How to Make Unified Communications Strategic

Rethinking Communications

How to Make Unified Communications Strategic

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates  |  December 21, 2015

As per the namesake of this column, unified communications is a big step up from VoIP, and requires a different way of thinking, not just to get buy-in from management, but also to drive adoption among employees. I have written about UC in previous columns, but not from this perspective, and in the course of my ongoing research, it’s a key challenge facing whatever passes for IT in your company. This function increasingly struggles to get the right technology to keep up with end user expectations that are largely being shaped by their experiences as consumers.

A key aspect of rethinking communications is to discard ideas that worked in the past but not today, and from there update your thinking with what’s happening in 2015. This is especially relevant for UC, as many businesses still operate with a legacy mindset around telephony that has been static for decades. Change now happens too often and too quickly, and you need to be strategic to at least keep pace, let alone get ahead of the curve.

To that end, I’m going to outline two ways of doing this, and while many others are applicable, this will set down a foundation to get you thinking in the right way. That said, knowing what to do is only half the equation, and in my next post, I’ll analyze the flip side by examining two things not to do when being strategic about UC.

To-Do No. 1 – Identify a problem set.

This sounds so elementary, but on many levels, UC is not that easy to understand. If the above-stated legacy mindset is strong in your organization, it will be natural to think about UC in telephony terms. VoIP, in fact, does not fix a problem unless the phone system reaches exhaustion. More common is the scenario where the cost of legacy telephony is seen as being too high – even though it still works well – and that problem is readily solved by VoIP.

UC is even more challenging, simply because it doesn’t replace anything that’s broken, and it doesn’t fix a specific problem – at least when viewed the same way as VoIP. On the technology side, vendors, service providers, channels and IT professionals all understand the network-related challenges that UC addresses. Management, however, is not that interested, and to get their buy-in, UC needs to be positioned differently.

To be strategic here, IT needs to articulate how the current regime of communications applications is undermining the ability for employees to work more productively. In many cases, UC will not be introducing new applications – rather, it will allow employees to use existing applications in a more powerful way to support business-level objectives. VoIP never had to be sold this way, but to be fair it’s not a strategic investment like UC. Management may not currently see any problems on this level, but when articulated to show how UC enables and empowers employees, the shortcomings of the status quo will become clear.

To-Do No. 2 – Focus on business outcomes.

This applies to an even greater extent than No. 1, as management generally views VoIP as a commodity where value is defined by cost reduction against legacy technology. That makes VoIP a tactical investment, and IT must get management to think about UC in different terms. At face value, UC certainly makes the communications process easier, but the real message needs to be about leveraging technology so employees can work in more powerful ways. There is an additive benefit to UC that is hard to articulate, but when processes are streamlined, meetings take less time, fewer mistakes are made, less time is wasted duplicating effort, etc., and all of these translate into better outcomes for the business.

Normally, this is downstream from IT’s domain, and this is another way to be strategic. UC gives IT an opportunity to be more than a commodity service that keeps the lights on in terms of connectivity. When IT deploys UC effectively, better outcomes will follow by virtue of enabling employees in new ways. The key here is for management to see how IT can play a role beyond providing bandwidth – what IT does with UC now will impact business outcomes once employees get comfortable using the applications.

Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is the principal at J Arnold & Associates (www.jarnoldassociates.com).


Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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