What to do with UC when Employees are Tech-Savvy

This is the converse to my last post, and presents a very different scenario. To be fair, not all your employees will be this way, but let’s just say it’s the majority. While the definition of “tech-savvy” is pretty subjective, for this post, assume this group is generally on par or better than IT. One would assume IT personnel will be tech-savvy by definition, but that could be a highly relative assumption if they are truly old school. They will be savvy in a different way than employees, especially those rooted firmly in the Internet world.

I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea – comparing these two groups on this basis can be pretty challenging. However, just as your workplace won’t be totally full of tech laggards, it won’t likely be totally full of tech whiz-kids either. The latter may be true if you’re a startup, but that’s not really our audience here.

For this post, I’m focusing on cases where your employees are generally pretty tech-savvy, and you don’t have the basic concerns as if they were generally at the other end of the spectrum. This might warrant the do-nothing approach I’ve been writing about here recently. In other words, you have enough trust to say as little as possible about UC, and let them discover it on their accord. IT may not get any of the glory if they have success with UC, but if this is the best way to drive adoption, so be it.

Can you trust them?

Trust really is at the core of this strategy, since it assumes you know them well enough to believe they’ll get it, and that it’s important to them that you respect them this way. I’m saying “them” a lot here because that’s the main message here. When dealing with tech savvy employees, you need to keep a safe distance, so to speak. Before IP, the shoe was on the other foot, and IT could get away with talking down to employees.  Depending on your company’s history, there may be an adversarial culture that needs to be overcome.

If that’s the case, UC could be a great opportunity to forge a more balanced relationship with employees. As often noted on this blog, more than other new technologies, UC needs end user adoption for success, so you have a valid motive for doing so. After all, if a tech-savvy employee base can’t figure out the charms of UC, nobody will. How often do you get an opportunity to engage with employees on a peer-to-peer level with what is ultimately a common cause?

These end users are well-equipped to get the most out of UC, and that will please both them and management – presuming the benefits go beyond everyday personal productivity. IT, on the other hand, gains more favor with management by showing to have bet right in going with UC. This will be especially important for IT if management was skeptical of UC in the first place, and perhaps even second-guessing IT’s overall value to the business. After all, IT can only keep doing “more with less” for so long.

Knowing when to shift gears

The big challenge for IT is knowing when to shift gears from doing nothing to doing something with these end users. Taking a hands-off approach is fine if they take UC where you want it to go, but if they don’t, this strategy could backfire. If management loses patience, it will be easy to lay the blame with IT simply because you were hands-off, which to them looks like you didn’t have a plan in the first place.

How do you know if, when or how to shift gears? These are the big questions here, and to respond effectively, you need to consider all the dynamics I’ve been touching on. You need to honestly assess IT’s relationship with employees – both those who are tech savvy and otherwise. UC is meant for everyone, and your job isn’t done once the former group gets going with it, even with minimal support from IT.

In fact, that’s just the first step in the UC journey, at least if IT wishes to further cultivate a new-and-improved relationship with your tech savvy employees. Of course, you can choose to treat all employees the same, throw UC out there, and see what happens.

My research tells me there are a few good reasons what that’s not the best approach, especially if you consider that those tech savvy Millennials will soon be the majority, not to mention the up-and-comers gunning for your job. If that’s on your mind, I’ll see you back here week when the analysis continues.

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Managed Wi-Fi Hits a Home Run

America’s favorite pastime just got better, thanks to Frontier Communications. The service provider is leveraging ADTRAN ProCloud Wi-Fi to boost bandwidth and streamline management of an advanced wireless network that can support 11,000 simultaneous connections at the Durham Bulls baseball stadium and the American Tobacco Historic District (ATHD) in Durham, N.C.

In order to deliver premium fan experiences, more and more stadiums across the nation are adopting managed Wi-Fi services. These deployments deliver high-performance, bandwidth-rich connectivity to every visitor, while allowing stadium IT staff to offload wireless network management and focus on other critical elements of the game and fan environment.

Frontier’s managed Wi-Fi service is fed by a 1Gbit/s pipe into Frontier’s core network, and provides connectivity for the Durham Bulls stadium as well as public spaces in the surrounding ATHD area. This bandwidth-rich network enables visitors to access free, fast Internet service. Frontier is also easily able to regulate access to the network to ensure complimentary services aren’t taken advantage of. This includes the options to shut down user access or, more likely, slow down the access to make it less attractive.

