The convergence of voice, video and data applications has been around for more than a decade. These days, terms such as VoIP (voice-over IP) and IP telephony are common and often over-used descriptions which do little to actually explain the benefits of an integrated, unified communications approach.
The aim of this article, and those that follow in subsequent issues of Housing Technology, is to address the commonly misunderstood idea that unified communications is merely a new marketing term for VoIP, which is simply a method used to consolidate IP data onto a single network architecture. The idea of these articles isn’t to focus specifically on technology but to consider how the business challenges facing housing organisations can by themselves make the case for a unified communications approach.
There has been a dramatic change in the attitude towards ICT over the past few years; it is no longer a necessary evil but more of a core business concern. ICT is now represented at board level, but it is not just IT directors who are interested in what technology can deliver. Management teams now recognise that technology can have a major impact on business transformation and is a route to improved client satisfaction.
The proliferation and ubiquitous nature of the internet has seen technology affect our daily lives. The traditional boundaries of work and home life are becoming blurred, with information and entertainment converging, and new social networking and collaboration tools changing how we work, socialise and access services.
As with any other service-centric organisation, housing associations must arrange their business to meet these new customer expectations. Unified communications has the power to enable greater efficiency across both in-house and tenant-facing services. An integrated approach, with access to information and the ability wherever they are, enables staff to work and communicate more efficiently but there are often unexplored areas in which unified communications technology can drive improved service within the housing sector; these will be subject of the next four articles.
- The rising bar of customer service (May) – this will focus on how the modern IP-enabled contact centre can improve human touch and improve key lines of enquiry, such as access to services, as used by the Audit Commission to inform their inspection ratings.
- How can housing associations meet the communication expectations of Generation Y? (July) – how will you attract new talent to the housing sector from a workforce used to having access to on-demand resources and multimedia collaboration tools?
- Collaboration and the ‘wikinomics’ movement (September) – how can unified communications challenge the traditional business boundaries and help housing associations take a more outward approach to business?
- A new service frontier (November) – how should housing associations be planning to deliver new services to tenants while building new revenue streams for the organisation?
In summary, unified communications has a fundamental role to play in helping housing organisations deliver business growth targets, maximise tenant satisfaction and improve business efficiency while reducing operating costs. It should be clear that unified communications is much more than network consolidation; it should be a core element of every business strategy, enabling housing associations to be agile and flexible enough to deal with changing market conditions.
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Nick Boon is social housing team manager for ONI plc.