Lessons in UC From the Classroom
All UC vendors today are trying to find ways to differentiate themselves from one another and to stand out from the crowd. I generally recommend that they focus on professional services and/or applications, especially vertical applications. One vendor that has been successfully building UC applications and solutions based on its vertical expertise is NEC, which is working with its partners to understand the business challenges and business processes in the areas of health care, hospitality, higher education, and government.
As the mother of a college student (I know, I know, I’m way too young!), I was extremely interested in hearing about what NEC is doing in the area of higher education to facilitate communications between faculty, staff, students, and others. As Pam Avila described in her article, NEC introduced a “role-based” approach to communications, whereby a person’s role in a company determines their technology needs. In a recent discussion, NEC’s higher education maven Sydney Burton explained to me that several roles within the campus are a good fit for UC right now – all dependent upon “presence management” as the key feature, and productivity enhancement as the benefit. Looking at the top UC applications based on Marty Parker’s June 2007 BCR article, all of these applications can be used in a higher education setting.
NEC sees UC benefitting specific roles around the campus, including:
- Students: Student services, which is often the most complex set of business processes within a large university system, is where NEC sees the biggest opportunity to communication-enable business processes. ERP applications are common, and there are many opportunities to speed up or eliminate steps in the workflow through communications automation. Communications-enabled portals is a leading UC application for student services. Some universities are beginning to enable students and others to contact various individuals and departments at the university via click-to-call buttons on the university website, connecting callers from around the world with the appropriate staff or faculty in any department. The next step is to integrate and voice-enable business applications such as the university’s ERP system. NEC is also looking at opportunities to integrate and communication-enable student services such as enrollment, registration, financial aid, etc. For example, students can do click-to-chat from an admissions application to have the appropriate admissions staff contact them via telephone or chat. As the parent of a high school senior in the throes of college applications, I can attest to the value that a click-to-contact button on universities’ websites and admissions page would provide.
- Students, as well as faculty and staff, can benefit from UC notification capabilities, which proactively notify students of information during an emergency. Students can also be notified and reminded when it’s time to register for classes (my son could have really used this his freshman year when he forgot to register for Spring classes), or when there’s an important event taking place on campus. For example, College of the Canyons leverages the UNIVERGE NEAX 2400 and NEC Emergency Campus Notification, integrated with three digital signs on campus to notify students of important events and news via SMS text messaging as well as digital signs.
- Development organization staff: Those who are responsible for fundraising and maintaining relations with the university benefactors and donors require maximum availability and mobility. They need to know who is calling or contacting them in order to be accessible and responsive. Since the Development staff is generally mobile and on the road, the UC applications that would be most valuable include Contact Management and Seamless Information for Mobile Personnel. Presence management capabilities are a boon for this group, enabling them to be responsive to the people who have the checkbooks. For example, using UC and presence capabilities, calls from the biggest donors can be identified, and then routed to the appropriate development personnel based on business and routing rules. Rules could be set up to route the highest tier of donors to a member of the development staff’s cell phone regardless of day or time. Donors in the next tier would be able to reach the staff on whatever device they’re using or where they’re located at any time during working hours. A group of smaller donors may be sent straight to voice mail and the development person would return their calls when convenient.
- Faculty: UC applications benefitting faculty members include Contact Management, Collaboration Acceleration, and Seamless Information for Mobile Personnel. While Development personnel need to respond quickly to donors, faculty members want to throttle their availability, setting aside time to meet with students and to conduct research. Unified communications enables faculty members to manage their time and communications, ensuring that they can receive urgent and vital communications, without impacting their research or time with students. Contact management capabilities allow faculty to take care of their students and ensure that their students’ calls and inquiries are handled and routed properly, either to the professor or a teaching assistant, depending on the situation. Another extremely useful UC application for faculty is Collaboration Acceleration, enabling researchers to collaborate on projects with others around the globe, whether in labs, offices, or classrooms, using tools such as video conferencing and shared workspaces.
- Adjunct faculty: UC capabilities benefit adjunct faculty members, such as those at community colleges or MBA programs utilizing local business people to teach classes, who can have a virtual campus phone with voice mail, etc., giving them a campus presence and enabling students and others to contact them. For example, using NEC’s Web SIP phone, SIP server or SIP native in the IP platform, adjunct faculty personnel can use their desktop or laptop and a headset to access the university’s communication capabilities, and can tie in with their mobile device by twinning the mobile phone to the SIP phone and having calls ring on the cell phone.
- Specialized Personnel, such as librarians, admissions directors, operations personnel, event organizers or conference services staff: These people are often mobile and can use UC applications such as Seamless Access to Mobile Personnel capabilities, as well as Resource Identification for Problem Resolution, providing callers with immediate access to the right skill or knowledge, such as librarians, who are experts in specific areas.
- Help desks: Help desk support staff benefit from Resource Identification for Problem Resolution and UC capabilities by enabling them to work from home and respond to problems even in the middle of the night.
NEC has various offerings for all of these roles and use cases, based on its UNIVERGE360 model. NEC offers both an appliance-based model using middleware to enable the UC capabilities, as well as a pure software-based solution based on Sphericall.
With NEC’s UNIVERGE360 framework, the user's role determines the best communication method and technology. With its roles-based approach, NEC identifies the type of institution and looks at the roles within the college or university.
One example of a role empowered by Sphericall is the director of admissions. Voorhees College Director of Admissions, Joseph Montgomery, uses a softphone on his wireless laptop and is able to call anywhere when he is on the road via the Sphericall system. Faculty members, administrators and students use Sphericall in different ways based on their roles. For example, Campus Security, Residential Life and administrative assistants use IM between desktops over the Sphericall Desktop client, while the faculty uses the campus-wide address book to look up any student and contact them via click-to-dial.
Based on its vertical expertise, NEC understands the needs of colleges and universities, and the differences between the sub-segments within the higher education market. For example, Sydney noted that community colleges may be spread out with campuses in several areas within a region, and some small colleges are highly residential and on a single central campus. Many colleges and universities have credit unions, hospitals, stadiums, etc. that may not be completely contained in the same location, and also have different decision makers for the IT and telephony purchases. While universities generally have multiple systems and platforms that are networked together, small private schools may have a single system and would be best served by a software-only platform.
NEC’s focus on the higher education market is making it easier for universities and colleges to provide the UC capabilities and applications needed to help both students and staff. Now if only they could make things easier for the parents of students…
The paper is sponsored by NEC.