case study Unified communications (UC) deployments are typically associated with bigger organizations, but in the region, some smaller deployments have found productivity gains from their UC systems, as well.
Malaysian shipping line MISC Berhad (Malaysia International Shipping Corporation Berhad), Indonesian motorcycle manufacturer PT Astra Honda Motor and Singapore-based industrial equipment manufacturer Opulent Techno, spoke to ZDNet Asia in separate interviews about their UC deployments.
While the three had varied goals and implementation cycles for their UC projects, all found the amount of traveling users had to do was considerably reduced as a result, with their UC systems almost completely replacing legacy equipment and apps.
Astra's general manager of its IT division, Karsono, said its internal IT helpdesk is using a Microsoft UC tool to help users solve problems more efficiently. For its IT division, UC has completely replaced older equipment such as traditional PBX (private branch exchanges) phones, with "other divisions to follow", he added.
Astra has so far rolled out its UC project to 150 users in six locations, belonging to IT, system development, corporate function and marketing roles, Karsono said.
Singapore's Opulent Techno rolled out its UC deployment across its 100-employee base, and found the new set of tools such as video conferencing and document-sharing a boon for customer service.
Belinda Wee, customer service director, Opulent Techno, said the tools have allowed for "real-time" communication, and the extra media such as the sharing of presentations, resulted in "a more proactive approach to customer service".
With a UC environment providing multiple communication channels, users are also able to communicate simultaneously with different parties, making them more productive, said Wee.
She added that the new system has completely replaced MSN instant messenger in the organization, with about 10 percent of users still using Skype, another application which provides instant messaging and call capabilities.
Hood Abu Bakar, MISC's general manager of ICT, said UC brought a personal touch to communications for its 200 users.
"A lot of our work involves engineering projects spread across remote locales. We can now collaborate online as and when. The new system allows us to put a face to a voice when meeting virtually," Hood said.
He noted that with the lowered costs of overseas calls through VoIP, employees traveling are able to keep in touch with family members more freely. "The ability to touch base with loved ones does wonders for employee morale," he said.
Eye on lowered cost
Gartner recommended in a report last year, companies should focus on productivity and collaboration gains rather than cost savings in their UC deployments.
While the three companies highlighted productivity gains, savings on calling costs was a factor they considered, as well.
Opulent's Wee said the company's use of Microsoft Live Meeting has driven some 30 to 40 percent savings in travel expenses by replacing face-to-face meetings with online sessions.
The company plans to implement an SIP (session initiation protocol) service to enable VoIP calls through its Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 software, and expects 50 percent call savings through the set up.
Astra has realized savings of some 100 million rupiah (US$8,753) each month, through the replacement of traditional calling equipment and systems with UC, said Karsono.
According to a recent Springboard study, UC adoption in the Asia-Pacific region has been slow. But the study noted VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) adoption would scale up this year, taking UC adoption with it. Springboard said more organizations would likely embrace UC after their VoIP systems are in place.
Mixed initial reactions from users
Like many new IT implementations, altering the way users communicate daily, companies risk facing user resistance to the change of a fundamental aspect of their daily work process.
Reactions among users from the three organizations were mixed.
Astra's Karsono said implementation went off without a hitch, with no specific training needed to get users onboard.
"Seeing is believing," he said, of the pilot group's reaction. "Users were able to appreciate the 'anytime, anywhere' communication and collaboration between divisions."
The company now makes UC a standard feature in every PC, and is in the process of extending the system to other divisions, Karsono added.
Opulent had a more measured approach to gain user buy-in. Wee said it ran a test pilot of 20 management-level users across four offices in Singapore, Shenzhen, Penang and Hong Kong. Users were given two half-day training sessions on the software.
After the pilot phase, a trial was run with the rest of the staff.
But Wee said it was not difficult to get buy-in. The training sessions included a presentation on the system's features "which impressed all the users".
Through its systems integrator, Micro 2000, Opulent rolled out its UC platform in September last year, migrating its e-mail platform from Microsoft Exchange 2003 to 2007 Enterprise version. By January, Opulent was ready to communicate with customers through its UC platform, she said.
But MISC found some user resistance during its implementation phase.
Hood said there was a spectrum of different reactions, from those who picked up the tools within 10 to 15 minutes, to those who required "hand-holding" for a week or two.
"As with any change, we met with initial resistance," he said.
In order to incite user interest, MISC held a road show demonstrating the new tools, and was able to roll out the system to the rest of the 200 users beyond the 100 involved in the pilot trial.