By: Chris Dellen On: February 21, 2011 In: Contact Center Comments: 0

Unified Communications is a somewhat abstract term that is used in the IT world to describe the linking of several different types of communications together such as your phone, email, instant message, faxing, video conferencing, mobility and most important of all presence (the ability to see the “status” of another person such as “away,” “in a meeting,” “on the phone,” “available,” etc.)

Up to now, most organizations are working toward “unifying” their own internal communications to take advantage of a number of strategic benefits (increased efficiency, higher customer satisfaction, etc.) However, in my opinion, one of the biggest communication innovations on the horizon is unifying communications up and down our value chains (suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and eventually consumers themselves).

You are probably asking why? Let me explain:

Lessons learned from another discipline:

Many years ago, built on the concepts of Six Sigma and Lean process improvement, manufacturers began realizing the value of JIT (just in time) principles.

What is JIT?

Imagine that you ran an assembly line that puts together computers. A JIT process would deliver a new hard drive from your supplier to your person on the assembly line at the precise moment that it needed to be installed on the new computer.

Think about the implications of JIT… First, it completely eliminates the need to keep any inventory of hard drives (envision the cost of purchasing and storing 100,000 hard drives). Second, if there is a change in customer demand (bigger hard drives for instance) you are stuck with the inventory that then has to be sold at clearance prices.

You can only imagine the amount of coordination it takes between suppliers, manufacturers, and resellers to achieve JIT processes. In some cases it actually led to the suppliers and manufacturers building their factories right next to each other.

Ok, enough about JIT… What is the corollary for unifying communications throughout your value chain?

In just the same way that JIT principles eliminate “waste” in the manufacturing process, unifying communications throughout the value chain could eliminate a lot of the wasted communication delays that impede projects, anger customers, and cost organizations tons of money.

In today’s age, collaboration, coordination, and speed (on a global scale) make up the foundation for building a competitive advantage in the marketplace… and… as the complexity surrounding your products and services rise – the ability to quickly mobilize all of your resources up and down your value chains (suppliers, manufacturers, resellers) quickly and efficiently could be the difference between success or the logo graveyard.

Still not making the connection?
Here are two examples to spark your creativity on potential ways that unifying communications throughout your value chain could revolutionize the way you do business.

1) Pretend that you are a software reseller that sold a complex accounting program to one of your customers. And… after installing the latest software update you completely shut your customer’s entire accounting system down. You can’t figure out what the problem is and none of your employees can solve the customer’s problem.

Traditionally you would have to call the software developers support number and file a request for help, which will then go through several layers of management and eventually be assigned to a tier 3 developer who can actually resolve your customer’s problem. Throughout this time consuming process, the customer is “down” and both yours and the software development company’s brands have been tarnished.

Now imagine unified communications throughout the value chain.

Once you realized that the software problem was beyond your ability to solve you looked at the “presence” of all of the software developer’s available tier 3 support personnel and then instantly placed the call to the exact person who was available and who could solve your customer’s problem. No trading voicemails, no communication delays, no mile-long email strings… just in time access to the person who can solve the problem right then and there.

2) Suppose you manufacture bulldozers and as a result of a recent marketing campaign learn of a construction company who needs 7 new bulldozers. Typically what would happen is that your regional sales person would call the first local distributor that came to mind and the send the lead to the distributor’s sales manager who then passes it to a rep in rotation… you get the idea. It might take hours, or in some cases, days for the lead to be followed up on by the distributor.

Marketers will tell you that the quicker a lead is followed up (in some cases as fast as 2 minutes) the higher the chance of winning the business

Now imagine unified communications throughout the value chain.

As soon as the lead comes in, your company can see the “presence” of all of your local distributor’s bulldozer sales people and instantly assign that lead to a rep who is available to follow up almost instantly. Imagine the effect on sales…

I don’t know of vary many organizations that have actually unified their communications throughout their value chain. Why? Because it is hard, costly and time consuming. However, just like the organizations that solved the JIT problem by building factories next to each other… the day is on the horizon.

Will you be ready?