The job of studying New Zealand's abundant natural resources – from the sparkling snow atop its Southern Alps to the bright subtropical skies above its beach-rimmed North Island – falls on the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
More than 600 employees in 15 locations work together to understand the forces that can threaten the country's sensitive environment and to find ways to sustainably manage its resources.
Because project teams are often spread across many sites, NIWA's work requires constant coordination and collaboration.
But an outdated and increasingly unreliable telephone system, consisting of multiple platforms and serviced by several providers, could not keep pace with the fast-moving organisation. And it was inefficient.
"We did a lot of communications by phone, which was quite frustrating," recalls Rachael Hayton, a group business analyst at NIWA. Hayton describes "not getting hold of people, having to leave voicemails," and sending emails that "could take ages for people to see."
So NIWA chose a Microsoft Lync unified communications (UC) solution with Lync-optimised Polycom IP desktop phones.
In addition to crystal clear calls with Polycom HD Voice technology, the phones give employees access to the collaborative features of their unified communications environment, including presence detection, better voicemail handling, calendar information, and personal contact details.
Now, researchers tasked with observing changes in their country's environment were noticing some dramatic changes in their own.
"People are much more easily able to connect and work as a team, regardless of being spread out," said Arian de Wit, general manager of information and technology.
"Project life cycles are shorter because people can reach each other more quickly using UC than by traveling on a plane or organizing a meeting."
Features like presence detection, which lets anyone know whether a colleague is available to collaborate, also streamline workflows. "It's easy to see whether somebody is available to take a phone call," says Hayton. "It makes it easier to keep track of everybody."
Dr. Sandy Elliott, group manager of catchment processes, witnesses the productivity benefits daily: "Once I got a team up and running, it's really great to be able to get in touch with them from day to day, just pick up that phone because you've got that presence."
The Lync environment also gives employees a way to communicate face-to-face over video. "People don't have to go to a video conferencing room," says de Wit. "They can just video one-to-one."
Lync conference phones are also set up in all meeting rooms, making team collaboration easier. Eventually, de Wit says NIWA plans to deploy Polycom solutions to integrate its video-equipped conference rooms with Lync.
For Hayton, the UC environment has meant a welcome reduction in nationwide travel for training and planning – from 12 trips a year prior to just four trips annually today.
"I'm at home more," she says. "Traveling can be quite exhausting on everybody."