It’s exciting to promise employees a seamless business environment that incorporates video conferencing, VoIP telephony, mobility and collaboration capabilities. It may be equally exhilarating to promise the senior team that this new move will lead to increased productivity, greater collaboration and a reduction in communications costs across the enterprise.
But beware – there are a number of moving parts that go into the successful deployment of Unified Communications (UC). IT departments need to set out strategic goals, ensure users are being provided with the the tools they want/need, and confirm that the changes meet the requirements of each business unit across the organization.
Here are three things to consider in designing a UC environment that will successfully meet the corporate business needs while providing the appropriate functionality for users.
Review the legacy environment
Building a UC solution that meets business needs, inspires employee adoption and serves the long-term strategic needs of the business can be a complicated exercise. While the promise of new opportunities looms large, for most organizations it is critical to understand there will be some degree of legacy UC/communications/collaboration solutions that will provide a roadblock.
Dean LaRiviere, general manager for collaboration at Cisco Canada says understanding and managing the legacy aspects of a new deployment is critical.
“In our fast moving world, legacy can be lethal if technology adoption significantly lags the market,” LaRiviere says. “In the case of UC, legacy technology limits design and employee/customer engagement possibilities. This is often where businesses can be usurped by an upstart or pesky creative competitor.”
Following basic research and discussions with business leadership, vendors, consultants, and IT service providers on what’s possible and desirable, LaRiviere recommends focusing on few areas where unified communications can be particularly impactful. Start, he suggests with customer care or contact centre environments.
“Look at the points where your customer interacts and engages your company – from initial engagement, transaction, to customer service,” he says.
Only then should you look at line of business areas like HR, sales, and marketing with a more “surgical” approach.
“This will get to the heart of user requirements which typically range at the individual level from basic communicators to advanced power users with more demanding requirement,” LaRiviere says.
Build consensus across organizational silos
It’s important for the IT department to take a leadership role in defining, deploying and operating the UC tools, but Jon Arnold, principal at Toronto-based consultancy J. Arnold and Associates, cautions the implementation cannot be resented as as solution that come from “IT on high.”
He recommends IT should act as a change agent — bringing together all parts of the business to balance budget, ensure user functionality, and integrate strategic business requirements.
Arnold urges working hard early on to find champions within the internal staff who will be using the tools on a day-to-day basis. Communicate early and often with end users and listen carefully, he says. The line staff will undoubtedly have strong opinions on what they like, what they use in their roles, and how they’d like the selected tools integrated into their workflows.
“The whole evaluation process should be collaborative,” Arnold says. “This is a decision that impacts everyone in an organization, and you’ve got to get employees involved.”
Getting employees involved early builds emotional buy-in and helps ensure the ultimately deployed solution will be well received, well suited to what employees need, and well used.
Evaluate and plan
The market for communications and collaboration tools is an evolving one, with new tools popping up on a regular basis and others seemingly coming into vogue overnight. These tools are generally free and may function the way users require, but these can also introduce as much confusion as functionality; it is incumbent on the IT organization to stay on top of what’s hot in the UC space, and what employees are already using.
LaRiviere adds that IT needs to make sure they’re bringing to the table an integrated offering.
“If the primary tools these people use are either outdated or lacking a complete UC umbrella view, they will not be optimized,” he says.
Is there a definitive advantage to being the first in your field to go with the newest, shiniest UC toys? “Not so much,” says Arnold. “You don’t have to live on the bleeding edge.”
There always has to be time allocated to do research with vendors, service providers, business leadership and especially the people who will be the rank-and-file users of the product if you want to optimize the solution for your business.