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Issue of January 2003 
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Techscope 2003: Internet Technologies
Putting the IT in productivity

Cisco's methods of using Internet technology to boost productivity and cut costs can be an example for Indian enterprises to follow. by Manoj Chugh

Today's tight economy has rekindled interest in employee productivity and cost avoidance as top information technology (IT) goals. In this "back to basics" economy, it is important to leverage new-world technologies to achieve business efficiencies. Use of Internet technology is the primary reason why the Cisco workforce is the most productive in the networking industry as measured by revenue per employee. These Web-enabled tools, conveniently accessible to employees have made possible efficiencies to the tune of $540,000 of revenue per employee in 2002.

My intent is to present Cisco as a case study for enterprises to discover all that is possible by using Internet technologies smartly. Among the IP technologies that have helped Cisco increase productivity and cut costs are wireless LANs, secure IP virtual private networks (VPNs), multimedia e-learning, IP telephony, workforce optimization applications, e-sales, e-support, and supply-chain management.

Wireless LANs
At its San Jose, California campus, wireless access points in every building enable Cisco employees to use e-mail and other applications in nearly any location, including conference rooms, cafeterias, and lobbies. By making it convenient to work securely from any location, it is possible to eliminate those gaps of time when people couldn't work at all—not by choice, but due to lack of connection.

Of course, Cisco isn't the only company yielding similar benefits from wireless LANs. According to a 2001 study by NOP World-technology, users say that wireless LANs allow them to be connected 1¾ more hours per day, on average. This translates into an estimated 70-minute increase in productivity, or a 22 percent productivity gain. Assuming an average salary of $64,000, the annual productivity improvement per user is worth $7,000 for a typical large enterprise, according to the study.

What wireless LANs provide for on-campus employees, secure IP VPNs do for telecommuters and employees on the road. Research firm Gartner Group estimates that telecommuting improves employee productivity by 10 to 40 percent. Cost savings also accompany the productivity increases. For example, "virtual team meetings" cost far less than in-person meetings that require travel expenses.

Today, with high-speed remote-access solutions, productivity has increased by one to two hours a day for each employee. And IP VPNs help retain quality people because companies can give them more flexibility and the tools to be more productive. Additionally, secure IP VPNs also cost less—by way of monthly fees for employees who have a choice of access method.

Multimedia e-Learning
High-speed Internet access on campus, at employees' homes, and on the road enables companies to deploy productivity—boosting applications like e-mail, meeting scheduling, and e-learning. E-learning avoids costs and increases efficiency by reducing travel expenses, decreasing resource requirements needed for partner training, cutting time requirements, and saving printing costs by making content available online. Productivity increases because salespeople, for example, can spend more time solving customers' business needs, and engineers can spend more time developing better products and testing them.

The virtual classroom solution works best for audiences of fewer than 200 people, and for presentations requiring frequent live interaction, demos, audience polling, or question-and-answer sessions. By using virtual classrooms, training suddenly becomes more affordable—both in terms of time and costs. The company can thereby invest more and create a skilled workforce.

IP Telephony
Internal and customer experiences have shown that an enterprise-wide deployment of IP telephony drastically enhances return on investment. The total cost of network ownership dropped immediately, a result of lower equipment and infrastructure cost and easier network management. In addition, enterprises can also eliminate the costs of leasing and maintaining traditional PBX equipment. Productivity improves, as well, because employees can avoid the time drain of voice mail by bringing their IP phones with them and simply plugging them into a spare jack—even at home.

Workforce Optimization
IP-based workforce optimization applications help employees perform routine administrative tasks and manage human resource functions more efficiently.

For example, a comprehensive, Web-enabled recruiting system allows prospects to learn about Cisco culture and benefits, search for jobs, apply for positions, or complete a profile with a set of questions that allows the recruiter to prescreen the applicant.

e-Sales and e-Support
Online portals that track bookings and manage lead times and shipments greatly streamline the sales process and boost productivity. Such a portal also conveniently presents the background information sales people need to best serve their customers—sales statistics, customer-related alerts, pertinent news about customers and competitors.

Named one of the ten best Web support sites in 2002 by the Association of Support Professionals, the Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) website is more cost-effective than call centers. The TAC currently offers about 5,200 documents that address high-volume, low-complexity problems—that is, the 20 percent of issues that solve 80 percent of customer problems. This is a typical example of how effective and inexpensive support can be delivered with minimal direct interface. TAC Web content solves some 200,000 customers issues per month that otherwise would require phone-based support. Monthly call center volume, in contrast, is around 80,000, and far more expensive. The bottomline—Internet technologies can deliver real bottomline benefits. Early adopter enterprises have seen productivity and profitability improvements delivered by IP technologies. The Network is the Business today!

The writer is President-India & SAARC, Cisco Systems

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