Based on ADTRAN ProCloud Wi-Fi, the Durham Bulls community benefits from a managed cloud wireless service that includes 24×7 help desk support for any fan connectivity issues during games. Frontier is able to customize the stadium’s new wireless network to support unique in-game features, particularly the ability to provide live, high-quality replays on mobile devices. This Wi-Fi model will also allow the stadium to monetize new services and applications over time.

“There’s nothing like a game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park,” said Durham Bulls GM Mike Birling in Frontier’s press release announcing the deployment. “With our vastly improved Wi-Fi solution, fans will be able to interact with us on game day like never before. Frontier and ADTRAN really stepped up to the plate with a comprehensive cloud wireless solution, which offloads the network management burden from our limited IT staff.”

In addition to coverage for the Durham Bulls stadium, more than 100 businesses at the American Tobacco Historic District campus are utilizing the improved Wi-Fi capacity to serve restaurant and retail customers, as well as the start-up incubator community at American Tobacco known as the “American Underground.”

Frontier’s Wi-Fi deployment demonstrates how managed Wi-Fi can empower not only athletic parks, entertainment arenas and business communities, but also how the service is a great solution for state and local government, K-12 and higher education, hospitality and more. “Whether you’re a business park, a restaurant or a stadium with 11,000 fans, consumers will have an excellent Wi-Fi experience,” said Dennis Bloss, Frontier’s vice president and area general manager for North Carolina, in the press release.

If you’d like to learn more about the project, you can view a video about the deployment here:


Jason King is the director of marketing for the Bluesocket Business Group at ADTRAN. With over 15 years’ experience in the industry, he is responsible for the overall promotion and positioning of the company’s Wi-Fi solutions. Find him on Twitter: @jjking24

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What to do with UC when Employees are Laggards

If you were a teacher, which would you rather have – a class full of slow learners, or high achievers? Each group learns very differently, and conventional wisdom would say that each requires a distinct approach to teaching. There’s a lot of truth in that, but for some teachers, the opposite is the right answer. In other words, they would teach each group exactly the same way, with only a few nuances specific to each. Both scenarios can produce great results in the right hands, and it all comes down to the relationship teachers cultivate with their students.

You might dismiss these ideas since reality is never like this – classrooms almost always have a mix of learners, and teachers no doubt are endlessly challenged to cover all the bases. That probably describes your environment in terms what to do with UC, so that’s the level we have to work at. I’m sure there are times when you wish all your employees were Millennials and others when they were just old-school, but it’s more likely you’re surrounded by both.

This is perhaps the biggest thing that UC vendors did not take into account early on, and it’s the basis for many of their challenges to drive market adoption. For the foreseeable future, the workplace will have an evolving mix of digital natives and digital immigrants, and UC has to somehow resonate with both groups. The early UC developers were very much from the analog world, and it’s fair to say their offerings reflected that era. Millennials were not yet the force they are today, and in a few short years their rise has created a different kind of end user that UC vendors weren’t really ready for.

They’ve been scrambling ever since to figure that out, and over the next few years, that gap will close for two reasons. First, Millennials will soon become the majority of the workforce, at which point they will be driving the market more so than the older generations who are leaving the ranks by attrition. Second, Millennials will also become the drivers in the vendor community, making tomorrow’s UC very much of the present. They will move on from legacy applications such as email, telephony, fax, etc., and make UC resonate on a deeper level than what most employees experience today.

What about right now?

Exactly. The above crystal ball exercise tells you what’s coming, but what to do when most of your employees are basically technology laggards? If your company is pretty much all fresh-faced under-30s, there’s no need to read further unless you care to see how everyone else still struggles with the basics.

Most of the companies I come across in my research definitely fit this mold, and while they embrace UC for all the right reasons, they face an uphill struggle in getting the desired results. The do-nothing approach outlined in my recent posts will be risky for this audience, especially if the ROI bar has been set high for UC. They will only self-discover features and applications that fit in their comfort zone, and that may not be enough.

Think back to the student/teacher dynamic above. With this audience, you have to let the learning come from them, from which point you can do some gentle hand-holding to bring them along to the next level. How do you do this? Well, if you are seriously invested making UC a success, you have to be hands-on with employees and provide open channels of communication. Basically, you want them to share their learning with you, and based on the needs of their job, you can then steer them to something new that they can handle and will clearly be beneficial to them. They may never figure this out on their own, but with a light touch, you can teach them in a manner that suits their learning style.

Is this worth it?

Clearly, with an employee pool largely at this level, the learning will be incremental, but with each little success, they will become increasingly empowered. Eventually, the process becomes easier as they’re building on a foundation of knowledge and they’ve come to trust you as an effective enabler. Leaving them alone to sink or swim won’t be effective here, so you need patience and perseverance. You might even want to hire a retired teacher to facilitate the learning process.

