Jul
21

Top 10 Clues you Might not need Unified Communications

Earlier in this “top 10” series, I outlined 10 clues that you might need Unified Communications. After all, UC is hard to define, and sometimes you have to look carefully for the positive signs. In the spirit of fairness, I’m going to flip the script now, and focus on clues that lead to the opposite conclusion.

Now, I’m playing UC the other way – since it is hard to define, there are plenty of indicators that this might not be worth the trouble. Don’t get me wrong – I’m definitely a fan of UC – but it’s not for everyone, at least right now, so you need to see both sides of the coin.

1.  Business is good or even booming

The worst of the 2011 recession is behind us, and the U.S. economy is recovering. Some sectors are booming and profitability has returned. Other sectors, however, are being seriously disrupted by technology, and unless they catch up to things like UC, will struggle to remain viable. However, if your business is on the right side of the growth curve, and current technology is doing the job, you’ll be hard-pressed to see a reason to inject something new into a well-oiled machine. Maybe later, but not right now.

2.  No idea what UC is

Ignorance can be bliss, and building on the above scenario, if things are going well, why would you pursue something you’ve never heard of? UC may be first nature for vendors, but many businesses – especially SMBs – are still taking baby steps with VoIP. Aside from being difficult to define, UC is still new, and if businesses have managed without it so far, they’re not really missing anything. Of course, the converse is what makes UC so exciting, but getting to that point of discovery is another story and merits a separate series of posts.

3.  Vendors can’t explain it

This is related to the above challenge, but falls squarely on the vendor’s shoulders. Telecom vendors have no problem explaining the virtues of an IP PBX; it’s a self-contained point solution that has barely evolved in decades. UC is much more abstract, even for vendors, and this is a big reason why market adoption has been middling. Even if you’re open to hearing about UC, vendors struggle to get the messaging right, and if that raises more questions than answers, you may well conclude that if it’s this complicated, you don’t need it.

4.  No clear ROI or economic benefit

Many businesses still have a legacy mindset, and will view UC the same way. For them, phone systems are assets that have practical utility, and are purchased based on having a clear ROI. UC has a different value proposition and does not conform to that business model. Being a service, UC is better viewed as a TCO decision, but that can be a difficult shift for people to make. For businesses that insist on seeing a tangible economic benefit as the first consideration, UC’s business case will be difficult to establish.

5.  Status quo working well

Even if a business is just doing okay, there may be a tight comfort zone when it comes to adopting new technology. There are many reasons for this, but basically when change is viewed as risky, inertia takes over. Businesses in mature industries are slow to adopt new things, and their realities are very different from growth industries where staying on the leading edge of technology is not an option. For these businesses, the promise of UC is not reason enough to make a change.

6.  Telephony-centric culture

A big part of what defines the above status quo is having a telephony-centric culture. This is a byproduct of legacy thinking, and it’s still prevalent among SMBs. In cases where the business is performing well and the phone system is doing its job, the merits of UC will be difficult to see. Employees may well be using their PCs and mobile devices increasingly for everyday communication, but if the culture remains phone-centric, the time probably isn’t right for UC. Down the road, this will change, but not today.

7.  Been burned before by disruptive offerings

When disruption makes things better, we call it innovation, but there will be losers too, and for them it’s a disaster. Technology has always had a patchy track record, and no vendor is immune. Every business experiences both outcomes over time, and that mix will determine how you view UC. Sometimes this is solely dependent on the vendors, but having limited IT resources, SMBs are often the problem. UC is not without risk, and businesses should expect deployment challenges, so there can be good reason to pass on this basis.

8.  Business is highly centralized

This is a structural factor, and may carry the day even if you’re willing and able to consider UC. There are many drivers for UC adoption, but generally the more decentralized the business, the stronger the case will be. Businesses with a single site or just a few local branches can get some benefit from UC, but the impact is much greater the further dispersed your workforce. Some businesses simply work best with a centralized model, and for them, UC will hold limited appeal.

9.  Management only cares about cost reduction

In top-down organizations, management’s wishes can trump even the best ideas for improving the business. This can be the most frustrating obstacle of all, as short-term priorities often come at the expense of ensuring long-term viability. Technology changes constantly, and the further behind a company falls, operational costs will only rise, not fall. In cases where management thinks that reducing costs now is all that matters, UC will not be the answer.

10.  Productivity claims hard to believe

This factor arises from a positive beginning, where your business is in fact receptive to the UC concept. However, the deeper you dig to understand what form these productivity gains will take, the more fuzzy the vendor’s claims seem to be. For many businesses, this is the key selling point, as productivity has become a competitive differentiator. However, it’s difficult to achieve, especially from UC vendors who are generally not native to the world of workplace productivity. Their forte is communications technologies, but linking that to business processes requires another layer of expertise, and if that’s your criteria for buying, you may conclude that UC isn’t quite ready for your needs – at least from the vendors that are on your radar.

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/top-10-clues-you-might-not-need-unified-communications/

Jul
14

Top 10 Questions You Need to Ask About UC

As this “Top 10” series continues, I hope you’re building up a good arsenal of questions to ensure you cover enough ground with UC. These are the kinds of questions you need to ask for yourself even if nobody else is asking them in your company. In many ways, IT will be the driver for UC, and it may even be strategic enough to truly own it if you’re thinking about the long term future of your team.

