|Topic:||Positioning business for global commerce|
|Title:||Vice President, Carrier Voice and Multimedia|
|Organisation:||Nortel, Europe, Middle East and Africa|
At present, Brian Day is Nortel’s Vice President responsible for the Carrier Voice and Multimedia portfolio business in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Previously, he was responsible for product management of the carrier-switching portfolio in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Mr Day has worked in Nortel for 20 years in a number of roles ranging from product planning to marketing, working with Nortel Networks’ mobile and enterprise divisions.
Advanced Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has revolutionised the workplace and made it more flexible. Twenty years ago, offices relied upon paper files, memos, telephone and expensive highly centralised systems. Today, with laptop computers, PDAs, mobile phones, widely available fixed and wireless broadband connections and the Internet, even for voice, a worker at home or on a trip is better connected to his work and colleagues than most workers were years ago at the central office.
Twenty years ago, workers communicated using telephone calls, letters and telexes. Faxes, curling pieces of paper with indistinct text and hand-drawn diagrams, were the cutting edge of instantaneous business communication. Internal communications relied upon the ubiquitous interoffice memo. Documents were stored in paper folders and files circulated with a small slip to initial after you had read it. Typing was done in typing pools and computers resided in research laboratories or data processing departments that controlled what end users could or, usually, did not do. The available communications technology imposed certain types of management structures. Centralised decision-making was hierarchical, with communication channelled through rigid paths in the organisation. The processes were long and drawn-out, so many local practices developed in each part of any large organisation to enable business to continue on a day-to-day basis. Once in place, those processes were largely static, evolving at a glacial rate. Newcomers who pointed out obvious inadequacies were told “we’ve always done it like that”. The new ideas were rejected as being “too risky”, because following the current processes consumed all of the available effort. Innovations Slowly, the penetration of standalone personal commuters, followed by networked PCs, then internal email, shared file servers, external email, Internet and Intranet began to dissolve barriers that once seemed immovable. The innovations made it possible to challenge accepted organisational norms. Data was managed and manipulated in ways more relevant to particular groups. Communications channels became more ad hoc and the best companies learned how to use technology to reform their organisations continuously to meet new challenges and opportunities. Local teams felt empowered to create communication solutions that met their needs, breaking free from centralised control. Still, there was a downside; freedom of choice also means freedom to make the wrong choice. As technology options multiplied, many organisations lost their way, as individual departments made unco-ordinated decisions on buying, implementing and using computing and communications. Although some innovation flourished, extending the benefits to the whole organisation was hampered by incompatibilities between systems, database structures and networking technologies. Wave of convergence Eventually, all this was centralised again, but this time, it was different. First, users were reluctant to give up their freedom. Second, the marketplace had forced competitors to standardise, so that even with different suppliers in different departments, incompatible islands of technology no longer existed. Telephones and PABXs from different suppliers worked together, any PC ran any software and networking components could be selected upon price and performance rather than brand. This was the first wave of convergence, and it was spectacularly successful in cutting costs and boosting performance, but from the end user’s point of view, there were still two big issues unresolved. First, each application and service was still isolated from the others. An email contact list could not dial phone calls. A word-processing address database could not send emails. A website could not enable customers to call a contact centre. A PC could not play back voice mail messages. The second issue was availability. The cost of the hardware and bandwidth to support separate networks and systems meant that people needed to work near the centralised hardware. Those who worked at a large office site were well served, but those in small branches, working at home or travelling were not. Mobile and laptop The next wave of convergence was much quicker. Only five years ago, a typical mobile employee had a mobile phone and a laptop PC. The mobile phone was somewhat integrated with the office network, but that was about all. Similarly, with dial-up networking, travelling employees could connect to the corporate network to collect and send emails, but large PowerPoint attachments had to wait until they returned to the office. Frequent business travellers found that technological limitations not only affected them, but the work of their team and of others who needed to contact them for information or fast decisions. Today, technology has transformed the way managers work. The use of IP and Ethernet for communications applications and services has freed communications from the tyranny of multiple networks and provided levels of integration between applications unachievable just five years ago. Broadband is no longer restricted to major corporate sites; relatively high-speed connectivity is now available to home-based workers, to branch office workers, to travelling workers in hotels, airports and convention centres. Travelling workers can now set up a secure broadband IP connection to the corporate network from most places and use an integrated VoIP and Multimedia SIP client on their laptop to see which members of their teams are available, on the phone or out with customers. They can send secure Instant Messages to address minor issues or set-up a VoIP phone call with a single click. When they need to address a group of people quickly, an audio or videoconference bridge is immediately available. During the conference, they can refer to emails or download documents from the corporate Intranet. When they are not online, urgent voice calls or emails are directed to their smart-phone or PDA. In short, they can work in exactly the same way, irrespective of where they are located. When travelling they can use previously dead time to make sure that their work does not grind to a halt. Higher productivity Widespread use of technology gives employees more choice over when and how they do their work, and improves their productivity. Many corporate workers are now permanently home-based. There are significant benefits for both employers and employees for these arrangements. Surveys of teleworkers show that 15 per cent report improved productivity and that 11 per cent are more satisfied with their jobs than the overall workforce. One Market Development manager explained the benefits like this: “for me, it’s the feeling you get when you can do everything you need to, talk to anyone you need to, from wherever you happen to be, when your working day actually starts at nine and actually finishes at five-thirty. “Not wasting time trying to get in touch with people, or get hold of information, means you can concentrate on the job in hand. And that, in turn, means you don’t have to put in the extra hours to finish your day’s work. I enjoy my job, but when you can actually finish on time, it feels really liberating, like somehow you’ve stolen some of your life back.” Significant savings A home-based workforce can bring big real estate savings to large companies, and VoIP can provide additional, very significant, savings. Governments are also promoting flexible working. Since April 2003, all UK parents of children under six, and disabled children under 18, have had the right to apply to work flexibly, a right that must be fairly considered by any employer, and a move being replicated throughout Europe and beyond. In Germany, employees of six months service can apply to work on a flexible basis. In 1996, Holland passed laws to encourage flexible working agreements and several Scandinavian countries are moving in the same direction. It is understandable that some organisations see this as just one more regulatory stick with which to beat business. Many, though, believe that to be competitive in a globalised market a company must use this kind of technology effectively – or risk being overtaken by those who do. Progress will accelerate over the next five years. Broadband will become more widespread and speeds will increase as costs come down. Fixed and mobile networks will continue to converge. New wireless technologies such as Wi-Max and faster 3G mobile data with HSDPA will make it easier and cheaper to work online, irrespective of location. Despite the innovation of today’s multimedia products, we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to combining presence, instant messaging, VoIP and video conferencing into specialised vertical applications for education, healthcare, retailers, banks, engineering and manufacturing industry. The possibilities are almost endless. More and more, business is about groups of people collaborating across traditional boundaries, between companies, across national borders, across time zones. The winners will be those who successfully match the capabilities of the technology with the skills and aspirations of their employees. The rest, like the text on that old fax paper, will simply fade away.