Let me begin by introducing myself as the new author of this column; my name is Darren Lemon and I am the general manager of eircom NI.
Although eircom has operated in Northern Ireland for many years, the awarding of the £70m Northern Ireland Civil Service ‘Network NI’ contract at the end of 2007 has been the springboard for us to expand our operations here.
Network NI will modernise the Civil Service’s internal communications network and play a critical role in the overall government reform programme. Already eircom NI has completed implementation of our new fibre ring around Northern Ireland which connects Belfast, Derry, Ballymena, Coleraine, Omagh and Armagh. Additionally we are putting in place the complete infrastructure to support Network NI, including rolling out the latest range of voice, video and data applications across all government departments.
As a stand alone Northern Ireland business, with strong backing and ongoing support from our parent company, we are now planning to maximise the initial £4m infrastructure investment we have already made in our core network and service operations here.
We now employ a dedicated and highly skilled Northern Ireland team which has been brought together to take forward the delivery of Network NI and future projects in both the public sector and enterprise markets, delivering end-to-end managed communication solutions and associated professional services.
In the coming weeks and months I hope to look at a range of interesting uses of the latest technology for business or organisational benefit across both the public and private sectors — and importantly how the two can learn from each other.
At eircom, our business is unified communications. We don’t draw a line between phone and email or between desktop applications and video-conferencing. Communication is communication — it shouldn’t matter which channel you use to do it effectively.
In the IT business we’re sometimes guilty of assuming that everyone knows what we mean when we talk about some of the things we do. So what does unified communication actually mean? And what benefits does it produce?
To answer those questions I’m going to take you to Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets baseball team ( http://newyork.mets.mlb.com). The club is moving from the famous Shea Stadium next spring. But there’s a bigger transformation afoot than merely a change of venue. From now on, the 200 full-time employees will be able to receive phone messages in their email in-boxes, take advantage of in-house instant messaging, and set up a teleconference from their desks.
Better still, the system features 250 Wi-Fi access points throughout the stadium, enabling a range of functions, including wireless ticket scanning and the ability for fans to order food from their seats.
In a survey carried out in June of this year, analysts Forrester ( www.forrester.com) found that 11% of companies in Europe and the US had implemented unified communications. Another 16% were rolling it out and 57% were piloting or evaluating it. According to Forrester, one element, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VoIP) has entered the mass adoption phase. The company has cited growing evidence that a successful deployment of unified communications can improve a firm’s competitive position and, in turn, its bottom line.
But, you may say, all this stuff sounds as if it’s for government departments and big business. It couldn’t be cost-effective in small and medium enterprises, could it? Well, manufacturing or logistics firms can use it to alert key warehouse staff by text if the ordering system detects low stock of a certain item. Estate agents can take an offer by fax from a potential buyer and forward it to the seller by email. Dentists, doctors and anyone else who operate on the basis of appointments can use a tailored system to send out automated reminders by any chosen communication channel.
The possibilities are endless. But when it comes down to it, it’s about the oldest business process of all — getting things done.
Darren Lemon is general manager of eircom NI ( http://www.eircomni.co.uk)