As this series on thinking outside the box about UC continues, more ideas come to mind as I look for examples in my research. Of course, there’s nothing wrong in considering UC for all the reasons most businesses adopt – it’s what they know and it’s what gets budget approval from senior management. If this describes your situation, I would encourage you to read a bit further before making any final decisions.
What’s your hurry?
UC can do wonderful things for your business, not to mention enhancing IT’s value to the organization, but there’s never really a right time to deploy. As you may know, UC is a perpetual work in progress – it will never be done, so it doesn’t matter whether you move forward today or next quarter. More importantly, UC isn’t deployed to fix something essential that just broke down. UC introduces new capabilities, but is largely a productivity platform to make existing things better – not necessarily new or different.
As such, if you’re not aiming for transformative results, then you’ll be deploying UC just like everyone else. I’m making a dangerous assumption here in that every situation is unique and that every business wants to stand out. However, I would also contend that most will follow the path of least resistance, especially for something where a hard ROI is difficult to demonstrate.
UC requires a leap of faith, and that generally narrows the window of risk-taking in terms of going beyond table stakes. With this thinking, UC will never provide long-term competitive differentiation, and if that’s needed to seal the deal, you need some out of the box thinking. That’s the focus of my current theme on this blog, and I’ll continue now with another example.
Making UC social
This is easier said than done, but put yourself(ie) in the shoes of a Millennial employee. Observe their behaviors, both around how they communicate and interact with other people. Presuming you are not a Millennial, then reflect back on how you do those things. Now think about who has been developing today’s UC offerings, and is it any wonder why UC has not taken the IT world by storm?
First off, most UC solutions are either telecom-centric, or rooted in that space. After all, UC initially emerged as the successor to the IP PBX, as these vendors saw a declining market in phone systems, and needed something for the next generation. That is hardly the only storyline in UC today, but it speaks to where the lion’s share of the market is coming from.
Secondly, UC is built on conventional communications applications that we rely on to get things done. As with the highly familiar world of telephony, the other core applications – chat, video, email and conferencing are first nature to everyone. Remember, UC is not about reinventing communication – it’s about making what we already do better.
Having said that, I have long described presence as the secret sauce of UC, as it holds the key to making communications better. Presence is very much an IP-based concept, so it’s new relative to everything else cited above. However, it is highly intuitive and works quietly in the background, posing nominal obstacles to UC adoption.
While all of the above makes for a workable UC offering, there is nothing that brings social media into this virtuous circle. This is understandable, since social media activity largely takes place in personal spaces, beyond IT’s control. Vendors have tried incorporating social media tools into their UC offerings – with Cisco Quad/WebEx Social being a prime example – but none have really succeeded.
This isn’t to say end users don’t want those capabilities – in fact, the opposite is probably true. If UC was being designed today from scratch by Millennials, it’s fair to say it would be unthinkable for social media to not be a core capability. Think about how anxious younger people get when they can’t check their social media updates every five minutes – this is their oxygen, and this is what collaboration means to them.
You won’t find a social media-centric UC platform any time soon, but that day will come. When Millennials become the decision makers and prime buyers for UC, their sensibilities will demand it. Until that time, you should talk to your younger employees and learn how they think UC can be more social in order to reflect what works best for them – not just personally, but in their jobs and working in teams with co-workers.
Similarly, you need to ask vendors where social media is on their roadmap. A key indicator will be their ecosystem of applications developers and technology partners. UC’s amorphous nature means it is highly adaptable, and if you lean hard enough on them, you should find at least one vendor willing to push the envelope and customize some social elements for your deployment. Again, it’s all about making communications better, and if this tweak works, you’ll probably have a new competitive edge. Isn’t that what thinking outside the box is all about?