Oct
30

More Ado about Doing Nothing with UC

My last post set things off in a new direction when it comes to out of the box thinking with UC, and there’s more to be said on the topic. As I’ve noted many times, UC is a moving target for everyone, and I can’t think of a better scenario to try different things in order to drive adoption. By now you should know that buying UC is the easy part, and to some degree this also holds for deploying it. The real challenge comes from getting employees to embrace it. They have no economic stake in UC, and unless usage is dictated by management, IT somehow needs to get them engaged.

UC is not like your IP PBX, where all you have to do is put IP phones on the desk, and employees will take it from there. This is not a passive deployment where employees use the technology regardless of what IT does. Furthermore, with standalone applications like VoIP, it doesn’t matter whether employees use it a little or a lot. There is no incentive for employees to increase usage, since the cost savings filter down to the business and not their personal phone bills. Also, there are no accretive benefits when adoption scales across the organization – VoIP is equally effective whether 10% or 100% of employees make use of it.

The realities for UC are fundamentally different in that the network effect is very much in play here. As more people use UC – and as they use more applications within the UC framework – the productivity benefits scale accordingly. Not only does each employee’s productivity rise as they become immersed in UC, but invariably the same happens for the teams they are attached to, and ultimately, all of this will make for a more productive organization. Little things can quickly add up to big things, and that’s why driving adoption from the outset is so important, especially if you’re trying to make UC a strategic investment for the business.

How do you make something from nothing?

This is a classic Yiddish saying where you take scraps that nobody wants and then turn them into something special. UC can be like that, but you get the best results when people figure things out on their own terms. However, the challenge here is that not everyone is a tailor, and they won’t know what to do with UC when put before them.

I touched on this is my last post in the sense that IT will get the best results with UC among the employees they trust the most. To some extent this is a generational issue, where younger employees will be more receptive to trying new things, and have a better native understanding of innovations like UC. When you have people like that, the conditions are right to introduce a bit of an experiment.

If earlier efforts or ideas about encouraging UC adoption have not taken root, it’s time to try something different. This brings us to the option of doing nothing, which might seem antithetical to everything you’ve believed to this point. Well, it may not be as far-fetched as you’d think, so consider the following.

The do-nothing approach can be effective presuming the UC solution comes as advertised. In other words, it has to work the way it’s supposed to work and the features are really easy to use. On top of this, the outcomes from using those features should be evident to the end user right away. If you have that, then here’s a plan to consider if all else has failed. Try to identify the “early adopter” types as per my comment above and form a beta group with them. Then, deploy UC among them – but don’t tell them about it.

Part of being a tech-savvy person means having a natural intellectual curiosity about trying new things, and this type of person will quickly discover the virtues of UC without any help. Not only that, but they will be more likely to explore UC pretty thoroughly and push the envelope to see what it can do. When technology is easy to use and the utility is obvious, end users feel a sense of ownership when figuring things out on their own. That’s not all – it actually gets better because these people will like embrace the Internet ethos of sharing, and without any help, they’ll try to make it go viral.

Of course, I’m describing an idyllic scenario, but I have seen a few examples recently in my research where this is exactly what happens. The conditions need to be right, and it all comes down to trust. You have to trust that your UC solution really works as advertised, and you must also know which employees you can trust to leave on their own to discover UC for themselves.

When you have both, you’ll be surprised how much you can get from doing nothing. Conversely, doing nothing with the wrong type of end users is a recipe for failure, so you have to be selective in planning this out. This approach won’t work with everyone, but I think you’ll agree that if nothing else is working with UC, you’re better off having a small clutch of self-motivated users – who could easily become evangelists for everyone else – then having everyone doing next to nothing with it. Something is always better than nothing, especially when you make it from doing nothing.

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/more-ado-about-doing-nothing-with-uc/

Oct
29

Are you ready for the new E-rate regulations?