There is no magic formula to follow, but you absolutely must establish the kind of relationship that is appropriate to their comfort level with new technology. Once you have that, success is much more contingent on managing that relationship than struggling with the technology. Remember, this is a process, and once you do it with basic UC applications, learning the more complex applications isn’t so hard. Furthermore, UC will never be finished, so as new applications come along, your chances of getting value from them is very much based on the strength of that relationship.

If that seems like too much work, this might not be the right time for UC. The situation is not permanent, as the ascendancy of Millennials ensures that technology laggards will become a shrinking pool of your workforce. So, if you can take on this mantle for what should be a short period of time, you stand to experience some great upside – not just for employee productivity, but also in the trust they have in IT to give them the best tools to do their jobs. That’s a pretty good payoff, and if I were you, I’d take it.

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How Much UC is Enough UC?

Over the past couple of posts, I’ve explored the laissez faire approach of letting employees discover UC for themselves. This path to UC success is fraught with risk, but the payoff could be tremendous if you read the tea leaves right. Of course you could just end up being lucky where all the stars align and magic happens. There’s a fine line between meddling and letting go, and I’ve been saying from that start this is all about trust between IT and employees.

When you’re ready to roll out UC across the organization, you have no idea what’s going to happen. Another twist here is that UC is unlike other new technologies, in that you need end user adoption for success, and no two people utilize UC exactly the same way. Even if you’ve had a stellar track record with introducing new technologies, it would be dangerous to assume more of the same with UC. You could be just as effective taking an active, hands-on approach as sitting back and letting things take their own course.

Conversely, being heavy-handed may only be getting in the way, indicating that you’ve underestimated the ability of employees to adopt UC. This a bit like knowing when to take the training wheels off your child’s bike, where you have to trust your gut as well as what your child says about being ready to ride solo.

How much is enough?

From what I’m seeing in the market, things are all over the map in terms of finding that balance. It’s just as easy to underestimate end user adoption savvy as to overestimate it. Being right or wrong largely depends on the relationship IT has with end users. Traditionally, there been little need to have a relationship, as IT called the shots and end users had to take what was given. That comes from taking a technology-centric POV – point of view – where IT thinks in terms of network operations, managing data traffic and connectivity with end points.

This model just doesn’t work in the world of IP, cloud, mobility, BYOD, etc., and clearly we need a more people-centric POV. Some vendors call this “human-centric”, but even this still sounds clinical as if we’re subservient to technology. The man-versus-machine paradigm does have a place in this analysis, but another time – it’s too much of a distraction from the UC challenge we’re all trying to figure out.

IT isn’t used to thinking about the user experience that every UC vendor is fixated on lately. If they still think about end points instead of end users, then you know which POV from above is driving their plans. A lot of this comes back to what has been done in the past, as that POV forms the basis for how we look at the present. Think about the IP PBX, which is probably the most recent – and relevant – communications technology IT has deployed prior to UC. Was the “user experience” ever part of the conversation around which IP PBX vendor to go with, or what the deployment plan will entail? Not likely.

That totally has to change with UC, and as I’ve been touching on in recent posts, this largely depends on how well IT’s POV is aligned with the POV held by end users. Ensuring that UC flows smoothly across the end points is really important, but is a minor factor in defining the user experience.

What to do next?

When considering how much UC is enough, that alignment will tell the story. IT must decide whether the process is going to be one of spoon-feeding UC-challenged employees, or letting them run with it. This is a difficult choice, and to some extent will come down to your gut instinct that I alluded to earlier. However, it will also be guided by what priorities have been set around by UC and by whom.

UC might be IT’s project to own and operate, but you may instead be beholden to higher forces, namely management. If the latter, you will likely be required to monitor UC’s adoption as per their set of ROI metrics, in which case you’ll need a heavier hand, not a light one to drive adoption ASAP. Of course, this brings POV back into the discussion in that you really should gauge how well management’s UC thinking is aligned with what’s in the minds of employees. This could be a big challenge if employees are more like laggards then early adopters, and I’ve come across a lot of that in my research.

The plot is thickening here, and I’m going to leave things pat and continue the exploration in my next post. At some point, of course, you have to make a decision and move forward, so you’ll never have perfect information. However, I’m seeing a lot of disjointed expectations in the market, and that’s why I want to hone in further on importance of gauging the right amount of UC to introduce, along with the most effective way of doing so.


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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.

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