Josie Sephton, originally published on The Register
When it comes to putting together an outline of what unified communications (UC) should look like in a business, a partial, step-by-step approach will probably seem more appealing. After all, a staged implementation suggests a lower risk and a lower capital outlay, and can be built up and out over time. For example, a company might first unify some or all of the directories that exist across the business. If this works, it may then look at bringing messaging into the mix, and so on.
This might seem an eminently sensible approach and one that some vendors readily endorse. In reality however it’s a bit like buying a car in bits – starting with the body and the wheels, then maybe adding in some gears, followed by seats, windscreen and maybe some brakes. Clearly, this doesn’t really stack up. And companies approaching UC in this piecemeal manner are kidding themselves if they think this is what UC is really about.
The crux of UC is that it enables companies to deal with fragmented communications across their business. And while it is possible to implement some elements of UC in isolation – for example Unified Directory or Unified Messaging – and still see some business benefits, approaching it in too piecemeal a way is like fighting fire with fire. Or in this case, fragmentation with fragmentation.
If we move beyond the vendor hype and look at what really works from a business perspective, feedback gathered from a recent Freeform Dynamics research study confirms that it is necessary to embrace as broad a range of functionality as possible, rather than build out initial implementations with individual communications mechanisms.
For example, if a company wants to deploy video conferencing, it is better as part of a fully integrated, seamless solution, rather than something which is bolted onto other communications tools. More simply put, it is the difference between having to deal with multiple interfaces that don’t quite hang together and, in the UC world, setting up a conference using a ‘one-click-to-call’ approach.
This is captured by one respondent, as follows:
The biggest potential pitfall to UC as a whole is the marginalisation of the concept by people who fail to understand the whole concept … Whist being difficult to measure and report on, the productivity increases that are achievable by being able to escalate a simple IM conversation to a voice call, to a voice conference to a web / video conference are amazing. By using presence information, it is possible to avoid wasted telephone calls / face to face visits. Single message box simplifies message checking, as well as reducing the chances of missing an important message.
Following on from this, a UC pilot should not focus on a single department. Rather, it should span the necessary people and groups that need to interact regularly with that department as part of day-to-day business communications or processes. An example of this is the sales process, which will need to include the sales team, but also other teams such as pre-sales support, along with key people (eg management and senior advisors) in technical support, customer services, and so on.
The need to cross different departments in this way may create sponsorship issues, as it will probably necessitate cutting across different budgets in the process. But it’s something you’re going to have to deal with, as without an inclusive approach a distorted or even false view of the potential benefits will emerge. On the upside, though, the kind of collaboration between groups that will naturally fall out of this may in fact deliver additional positives, as barriers are broken down and departments are encouraged to work towards a common goal.
A final key point to highlight is that the aim of UC is to make things smoother and more seamless. To do this it has to blend into existing IT and communications systems that individuals are familiar with and can navigate easily, rather than creating a separate interface. Any scoping exercise that fails to explicitly acknowledge this runs the risk of not quite meeting expectations.