Strategic planning is the stuff of a thousand sound bites – the most well-known being that to “fail to plan is to plan to fail”. Conversely, heavyweight champion Mike Tyson has a less erudite but characteristically brutal view of strategy. “Everyone has a plan,” he says, “…until they get punched in the face.”
Only a fool would dare disagree with Iron Mike, but at first glance, his metaphor doesn’t seem to extend beyond the boxing ring. Because when it comes to the crucial arena of business telecommunications, unfortunately not everyone does have a plan. The implications of this, however, are similarly painful. The absence of a telecoms strategy means companies risk being left with a bloodied nose – whether that’s an avoidable catastrophe with a lone worker, unproductive operations or the expensive waste of valuable company resources.
Lonely? Plan it
One of the most common flaws in companies’ telecoms approaches is the failure to provide optimal, cost-effective protection for lone workers. With more than six million UK employees now working in isolation without direct supervision, lone working is a clear direction of travel for British businesses. In many cases workers are equipped with lone worker solutions to mitigate risk and provide a mechanism to mobilise help in the event of an emergency. But the selection, procurement and deployment of these solutions can often be narrow, piecemeal and misaligned with business needs. The hidden impact on productivity, service delivery and, ultimately, profit can be severe.
The challenge is particularly prominent in larger, multi-site companies or complex businesses where operations are spread across disparate departments or pocketed in organisational silos. The perils of maintaining a silo mentality are well-documented – but the problems are often exacerbated in businesses where departmental silos are given full budgetary autonomy. This can lead to inefficient, reactive and isolated purchasing decisions that fail to connect with wider business objectives. By taking a more holistic approach and considering broader organisational needs, budgets can be maximised leading to a greater ability to make value-based, joined-up buying decisions.
The implications of the silo-led purchasing of lone worker solutions are perhaps best highlighted by common behaviours in organisations that offer a diverse range of services. For example, councils and local authorities naturally have a broad composition of unrelated departments such as social work, housing, maintenance, recreational and environmental. Many of these areas have a major requirement for lone workers – all of whom are exposed to risk. Line managers understand these risks and their duty of care to team members, but the well-established structures and procedures within their businesses often force them to make purchasing decisions in isolation from the rest of the organisation. The inherent lack of an company-wide framework – or indeed top-down encouragement – to support joined-up thinking prevents departmental managers from taking a more holistic view. As a consequence, they inadvertently risk wasting valuable resources on solutions that could have a wider use across their organisation, or fail to optimise existing technologies used elsewhere in the business. Some companies are known to deploy multiple lone worker solutions – with individual departments each procuring different systems despite having similar goals. This is not only costly, it’s at odds with the widespread drive for efficiency savings.
Another common approach is to outsource the day-to-day management of lone worker solutions to a third party such as an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). The strengths and limitations of ARCs are widely understood. Whilst they’re undoubtedly useful when a lone worker is presented with a physical threat, in the event of a serious accident ARCs can be less effective. The model is hamstrung by constraints in emergency response procedures while there’s also growing evidence of workers’ anxiety that their safety is in the hands of a faceless call centre potentially hundreds of miles away. Despite this, many companies naturally gravitate towards an outsourced solution without first considering whether internal resources might be better placed to help. By using a third party service provider, companies are not just outsourcing the lone worker equipment, they’re also outsourcing the people– the agents in the call centre – with all the associated overheads. More proactive organisations, such as Nottingham City Council, have recognised they have internal capacity that can monitor and manage lone worker communications as part of their existing responsibilities. This approach saves money, maximises resources and drives operational productivity.
So how do you ensure that your lone worker communications infrastructure is appropriate and cost-effective? The strategy must begin with a simple, but sometimes overlooked, examination of who and where your lone workers are. The full profile of your lone workforce may include staff that you’d never previously categorised as lone workers. You then need to appraise the potential risks those workers are exposed to and examine whether your current infrastructure does enough to mitigate them. This cannot be done without proper consultation with the employees that experience that real-world environment and understand its nuances. This understanding will form the baseline of your plan.
From here, it’s about asking the key questions that will help you develop the most appropriate roadmap; how much am I currently investing in lone worker solutions? What coverage does this give me and where are the gaps? Could that investment be optimised by adopting a more integrated approach? Which technologies and services are best suited to my needs? Should I outsource or insource? How will I design and implement my plan? It’s a complex exercise that requires the successful marriage of business challenges and a specialist understanding of the broad market for lone worker solutions. And unlike the job of the lone worker, it’s an exercise that cannot be carried out alone.
Of course lone worker solutions are just one piece of the telecommunications jigsaw. Like the individuals they are designed to protect, they cannot work optimally in total isolation. Organisations must therefore collaborate, both internally and externally, to develop an integrated telecommunications strategy that supports all aspects of business operations. The best way to achieve this through cross-functional dialogue with stakeholders from across the enterprise to ensure the strategy reflects the diverse needs of all parties, and to partner with trusted telecommunications specialists who can offer best practice advice to inform the plan and design the optimal solution.
A good telecommunications plan will be built on a full understanding of business requirements and a thorough knowledge of the diverse technologies that can help to meet them. Moreover, it will comprise a structured roadmap that chimes with companies’ long-term growth strategies, and have inbuilt flex to be able to respond to changing market dynamics. The value of an independent and specialist perspective in helping determine that strategy cannot be overstated.
Plan to succeed
Ultimately, an integrated telecommunications strategy truly can help companies align for growth. It can play a major role in driving a productive, safe and competitive workforce, and empower managers to make efficient buying decisions through greater visibility of the bigger picture.
Despite the claims of Iron Mike Tyson, not everybody has a plan. But to fail to plan is to plan to fail – and the bruises can take a long time to heal. Why take the risk?
By Klaus Allion, Managing Director at ANT Telecom