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How unified communications has helped Australia’s pandemic response

Video meetings have been available for years but until recently no one really used them in a business setting. Why? Because we didn’t need to. The same can be said for a myriad of other technologies that have pushed their way into our everyday way of working and communicating. The pandemic, of course, has brought about a new way of doing things. Here we look at the impact technology has played in the management of the pandemic in Australia.

Digital services have had a significant and profound impact on our public sector organisations’ response to the pandemic and their support for our communities.

This has resulted in major changes in how our society operates – many of which will be permanent, particularly in the way we work and how we communicate. Now, the workplace can be any place, and our citizens have a new set of expectations as to how public sector services are delivered.

RingCentral’s recent whitepaper, “Unified communications in the public sector of the future”, looks at how digital communication software has played a major role in Australia’s fight against COVID-19. The pandemic has shown how digital services are pivotal to how society adapts to sudden and unexpected changes. For public sector organisations in particular, modern information systems allow quick, decisive action while increasing resilience against further crises. As a result, public sectors across the globe are accelerating their digital transformation initiatives to better support employees and citizens alike.

As a technology category, unified communications (UC) is a huge step up from web-based small business collaboration. It’s a whole ecosystem that combines fixed-line and internet telephone channels, data, video, call management and other tools in a “single pane of glass” interface. Here we explore the changes taking place and the role cloud UC – or unified communications as a service (UCaaS) – is playing (or can play) in the future in different areas of the public sector.

Federal government

In a connected world, the way citizens deal with public sector services is changing, driven by the possibilities opened up by new technology. The opportunity is not only to deliver services better, faster and with improved outcomes. It’s also to reduce costs when budgets are under constant review.

While an organisation as large and complex as the federal government has always presented communication challenges, UCaaS has the potential to improve collaboration and teamwork by building better connections between offices, teams and people. Its role in government’s secure cloud transformation could be huge.

It seems likely long-term working practices will have to change in light of the pandemic, with conventional office layouts replaced by open-air seating, smaller hub spaces, off-site working at home or other locations, and collaboration at distance.

Organisations still playing catch-up after years of austerity and reliance on outdated on-premises telephony systems now have a way to consolidate all those work silos and unite teams in a frictionless communications and collaboration environment. That, in itself, brings greater speed, flexibility and accuracy and more efficient management of the thousands of functions public sector bodies are called on to dispense daily. It also drives down costs by removing traditional landline call charges and the maintenance of ageing on-premises telephony systems.

Remote governance through cloud-based communications facilitates secure collaboration and remote working for all, with built-in accessibility features. Easier collaboration at distance also means substantial savings in travel time and costs.

UCaaS also provides a better working environment for employees by giving them the tools they need to do their job and making them feel more valued and fulfilled in their roles – no matter where they are working. It also matches the expectations of a younger workforce, who want a more flexible working environment.

We see four key benefits and outcomes of adopting UCaaS for the federal government:

  • Increases the ability to govern remotely;
  • Improves delivery of citizen benefits remotely and at scale;
  • Helps coordinate crisis and first response; and
  • Manages virtual courts and hearings.

Local and state governments

The challenges for local and state governments around communication, collaboration and changing attitudes to work mirror those of the federal government. They are brought closer to home, however, for their more immediate and visible effect on citizens and communities.

UCaaS helps transform the local or state government office from a static, permanent place of work to a series of dynamic virtual networks built around changing service needs. That also has the potential to generate savings from physical real estate that can be redirected into improved services for ratepayers.

Look at the impact operating with a cloud-based UC solution has had on Victoria’s largest public library service, Casey Cardinia Libraries (CCL). CCL already had a RingCentral UCaaS platform in place before Melbourne’s initial COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. The lockdown closed eight branches, took CCL’s mobile library off the road and sent most of its 170 staff home to work remotely.

Despite these setbacks, RingCentral’s native integration with Microsoft Teams meant employees could access their business phone when they logged onto Teams, no matter where they were. This allowed CCL to pivot quickly during lockdown, set up a remote contact centre and continue to provide services to its 135,000 active members in Melbourne’s southeast suburbs.

Over the past two years, CCL has responded rapidly to constantly changing conditions. “We’ve been able to open up and bring our staff back into our branches and onto the floor helping customers,” says Daniel Lewis, general manager, digital operations at CCL. “However, we’ve had multiple challenges. There have been rolling lockdowns in Melbourne and staff availability is an issue due to COVID-19 exposures. As a result, we’re effectively operating as a hybrid workplace.”

When lockdowns were implemented overnight, Lewis and his team could assign users into new groups and reconfigure call flows and queues in just 15 minutes. This allowed the organisation to operate with a remote contact centre, then just as quickly switch back to support the return to its branch-based operations. “Throughout all the changes during COVID, the key achievement for us is that the customer experience has not changed,” explains Lewis.

Overall, we see four key benefits and outcomes of UCaaS for local and state governments:

  • Helps coordinate cross-agency collaboration;
  • Aids workforce mobility and responsiveness to adverse or emergency situations;
  • Helps provide outreach and support for citizens; and
  • Eases budget pressures through cloud’s economies of scale.

Healthcare

Traditionally, technology innovations have focused on more tools for the desk-based worker. But in hospitals, clinics and community healthcare organisations, the real opportunity for communications and collaboration empowerment is in bringing office-based and frontline workers together on one unified platform.

We’ve also seen a significant rise and more permanent role for telehealth among a wider choice of delivery channels for the community to access secure healthcare services, which are being facilitated by UC and contact centre solutions.

Closer collaboration between hospitals and community care services can ease bed-blocking by making quicker and easier discharge decisions. Often, these can be held up by the simple matter of a consultant being unavailable to sign off discharge papers. But with multiple contact channels, and many ways for consultants to respond wherever they are in the hospital, decisions can be made and acted on much more quickly.

Here are six key benefits and outcomes of UC for healthcare:

  • Helps monitor virus outbreaks;
  • Accelerates research and development;
  • Improves contact tracing efforts;
  • Provides virtual visits;
  • Offers outreach and support for patients; and
  • Improves overall patient experience.

Education

Digital transformation has been moving at speed at all levels of education, particularly in the growth of online learning platforms and distance education.

Multichannel communication has become a way of life for many students and teachers, especially those in the tertiary sector. They expect to be able to contact admissions staff and monitor the progress of applications on any number of platforms and receive updates the same way. UCaaS platforms mean admissions teams can offer this ability while improving their management of student data and making the enrolment process quicker, easier, and more cost-effective.

At every educational stage, a UCaaS platform integrated with learning management systems (LMS) and student management systems (SMS) is integral to more effective teaching and administration, and ultimately to better student outcomes.

Here are five key benefits and outcomes of UC for the education sector:

  • Helps develop and support remote learning;
  • Better able to respond to employment and skills needs;
  • Eases budget pressures on schools;
  • Modernises learning platforms; and
  • Helps higher education in developing new learning channels and income sources.

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