical services. For education, it’s all about the students,” he explains. “But the main benefit that each vertical is looking for is increased productivity. Reduction of operating costs is in the top three benefits, plus more reliable communications.”
 
For Power Home Remodeling Group (PHRG)—a case for deploying a unified communications solution if ever there was one—the driver was increased productivity and streamlined, reliable communications. Headquartered in the Philadelphia suburbs, the company has grown exponentially from a staff of 50 to roughly 900 employees since Jeff Levine joined as director of IT four years ago. What’s more, PHRG also maintains satellite offices in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.
 
For Levine, the tipping point for investigating UC solutions came when the company’s fleet of corporate-liable mobile devices—largely BlackBerrys—grew from 18 to nearly 45. He also notes that the number of smartphones had become “unmanageable.” PHRG switched to an individual-liable device management model, allowing employees to bring in their own devices and offering them allowances for their wireless plans at an average of $50 per paycheck, depending on the worker’s job function and how much they will use the phone.
 
Levine reports that of PHRG’s 900 employees, 250-300 are mobile sales representatives, a few hundred are field marketers, and a handful work as on-site project managers. In all, he manages 650 mobile devices, now a mix of iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Android smartphones. “We try to work with everything,” he says, although he steers employees away from Symbian devices.
 
What employees need
In researching UC solutions, PHRG wanted a package that would provide what employees needed: “e-mail, calendar sharing, shared address books, and shared documents,” explains Levine. “That’s what IceWarp is giving us, including mobility.” A UC provider since 2001, IceWarp Unified Communications focuses on collaboration, communication, mobility, and security, serving an array of businesses from small enterprises to large, multinational corporations.
 
Indeed, CDW’s Kopf agrees that mobile e-mail is a big driver in deploying UC. “Eighty percent of our customers have deployed smartphones, up from 59 percent [last year]. That’s a big jump. It’s critical to be able to access e-mail and voicemail on smartphones,” he says. In addition to e-mail/voicemail access on mobile phones, CDW’s 2011 Unified Communications Tracking Poll found that medium and large businesses cited instant messaging and the ability to receive voicemail via e-mail as the top benefits of UC.
 
PHRG developed its own custom VoIP solution but uses IceWarp’s instant messaging, anti-spam, and anti-virus solutions. Its sales reps receive notifications pushed to their mobile phones via dispatch and are able to reply instantly.
 
Over the past year, the number of enterprises with fully deployed UC solutions has doubled from 8% to 16%, according to CDW. Despite this positive news, CDW’s poll found that many IT managers cite budget challenges as the biggest obstacle to planning a unified communications deployment. Specifically, IT leaders reported difficulty obtaining reliable cost projections and ROI numbers.
 
An easy sell
In contrast, Levine says that when he brought the IceWarp UC idea to his CEO, “it was an easy sell. With the cost savings, it makes it easy.” For example, PHRG has 1,100 user licenses with IceWarp; the same number of licenses on Exchange would cost four times as much, he says. Easy to administer, IceWarp’s low total cost of ownership and flexibility were attractive as well. According to the CDW poll, among the enterprises that have fully deployed UC and are tracking ROI, 76% report that the investment has met or surpassed expectations.
 
With IceWarp, Levine says employees have quicker access to more efficiency-boosting information. “If a sales guy is in a meeting and gets a phone call from a client asking to meet, it’s very good that he can just look at his device and see his availability,” he reports. “From a productivity standard, they have the information they need right in front of them.”
 
CDW’s poll reports similar findings. Thirty-nine percent of respondents cite more effective use of remote and mobile workers as a top UC benefit, along with increased productivity (59%) and better decision making (35%).

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