Opinion: IT is still the key to business prosperity

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Opinion: IT is still the key to business prosperity

Even in the middle of recession, a well-managed IT project can deliver significant business benefits.

In these straitened times, it is easy to focus too much on bad news and forget that IT plays a critical role in helping businesses to improve.

Even something that many organisations take for granted, such as the telephone system, can have a profound impact and improvement can provide substantial business benefits.

As with many other firms across the UK, acquisitions have made a significant contribution to revenue growth over the past three years at Micheldever Tyre Services.

Any acquisition will inevitably introduce duplication and crossover in the IT infrastructure, introducing different systems, suppliers and a huge variety of maintenance contracts.

But it can also be an opportunity for IT to help improve things.

In our case, we had ended up with a variety of different telephone systems across the business, each with separate maintenance contracts and various levels of reliability.

As the telephone is our primary route to market, we needed to introduce a common system that would help us improve our customer service levels.

But to do this, we had to ensure that every part of the business was supportive of the project ­ and that meant engaging with them and ensuring that our plans accurately reflected their needs.

It was only once we had defined what the business wanted that we felt we were in a position to survey the market, and see whether or not there were systems that would meet our needs.

Too often, IT projects get this process the wrong way round, bolting on systems that the business does not want.

While the retail and wholesale parts of our organisation vary, they both need systems that can deal with overflow calls. So providing managers with a live call-monitoring system has given them far greater control over the calls being received. It has also allowed us to monitor how various departments and locations measure up against key performance indicators ­ which was a vital component of improving overall customer service.

The rollout of the new Mitel system was spread across all 42 locations and each site had between four and 80 users. The system was rolled out with basic functions and care was taken to minimise the impact on the business.

Even something as familiar as a telephone system can present challenges for users when changes are introduced. To overcome this, we ran a number of demonstration days, where key individuals from the business were shown the full functionality of the system.

That kind of initiative helps to build support for change; seeding the organisation with supporters drastically improves the chance of success.

But no project can be expected to meet all its goals straight away. By adding incremental improvements after the initial go-live date, there are fewer shocks for the user.

Following the first phase of our rollout, we reconfigured some of the systems to introduce more advanced call flows, so that call volumes can be better managed. For example, other departments can pick up calls during peak periods.

As a result, we have managed to cut our abandoned call levels from 10 per cent to one per cent in the busy sales offices, and from 20 per cent to just five per cent throughout retail.

Involving key stakeholders in the process has been critical in building support for the project, and its results have fed back into a wider appreciation of how IT can help the business to grow.

Key parts of our 2009 strategy are now based on the new functions introduced by the upgrade. The bottom line is that the telephone system has strengthened the company’s position in an increasingly competitive market.

Luke Claughton is IT manager at Micheldever Tyre Services
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