Josie Sephton, Freeform Comment
Whether businesses like it or not, the likelihood is that Unified Communications (UC) in some form or another will work itself into many workplaces at some point in the not-too-distant future. And this isn’t just fanciful analyst thinking, ‘bigging up’ the UC story. Recent research into UC carried out by Freeform Dynamics in December 2009 with 544 enterprises confirmed that UC is increasingly on the enterprise agenda in some shape or form. This is well illustrated in the chart below, which shows the extent to which enterprises have adopted, or are planning to adopt the different components of UC.
While businesses increasingly recognise the benefits that UC can potentially deliver, around improved collaboration, process streamlining, reduced travel costs etc, implementing a solution that actually does deliver is not without its problems. A key concern is the whether the benefits will actually be achievable in practice, and if so, will the benefits outweigh the costs associated with a UC implementation. And unfortunately, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support these concerns.
While there are a number of reasons why UC doesn’t turn out to deliver the expected benefits into the business that it was heralded to do, one of the main downfalls that companies make when moving forward with UC is that they expect it to bring about change in the organisation simply by the fact that it is there. The reason that this won’t happen, and why UC implemented in this way is doomed to fail, is that UC, rather than being designed to fit in with the way people work in a non-UC context, is a new system that delivers new capabilities. If businesses fail to recognise and address this, then this is where things can start to go wrong. What this translates to in practice is that, to get UC to work properly within the business requires companies to revisit how they do things currently, in a very systematic and detailed way, and look at how they can be done differently to maximise the benefits of UC.
An example of this is the process around call-handling within a call centre. In a non-UC environment, a call centre agent will take a call and if they are unable to deal with the query directly, they will note down the necessary details, with a commitment to call back the caller once they have the information they need. They will then contact the relevant experts within the company on an iterative basis, until they have the required information, and only at this point can they go back to the caller. If the caller has a follow-on query, the whole process begins again. As well as impacting on how the company is perceived by the caller, the process has to be carried out in a number of steps, and is extremely time-consuming and resource-intensive.
In a UC environment, the process is essentially condensed. For the same call coming in, the agent would try to resolve the call directly, and at the point where other people needed to be involved, would identify which experts to deal with the query, determine their availability, reach out to experts in parallel, and connect directly with the most appropriate one to obtain a response to the query. They would then either feedback the necessary information to the caller, or hand the call over to the expert to complete. And all this would appear seamless to the caller.
This example illustrates that UC brings with it the need to approach things differently. So if a company implements UC but does not change how it does things in any significant way, the likelihood is that, a few months down the line, it will be closely questioning the investment and upheaval it has endured. But changing the way that things are done in terms of communications and processes in a company needs to be dealt with properly. Failure to provide the necessary support around this, particularly in the early days, can ultimately leads to the failure of UC within the business.
Of course, part of this support is about ensuring IT staff are properly trained and have enough time allocated to deal with the uplift in helpdesk calls that are likely to follow implementation. But more importantly, businesses need to look beyond this, and proactively consider the processes that people will need to follow to make the most of UC, and communicate this effectively throughout the business.
Moreover, this will need to be done in a very specific and straightforward way. So, if someone wants to set up a videoconference meeting, what processes will they need to follow? What variants to these might exist, e.g. involving home-based workers, or individuals from outside of the company? And what is available in terms of help when things come unstuck?
Help desk is an obvious port of call, but as some people tend to avoid this route if possible, other options need to be made available, such as online resources, or even a nominated ‘friendly face’ on the same floor or in the same department, who can help out with low bandwidth queries.
It makes sense to extend this to cover what people shouldn’t be doing with UC, and putting together a set of guidelines around good business etiquette. UC by its very nature makes people more available. However, just because someone is available doesn’t mean they are open to constant interruption, particularly for trivial requests and queries.
Rather than looking at UC though rose-coloured spectacles, and believing that it will transform the workplace simply by virtue of the fact that it is there, it is vital to take the time to define exactly how UC will play out in the business, and how to make it easy for people to actually use it. Most of them will not be real proponents of UC – many may not even know what UC actually is, so the transition will need to overcome their natural resistance to embracing it. The more they see it being used around the business – particularly by senior management, and the more ‘best practice’ guidance they are exposed to, the easier, and more importantly, the more successful the transition will be.