How NCI made a case for telecommuting

Unified messaging as it is being launched at the National Cancer Institute enables video conferencing and data sharing among researchers around the globe. But it also entailed building a business case to track savings and justify the expense.

The original plan called for simple voice over IP but was expanded to take advantage of the new functionality enabled by Cisco in the wake of its 2010 acquisition of Tandberg. The company’s new portfolio enabled simple videoconferencing over almost any kind of network with almost any kind of device.

“When I started, I had a completely different view,” said Todd Cox, who heads the institute’s unified communications group.

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Creating a business case for the expenditure requires more than just functionality, however. “I needed to justify purchasing the equipment,” Cox said. “It is a capital expenditure and budgets are tight.”

Cox began building the business case by documenting the performance and savings in a pilot program that began in 2009 for 50 users. Then he extrapolated the results to the 3,000 users that eventually will be using the system at the institute’s new campus in Rockville, Md.

One of the first and most obvious savings was in travel for himself. Cox routinely telecommutes from North Carolina, and regularly travels to the Washington area for his job. “Since I got the unit, my travel expenses have been cut in half,” he said.

The Tandberg Management Suite allows tracking and reporting of use, which can be used to show not only travel savings by others, but also the time saved by doing things online rather than through out-of-band communications.

When users can share data online problems can be solved during a meeting. “The money saved from enhanced productivity is immeasurable,” he said.

Being immeasurable can be a problem, however, since management bases acquisition decisions on things that can be measured. “For some people it was definitely a tough sell,” Cox said. “Everybody’s budget was getting slashed. “You really have to sell them that story,” in order to justify an immediate expenditure for future savings.

The reporting features of the Tandberg Management System and the experience in the pilot program provided real numbers on direct money savings, reduction of the institute’s carbon footprint from reduced travel, and improvements in help desk performance without hiring new people.

 Also, “you have to put a value on job satisfaction,” Cox said, which increased when workers were able to collaborate ad hoc without leaving the office or the state.

Overall, Cox was able to show that a unified communications system that included video and data sharing as well as voice promised to produce a 50 percent savings in telecom expenses.

“I made the business case,” he said. “The system pays for itself.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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