Unified Communications Helps Teleworkers Stay in Touch

Federal agencies with remote workers leverage UC to improve collaboration.

Teleworkers and field examiners at the Securities and Exchange Commission now have access to unified communications tools to conduct video conferencing sessions and share documents with staff at headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“We have expanded telework, and for many people who work remotely, these tools are very effective,” says Pamela Dyson, deputy CIO and deputy director of the SEC’s Office of Information Technology

The SEC has invested heavily in UC technology from Cisco Systems and Polycom. Fieldworkers use WebEx and softphones along with Polycom telepresence on their SEC-issued notebooks and other approved mobile devices.

“We also use telepresence and WebEx to run training courses for teleworkers and staff in our 11 regional offices,” Dyson says. “The SEC leadership also holds town hall meetings via telepresence, and numerous SEC staff use WebEx to share presentations and business content.”

The SEC started down the path to UC in 2004 when it converged its voice and data systems into a single network running Voice over IP. The purpose of the initiative was to reduce costs by streamlining phone connections and taking advantage of more competitive rates, and to put the agency in a position to leverage modern UC.

Dyson says the agency also uses an emergency broadcast system that’s fully integrated with UC to broadcast messages in an emergency over the telephone system. In addition to its Cisco UC technology, the SEC also relies on Microsoft Lync internally. “We use it for instant messaging and for one-to-one collaboration,” she says.


The percentage of IT managers running enterprise operations who say that unified communications will be one of their organization’s most significant investments in the next 12 months

SOURCE: “2014 IT Spending Intentions Survey” (Enterprise Strategy Group, February 2014)

Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says as awareness of UC spreads, more organizations are tapping the technology. While agencies may use video differently, depending on their organizational culture, most take advantage of document-sharing tools for collaboration. “Now, people can meet online, actually show their colleagues the data and information they are talking about and get people to make decisions as opposed to waiting for a set time to meet at a physical destination,” he says.

The NIH Lync

Scott Prince, chief of the online information branch of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., says his group of seven staffers began piloting Microsoft Lync about two years ago to collaboratively develop content for the NIH website.

Prince used Microsoft Office Communicator at another NIH office several years ago and thought it could be effective for his new group. NIH’s decentralized structure makes it difficult to determine how many people use Lync agencywide, but his group uses it extensively and says it’s available to about 160 people in the Office of the Director.

NIH primarily relies on Lync for instant messaging and desktop sharing among staff at its large campus. “People may work in a different building or work as teleworkers, so Lync lets us meet in groups without having to be at the same physical location,” Prince says. “With the desktop sharing feature, my colleagues can see what I can see, and I can see what they can see, so it helps us work more efficiently. We don’t have to send screenshots and numerous emails back and forth.”

3 Questions to Ask Before Moving Forward with UC

Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, outlines three important points to consider before deploying a unified communications system.

1. What is the desired business outcome?

IT managers should ask themselves if the UC system will be used internally to run video calls with external partners. If important partners will use the system, the organization may want to invest in a higher quality telepresence system.

2. Will the system run as a stand-alone unified communication system, or will the organization integrate it with existing workflow?

Determine if the organization wants the UC system for standard meetings where it can run video, share documents and exchange messages. If the organization wants to integrate UC video into its help desk trouble-ticket operation, for example, ask the prospective vendor if it has experience running those kinds of systems.

3. Is the organization culturally ready for unified communications?

Try to honestly determine if the staff has the mentality and potential skills to work with the technology effectively. Are there enough people in the organization who can be trained quickly so that those in the organization who aren’t as technically adept can be slowly brought up to speed? If the answer is no, budget appropriate funds for training the staff who will be leaders.

Jun 23 2014