The FCC recently made the most sweeping changes to the E-rate program in 18 years, greatly expanding the opportunity for K-12 school districts and libraries to implement ubiquitous Wi-Fi access, with an additional $5 billion in funding for Wi-Fi projects over the next five years. And for the first time, E-rate will allow for the deployment of a managed Wi-Fi service, such as ADTRAN’s ProCloud, as a cost effective alternative to an on premise managed wireless solution. When looking at the updated changes, which are outlined in a 176 page document, there are some key considerations for school districts to consider ensuring they are fully taking advantage of this new funding. First some background on the new program:

  • The FCC is committing $2 billion to funding Wi-Fi projects over the next two years, and $5 billion over the next five years, with the flexibility to change that figure if necessary
  • Rural and urban school districts will most benefit from this new funding, as the eligibility for E-rate is based upon the percentage of students in the district eligible for the National School Lunch Program
  • For the first time, the FCC is allowing a managed Wi-Fi service as an option for schools to consider when implementing a wireless network
  • The program allocates a budget of $150 per student over five funding years, or $30 per student annually for managed Wi-Fi

And now for some tips when looking at a managed Wi-Fi solution:

  • Avoid Extra Fees: Schools must carefully consider which vendor solution most cost effectively meets their needs, and ensure they are not hit with extra licensing fees for features such as Guest Access, which are critical to a school environment
  • Complete Maintenance: Most schools suffer from limited IT staffs, so they should be careful in choosing a vendor which provides a complete maintenance solution, including 24×7 proactive network monitoring, moves/adds/changes and Help Desk support, to offload the burden from internal IT staff of dealing with end user Wi-Fi connectivity issues
  • Flexibility: For those districts who are looking for additional flexibility, they should consider a solution that will allow them to freely migrate between a Public Cloud and Private Cloud Wi-Fi option, where they could either maintain control on-site or offload that management to a service provider
  • SLA: Make sure your vendor provides a strong Service Level Agreement (“SLA”) which guarantees a certain level of uptime, such as 99.99%.
  • Security: The solution must have the proper security requirements , such as role-based access, where there is a teacher and student role each with a different set of policies and access rights

Whether your school or library is considering purchasing and managing on-premise wireless infrastructure or leaning towards a managed Wi-Fi service, it’s important to look at the solution from the perspective of the administrators, teachers and students. More importantly, it is crucial to find a solutions vendor that understands those goals and has the flexibility to meet those requirements. Together you can unleash the potential power of your wireless network and the educational resources in your community.

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/are-you-ready-for-the-new-e-rate-regulations/

Oct
23

Doing Nothing When Deploying UC – This Just Might Work (Part I)

The great thing about out of the box thinking is the lack of rules. There is no right or wrong answer when taking this path, and if you’re not challenging the status quo, you’ll never know if there’s a better way. Sometimes, different is better and sometimes it’s just different.

To get good results with out of the box thinking, you really have to address root causes.  This has just as much to do with asking the right questions as with asking the questions in the right way. With UC, there is generally a large knowledge gap between the providers and the end users. Vendors, channels and IT leaders know all about UC, but often not enough about what really matters to end users.

As I have often said, UC is a fluid concept, and this is both its greatest strength and weakness. Compared to other communications applications – VoIP, video, email, fax, etc. – UC may seem abstract to end users, since it’s really the integration of everything else they’re using on a daily basis. In a sense, however, they know UC when they see it – namely effective collaboration – and they just didn’t know that everyone else has a name for it.

This is why I’ve been writing here lately about out of the box ideas. So far, conventional thinking has not produced great take-up results with UC, and I believe this is largely due to the aforementioned gap. UC providers tend to take a technology-centric view when going to market, but if the ultimate end users don’t understand it – or find it intuitive enough to embrace – there’s a big series of dots not being connected.

In that scenario, UC providers are not making the right assumptions about end user behavior, and nothing is going to change unless a different approach is used. UC is different from most communications technologies that have come before it, and UC providers haven’t recognized that and adapted sufficiently. Every situation is different, and my recent posts have provided a range of unconventional approaches you could take to make UC more end-user centric.

How about doing nothing?

Business decisions generally involve some form of action for moving things forward. To create demand, you have to advertise. To open a new office, you need to acquire a location. Once you hire new employees, you have to train them. I’ve outlined several go-forward paths you can take with UC, both conventional and unconventional. Sometimes you have to try more than one approach, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Conventional thinking says to get big results you need a big effort. If management has mandated a fast track for UC, IT may be obliged follow that path. For all kinds of reasons, this is just as likely to succeed as to fail, especially for something as amorphous as UC.

Other situations, however, will be more forgiving, where management recognizes that UC is a work in progress. For all kinds of other reasons, this path has a greater chance of success, and if that’s closer to your reality, I have another out of the box approach for you to consider.

Instead of doing something, how about doing nothing? I’m not saying this because we’ve exhausted all ideas and have conceded defeat for something that nobody understands or is too complicated. Or that we simply don’t know what to, and have given in to inertia, hoping the problem will just go away.

