Like a number of organizations, my company, PhaseConvergence, part of the DigitalWave Group, decided to change and enhance our real-time communications capabilities. We replaced our plain old telephone service (POTS) phone systems with voice over IP (VoIP) and added video communication (VC) to our core competencies.
Once we made the strategic decision that VoIP and VC allowed us to better meet our business plan goals, we worked through the usual steps associated with any project. However, before we plugged in the latest, greatest, and shiniest toys, we went through a dedicated business process assessment and improvement phase.
I’m sure we’ve all seen a number of projects implemented with tangential or tenuous connections to the firm’s strategic plan. We’ve all also seen projects put in place with very little analysis of the downstream business practice changes after project implementation.
In our case, using VoIP instead of POTS had very little impact on our business processes, but they required a significant redesign of our network and our network’s capabilities. VC had a large procedural and technological impact. The procedural impacts flowed from the fundamental question of having a dedicated VC center or desktop VC capabilities. We opted for a dedicated VC center.
The network changes revolved around the need to have a network archetype, never intended nor designed to carry real-time voice or video, address the manner in which the packets arrived at their destinations. In everyday IT parlance, we had to implement quality of service (QOS) in order to get the packets to arrive in sequence so that communication could occur.
After we put QOS into place, we had issues with our routers and switches dealing with the increased VoIP traffic. We upgraded the network’s hardware, and QOS improved markedly. Then we carved out a virtual network for our real-time IP communications and achieved very favorable results in terms of call clarity. Our packets arrived in their proper sequence nearly every time.
The VC effort required even more bandwidth, even though we used standard video compression algorithms. We addressed this issue by putting our VC packets on their own virtual network. We increased our throughput by using routers and switches that handled VC as quickly as any on the market.
We also spelled out when using VC was appropriate and when it wasn’t. We decided that it wasn’t appropriate to use VC when a phone call or email could garner the required information. We designed and intended VC to provide a virtual forum for decision-making. Using VC to talk about the results of the latest episode of your favorite television show or the trends on popular websites was a good way to spend quality time with our very professional human resources staff.
While it’s easy to talk about, and become fascinated by, the technical issues that we faced, the more important factor was our analysis of our current business practices and processes. As an organization, we made the decision that implementing enhanced, IP-based, real-time communication gave us the opportunity to address the operational issues that every firm faces, but usually decides it will address someday.
When we went through a painstaking assessment of how we wanted to achieve our goals, we found that we had a number of poorly designed business processes.
We also discovered other processes that were twisted out of shape. Additionally, we uncovered processes that had morphed into quick-and-dirty workarounds.
In the absence of clear understanding, employees did the best they could when it came time to implement new technologies. More importantly, we learned that leadership had failed the organization by not taking the time to obtain consensus and to map out the direction and the required steps in a clear, concise fashion.
The single largest lesson we learned was that we had business processes in place that couldn’t pass scrutiny. Like so many firms, we did things in a certain way simply because we did them in a certain way. When we looked into the underlying logic, we often found none, or we found that the process no longer reflected our business reality.
We strive to align our business processes with our corporate goals. Unfortunately, we found many processes out of alignment.
While change itself is a difficult, but necessary, part of organizational and personal growth, we linked the new, streamlined processes with increased sales, higher pay, greater benefits, or a combination of all three. Once that connection occurred, we had a number of people take advantage of our Business Process Improvement Program. We provided financial incentive and public acknowledgment of those who helped us do things better, faster, or cheaper.
Today, we realize that we have to assess our business practices on a regular basis to avoid the confusion we found when we implemented VoIP and VC. We also realize that if we don’t change the way we do business in a dynamic corporate environment, we run the risk of dying as a viable economic endeavor.
That’s one process we have to prevent as if our livelihoods depended on it.