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Somerfield saves with remote working

Supermarket bucks trend with audio conferencing deployment.

While research published today finds 47 per cent of business managers said their company did not allow remote or teleworking, supermarket chain Somerfield is saving money with the deployment of new audio-conferencing technology.

The survey of 300 senior UK business managers, conducted by Dynamic Markets for Cisco, found that only 38 per cent said they allowed staff to work remotely or from home and only under certain circumstances.

However, the experience of Somerfield shows remote working can boost productivity, as well as cut associated costs. David Heyes, Somerfield's head of sourcing and IT services said audio conferencing became an attractive option when its acquisition in 2005 by venture capitalists forced it to cut some 20 per cent out of its operational cost base.

"We've got the big areas of work out of the way to achieve this, including outsourcing IT to Tata and changing network operators from BT to Vanco in the UK," said Heyes. Vanco introduced Ring2 and its audio-conferencing service to Somerfield.

"Conference calling has always been a useful tool, but one that was not extensively used or tracked," he added. "Since using Ring2, we've realised it can really drive performance and the impact of trading and in-store visibility, understanding business performance immediately as well as drive the lowest cost of ownership too."

Somerfield began holding virtual meetings for store and regional managers using Ring2's system, which runs on BlackBerry devices at the client end, earlier this year. They meet using the technology on a regular basis to discuss trading, promotions and any other general operational issues, while Heyes said board members often participate in meetings, especially those held around the key trading period of Christmas. "We've found it is a very good way of resolving immediate problems," he added.

The Ring2 service gives call hosts remote control over adding or dropping participants, along with other security and visibility functions. And it provides Somerfield with detailed breakdowns of use to help it better track costs.

"Other users couldn't provide us with reporting on our conference calls," Heyes said. "Now, having started car sharing along with the virtual meetings, we've taken 1 million out of the motoring budget. And we've already made a 700,000 net benefit with the system by taking waste out of our communications budget. Ring2 also had the customer service skills to understand what we wanted, work with us in a trial and make implementation changes at no extra additional costs."

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