Doing nothing can actually be a very proactive stance and could be more effective than you think. No doubt this can be risky and requires a leap of faith, but maybe not. This really depends on how well you know and trust your employees. IT is in the best position to know their level of tech savvy, especially for adopting new technologies.

To follow through on this idea, you have to make sure this itself will not be the root cause of future problems. In other words, old-school IT thinking is still common, and that mode can quickly lose touch with what the younger generation is both willing and able to do with technology. If you impose legacy expectations on Millennials, UC will fail, no matter how clever your deployment strategy.

Conclusion

I’m adding this wrinkle because IT can only trust employees to the extent they truly understand them. A few years down the road we won’t be having this conversation, as Millennials will eventually permeate all layers of your organization. Today, however, there could be a real knowledge gap – and perception gap between IT and end users – and that’s a true root cause that could derail your UC plans.

This post may seem like a Seinfeld episode where I’m talking a lot about doing nothing, and in fact I’ve said practically nothing to explain myself. I have, however, kept your attention to this point, and that’s something.  Now I want to you to think about what I mean by doing nothing – and trusting your employees – and in my next post I’ll explain why this approach just might work.

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/doing-nothing-when-deploying-uc-this-just-might-work-part-i/

Oct
16

Who are you really selling to with UC?

For the past while on this blog, I’ve been writing about out of the box thinking and how taking different approaches can help you make better decisions when investing in UC. In some regards, this is about using unconventional perspectives to help make UC more than just a me-too idea to keep up with the competition. After all, if everyone deploys UC the same way, the vendors may be happy, but you’ll never get a leg up to give this any strategic value for the business.

After all, UC is both new and hard to define, so relying on traditional thinking about technology purchasing puts unnecessary constraints on the process. If anything, UC should be seen as a blue sky opportunity, where bold thinking can take you in bold directions, and that speaks to the transformative results I often talk about in my posts. If that’s your goal, then I hope you’ve been enjoying this series, where the examples I’ve been addressing are intended to get you out of the box to see new possibilities. Otherwise, UC becomes another routine technology decision, and that’s just missing the point completely.

Thinking out of the box for different approaches is hard to do, and most of us aren’t wired that way. I may be trying to push out and expand your comfort zone, but I also recognize we can’t all be original thinkers. So, we can take things down a notch, and instead of being radically different, you can also get good results by basing your decisions on conventional ideas, but with a broader scope of thinking. If this sounds abstract and/or obtuse, let me illustrate with the following example.

Are you buying UC or selling UC?

This is only a trick question if you view it in binary terms. Presuming you’re an IT decision-maker and/or key influencer, you certainly are a buyer when dealing with UC vendors or their channel partners. However, if you go back far enough on this blog, you’ll know that I’ve often written about how IT also has to wear the sales hat, especially if UC is your idea.

In cases where management/owners have decided on their own that thou shalt have UC, then you’re really just following orders. This isn’t the ideal scenario for all kinds of reasons, and no amount of out of the box thinking is going to change that. Your role will be a passive one of vetting various UC offerings and going with the vendor that ultimately fits best with management’s vision.

Of course, you and I both know that their UC vision will probably be pretty flawed and limited, but sometimes you are stuck in a situation where you can only go with the flow and hope for the best. If you survive this – in the wake of their misguided plans – you may get a second chance to present a more grounded vision that management will accept, but you have to hold your tongue and keep the I-told-you-so rebuke to yourself. After all, you have a job to protect – presuming that’s what you want at this point.

If this scenario does unfold – or if you are still driving the vision – then you can push the envelope and raise the UC bar by thinking more broadly about that sales hat. You didn’t sign up to be in sales, but when it comes to bringing new technology into the fold, IT is the expert, and selling management on UC is a given. In cases where your stock is riding high, management may give you carte blanche, but most businesses have reservations about amorphous offerings like UC. IT may have a deep understanding of how it works and the benefits it can deliver, but somehow, you have to get management’s buy-in.

For most forms of new technology, this is sufficient, and from there, you give the vendor the green light and the deployment process begins. UC, however, is more complicated, since you must get end user adoption for any of the benefits to be realized. As you likely know, UC is much more about employee productivity than network efficiency, so employee buy-in is arguably just as important as it is for management.

Selling UC – to end users?

