In today’s economic landscape, the jobs of CTOs and CIOs are anything but easy. Enterprise executives expect the same service, business enablement and technology solutions from tighter budgets and pared down IT departments. Key to overcoming this challenge are unified communications and collaboration platforms. UC&C technologies offer many benefits: They can help companies to reduce travel expenses, enable a remote workforce, encourage greater collaboration, and improve overall business functions.
To get a better picture of UC&C adoption today, Dimension Data (News - Alert), a multibillion dollar IT services and solutions provider, recently surveyed more than 800 IT professionals across the United States – from industries including education, health care, financial services and manufacturing. Results reveal that while companies are investing in UC&C solutions, they aren’t realizing the full benefits due to the lack of a strategic roadmap and enterprise adoption.
The Current Business Environment
The top three business priorities expressed by respondents were: reduce enterprise costs, improve business processes and enhance workforce effectiveness. Advanced UC&C tools such as document sharing, presence and video collaboration can help organizations to succeed in these areas by enabling business agility and enhanced decision making while offering hard cost savings.
Unfortunately, companies that have adopted advanced UC&C technologies aren’t maximizing their investments. While companies will frequently utilize UC&C tools to elicit great travel cost savings, respondents revealed that nearly 70 percent still travel at least one to two times per month, and nearly 25 percent of business leaders travel three to five times per week. To realize travel cost savings, companies must first understand and recognize the true costs of travel, including transit time and the inability to meet with multiple parties in different regions in the same day. Only then will executives be able to determine when they need to travel and when a videoconference will suffice, sometimes even enhancing the experience by connecting people from different regions with complementary skill sets. Reducing the amount of executive travel by just 10 percent would result in a significant reduction in a company’s overall travel expenses.
Travel habits may remain unaltered, but the corporate environment does not look the same as it did a decade ago. As technology has advanced, the remote workforce has grown. Today, more than 88 percent of respondents reported having some remote workforce, and nearly half said that 10 to 20 percent of their workforce is remote, either as a virtual office desk worker or as a mobile employee. Organizations must realize that this growing population requires the same communications and collaboration tools as local employees. If remote workers are utilizing technologies different from those at the main office, they’ll be unable to communicate and work with their colleagues, business partners and customers.
Benefits of UC&C Tools
With the widespread availability of solutions that enable greater collaboration and flexibility, one might suspect that enterprises would be drawn away from traditional collaboration tools. Surprisingly, Dimension Data found that the majority of respondents are continuing to utilize traditional tools and collaborate in conventional ways, preferring to meet in-person (86.3 percent) or utilize audio-only conferencing (83.4 percent).
Of available UC&C solutions, IM and document sharing were found to be the most popular with more than 63 percent of respondents using both online tools for business communications. Document sharing, a typically straigh forward tool where colleagues can save documents in a shared folder, is usually accessed over a secured corporate network and enables collaboration of projects, proposals, contracts, etc. On the other hand, IM, which began life as a social tool, is a bit more complicated. There are multiple IM offerings in the market – some people have accounts with AOL, others with MSN, Facebook or Google (News - Alert). To better secure the corporate network against vulnerabilities inherent in public IM tools, enterprises are beginning to establish formal business processes to govern the use of IM for business. Currently, approximately 19 percent of respondents use IM tools not sanctioned by corporate.
Once secured for enterprise use, IM offers multiple benefits for collaboration, not only within the enterprise, but also with partners and customers. When IM spans an enterprise, its customers and its partners, it is called federated IM. This tool can easily be combined with video solutions, which would connect individual users with one another, as well as an individual to a room-based video system like Cisco (News - Alert) TelePresence. In the study, 66 percent of companies were found to integrate IM with other software applications, but less than 30 percent of organizations reported integrating their IM solution with video or federated IM.
Despite the widespread lack of adoption of video solutions, companies are increasingly investing in this technology. Of the 70 percent of companies found to have invested in video solutions, only 41 percent reported using videoconferencing and physical endpoint solutions. Further, 80 percent of organizations with video solutions reported using a room-based system, primarily for internal communications. This finding suggests that remote and traveling employees do not have access to video tools. A remote worker will most likely not have access to a conference room with a videoconferencing system, and an executive on the road most certainly won’t unless it is at a client’s office. To maximize their investment in video solutions, companies can deploy more desktop video solutions, thereby equipping the remote and traveling workforce with tools that will synchronize with the technology in the main office.
Despite the initial adoption of IM, corporations have a long way to go to realize the full benefits of UC&C tools. In today’s vulnerable economic environment, failing to realize the expected benefits and return on investment of advanced solutions is detrimental. Organizations must develop a more effective strategy for the deployment and adoption of solutions.
Strategies for Effective Deployment and User Adoption
Successful implementation of new tools requires more than just good technology. It requires buy in from the business units, executive sponsorship, a deployment strategy and a user adoption plan.
Crucial for effectively deploying a new technology is a strategic roadmap. This plan should outline the corporation’s goals and rationale for investing, as well as what tools will be deployed, where, when and how. By defining the goals and rationale upfront, companies can be confident that the correct platforms are built to meet business needs. Of concern, more than 60 percent of respondents reported that they have no strategic deployment plan for video solutions. It is evident that a well thought out roadmap is an immediate need for most enterprises investing in video technology.
Changing employee habits can be just as difficult – if not more difficult – than well-executed deployments. Most internal IT departments don’t have the time or skill sets necessary to promote successfully a new technology and educate employees on how to use it. To generate greater user adoption, corporations should develop change management programs to create awareness of new technologies, train employees to use the tools specific to their job roles and requirements, and assist employees when they require support. Change management or user adoption programs should make employees comfortable experimenting with and using new technologies, lowering the barrier to widespread adoption.
Once enterprises have a strategic roadmap and user adoption program in place, they should deploy new solutions “fast and full.” A “fast and full” deployment provides the enterprise with a better opportunity for user adoption as employees can interact and collaborate with a wider audience rather than just colleagues in their local office.
Supported by the findings of Dimension Data’s recent survey, corporations are increasingly investing in videoconferencing and other UC&C solutions, but most have yet to realize the complete benefits, both in cost savings and increased collaboration. The key to unlocking the value of these solutions is to develop a comprehensive implementation roadmap and user adoption program. When organizations fail to plan, they plan to fail.
Mitchell Hershkowitz, national practice manager of consulting at Dimension Data Americas (www.dimensiondata.com).
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Edited by Rich Steeves