As businesses consider plans for unified communications, the decisions have implications that go well beyond technology, so there needs to be an organization-wide rationale. IT will certainly gain some operational benefit, but there are bigger drivers that will ultimately support the business case.
In keeping with the spirit of my Rethinking Communications column, I addressed two ways to make UC strategic for the business in my last piece. In some cases, this will be a recipe for success, but there will often be other factors at play that seem like good reasons to deploy UC – but really are not. To help you avoid such an outcome, here are two factors that should not be core drivers for UC.
Not-to-Do No. 1 – Deploy UC and They Will Come
UC is very different from other forms of communications technology since it’s not an application that employees will intuitively know how to use. In most cases, they will already be using the underlying applications in a standalone fashion, so at face value you won’t be introducing anything new. Of course, there will be cases where some UC applications will be new – perhaps video – but that’s really additive to the core set of everyday applications.
For this core set, UC will in fact be competing with what they’re using and how they’re working. For example, employees may be using various forms of chat/IM in the workplace – Skype (News - Alert), LinkedIn, Yammer, etc. – but none of these are integrated with other applications or workflows. With UC, the intention is to get all that traffic running over the vendor’s chat platform so it can tie into everything else.
That’s a fundamental building block for how UC drives productivity, but it only works if everyone is on board. Not only that, but employees have to feel this is a better way to work; otherwise, they’ll stop using it and simply revert back to what they were using before. This is where ease of use is so critical, and if UC is more complicated, adoption will stall.
This is why IT cannot assume employees will flock to UC just because it’s there. UC is a vendor-driven concept, and does not generally come across as a solution to a problem that employees will recognize. To them, it’s an abstract idea, not something they’ve been asking for. Not only that, but they likely weren’t engaged when a needs assessment was done to make the business case for UC – presuming one was done at all.
More than anything else, success with UC depends upon end user adoption, and any assumptions along these lines will almost certainly doom your deployment. Just as IT must sell management on the business value, IT must sell employees on the personal productivity value. This is not a familiar role for IT, but it’s a necessary one for UC, and a key aspect of being strategic with UC. Not only do IT staff members need to sell employees on UC, but they need to bring it to them – engage them, train them, even reward them. This will be an active process that needs to be part of IT’s operations; otherwise, UC will never deliver strategic value to the business.
Not-to-Do No. 2 – Manage It Like a Technology Solution
Related to the above, IT needs to think differently about UC from other forms of communications technology. The closest reference point will likely be telephony, and that’s exactly the wrong model to follow for UC. Whether deploying a legacy or an IP-based phone system, the business is basically getting a finished product. For the most part, telephony has been static for decades with a well-defined value proposition for the business.
UC is – and will remain – an unfinished product with an evolving value proposition. IT has to expect that new applications and capabilities will be ongoing with UC, and that means ongoing network investment to support it. This is not a one-and-done deployment, and the long-term lifecycle from telephony does not apply here. UC isn’t much different than other forms of software already being used, but it offers more upside in terms of cumulative productivity gains when deployed effectively.
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