So, how do you do that? The conventional approach won’t work – deploy UC, then tell employees it’s there and assume they’ll figure it out. I’ve written many posts about the steps in between to get their buy-in earlier in the process, and this is where you have to stretch your thinking. From the very beginning, you need to think about how you’re going to sell end users on UC – not the day you turn it up across your LAN.

One way to stretch your thinking is to include end users in the process right from the start. You’ve probably never done that – or even thought about doing it – but on many levels this is how you get their buy-in.  Employees need to feel valued, and this is a great opportunity to do that and make sure their needs are fully understood by UC vendors.

Otherwise, the vendors may just assume their offerings will create magical results, and there’s no reason for that to happen with UC. In short, it’s a simple matter of connecting the dots and realizing that end users may not be the economic buyers, but they hold more power than anyone when it comes to making UC a success. When you look at that way, the idea of selling UC to end users really isn’t such a bad idea.

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/who-are-you-really-selling-to-with-uc/

Oct
09

The Case for Making UC Mobile

I’ve been writing about out of the box thinking around UC for some time now, and this theme is only limited by one’s imagination. This type of thinking can take many forms, and that’s the point here. I’m happy to provide a variety of examples to stoke your thinking, but by no means do I have all the answers. My UC research is pretty far-ranging, but it will never be definitive. Hopefully, you will view my analysis as a springboard for other explorations, as I’ll never understand the particular needs of your business the way you do.

Take my last post, for example. The focus there was on making UC fun, which at face value does not sound very business-like. Given how widely-read that post was – and remains – this approach to UC clearly resonates with our readers. That, of course, is the point of this out of the box series. I want to provide accessible examples, but I’d much rather you see this as a provocative call to action, where you take things to another level and make UC truly integral.

When I say truly, by the way, I don’t just mean as a technology solution that plays nice with your current infrastructure. That’s great to have, but I’m reaching for things that are integral to how you do things, how employees become more productive, how teams perform at a higher level, etc. When you roll all of that together, I’m really talking about your culture. Organizational culture gets at the heart – and soul – of how a business functions, and in short, the easier it is for people to communicate, the better they will do their jobs.

How can you not think about mobility?

The concept of workplace culture may be little more than a warm and fuzzy feeling, but you can’t deny there are certain shared values that characterize the nature of your organization. This will often be defined by your “work ethic” or something that reflects personal qualities such as striving for excellence, competitiveness, or even social values such as diversity or sustainability. These cultural markers are easy to recognize, but difficult to manage, and I’d rather focus on a universal value that is technology-based and more within the scope of this blog.

When it comes to technology these days, what is more universal than mobility? While this reality is as plain as day, it’s a pretty recent phenomenon that everyone is struggling to adapt to. Millennial workers have known nothing but mobility, but decision-makers considering UC are typically from an older generation with different points of reference. For the latter, mobility began as a luxury and was 100% about voice. Today, telephony is practically an afterthought for smart phones, and mobility is more like an all-encompassing state of being.

To support this blissful state, many forces had to fall into place – 4G networks, cheap broadband, cool mobile devices, etc. – and all that matters right now is what people have come to expect. The allure – and value – of mobility will only get stronger, and in time will simply become the default mode for how people engage with communications applications. It doesn’t matter whether people are making calls, checking email, doing video chat, sharing files, collaborating on white boards, etc. – their preferred mode will be mobile.

You can choose to see this as an inconvenient truth – after all, mobility takes power away from IT and puts it in the hands of employees – or go with the flow and start thinking in terms of opportunities. To date, UC and mobility have not really gelled – the applications exist, but the devices don’t lend themselves to intensive collaboration sessions.

Conclusion

This shouldn’t lead you to overlook the bigger picture. If your goal is to deploy UC to make employees more productive, it stands to reason they’ll do so when following the path of least resistance. Mobility is increasingly becoming that path, and it’s not a big leap to think of UC in those terms. Where you need out of the box thinking is to show employees how much value UC can have in a mobile environment. UC at the desk top is fairly easy to do, but if you’re in support of the mobile trend, then you have to show employees how well UC works in that environment.

Of course, this brings up the BYOD discussion, and that’s often reason enough to turn away from pushing everything out to mobile devices. That’s an understandable position, but there’s nothing here that the right technology and sensible data management policies can’t solve. Mobile UC is very feasible, and the out of the box thinking comes from looking at the results, and then working backwards for the solution. All too often, technology hurdles curtail thinking ahead to what’s possible, and when you consider the power of mobility alongside the power of UC, it’s hard to imagine a better combination.

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/the-case-for-making-uc-mobile-2/

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