Regardless, it’s in your interest to be the most knowledgeable party for UC, especially if you’re trying to hit a home run in terms of the benefits. VoIP doesn’t offer this type of upside, so you really need to step up to make sure IT has a hand in achieving the bigger picture gains – and be seen to have a hand. This is not a passive buying decision – IT needs to be very hands-on with UC to get these types of results.
To help build the right foundation, I’ve prepared this two-part post where I’ll briefly touch on 10 questions you need to ask about UC. Each question could easily warrant a dedicated post, but the point of this “top 10” series is to provide quick hits that distill a lot of industry knowledge. Let’s start with the first five, and I’ll cover the rest in my next post.

1. Why do I want UC?
Any good analysis must begin with the question of “why”, and in this case, the focus is on IT’s point of view. Other stakeholders in the company will have their own reasons, which may or may not be driven by your thinking. Since the burden of UC will largely fall on IT’s shoulders, you’d better have a clear answer here.
By now you should know that UC is like a Swiss army knife and can meet many needs depending how you use it. This actually makes the task at hand harder since UC can be almost anything you want it to be. As such, IT needs to give this careful thought and not rely simply on what the vendors are saying. Without a clear vision – and sense of “why” – UC can easily provide a little bit of benefit to various end user groups, but nothing that allows IT have a strong hand in its success. As such, the main message for this question is to take it to heart and don’t pass GO until you have a well-defined sense of purpose.

2. Who is UC really for?
This question naturally flows from the above, and it’s critical you understand how UC will impact the organization. You may well have a strong vision for “why”, but other stakeholders may not – and probably won’t. As noted in other posts, end users won’t be asking for UC, and they may not even know they’re using UC, so they probably won’t have any vision for it.
What makes UC unlike other IT investments is that everyone will use it differently, but there’s no guarantee all end users will actually engage with it. This also means that your success with UC – your vision – depends on end user adoption. UC will be for everyone, but you really need to examine the question around different use case scenarios. For example, customer-facing employees will use UC differently from those who only need it for internal communication.

3. Who should I buy from?
Looking over to the other side of the equation, this is just the first of many questions you need to ask about investing in UC. This topic would require many posts to examine, but even at this high level, there are some important takeaways to consider. The first thing to know is that you’ll need to vet a wider vendor pool than with VoIP. Not only are there many telephony-based vendors in the game, but a wide range as well from vendors outside the communications space – some of which you’ll know and some you won’t.
On top of that, you could just as well partner with a carrier for UC as with a vendor. Given that UC is far from being a standardized offering, it’s not surprising that the playing field is so broad. This means you’ll need to think more carefully about whom to buy from than when you last bought a phone system.

4. What is the ROI?
This question is more difficult than you may think. UC has no precedent, since it doesn’t replace anything that has reached end-of-life. Telephony is the next closest thing, and in many cases this will be your frame of reference for UC decision-making. If your telephony experience is rooted in the PBX, then ROI will be the default metric.

The problem is that UC is a not a product or hardware with an asset-based valuation. While ROI is easily understood, it’s not an appropriate metric here, and you have to think differently. There may be some hardware elements involved, but UC is a suite of applications, and is consumed as a service, much like telephony or broadband. In that regard, you to have to think along the lines of TCO, but even that can be inconclusive. There really isn’t a universal metric for UC, and that’s the answer you need to get to in this discussion. Every vendor has a different approach here, and you have to be prepared for a lot of ambiguity in building the business case.

5. Should this be in the cloud?
This is another question that leads to many other questions, and I’m just priming the conversation here. Your business is likely using the cloud successfully for many applications, but if you’re a long-time TDM user, telephony is pretty new for such consideration. If you think this is a big leap, UC will be much bigger, yet many companies are moving in this direction as fast as possible.
The merits of the cloud require a separate analysis, but when it comes to UC, this is a core question to be asking. You’ll need to consider a lot of things – both strategic and tactical – to determine the answer, and you must also recognize that the cloud is not an either/or proposition. Hybrid models are a popular option for UC, as they allow companies to retain control over premise-based hardware, while outsourcing the more complex needs of network management to a cloud provider.

To be continued…

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/top-10-questions-you-need-to-ask-about-uc/

Jul
07

Top 10 Clues You Might Need Unified Communications

This list is in the spirit of “you might be XYZ if….”, and based on what I see in the market, you should recognize the clues pretty quickly. Some signs will be easier to spot than others, and depends largely on how broad a view you take across your organization and beyond.

A conventional IT perspective will be network-centric, which is really too narrow to properly assess the need for UC. Conversely, an IP-based view will take a wider range of stakeholders into account, which is more aligned with the realities of UC. To illustrate, consider the following list of clues.

1.  Nobody is using their desk phones

There are many reasons this could be happening, and even if you just observe employee behavior, this clue will be easy to pick up. The desk phone may still have utility, but you may notice that it’s not ringing like it used to – yet employees seem to be productive. That’s a sure sign they’re finding other ways to communicate, but you’re not sure of what, why or how.

2.  Voicemail boxes are full and/or not getting cleared out

This is something you can definitely monitor, and reinforces the above trend. If those boxes are filling up, that means people are wasting time trying to get in touch, and that’s particularly worrisome when those are customers calling. When messages aren’t getting cleared, you’ve got a bigger problem which points to the need for UC. Aside from the wasted time, this likely means employees don’t even bother listening to messages since they’ve since found other/better ways of getting in touch.

3.  Employees relying on mobile devices for everything

This needs little explanation, and all businesses are trying to cope with the shift to mobility. When this becomes a BYOD situation, IT has to concede some network control to keep employees happy. After all, when businesses expect high availability from employees, BYOD is one way to make this a fair trade. However, if employees have free reign here, mobility may not be doing the business any favors. In that case, UC may be your best move to re-gain some of that lost control.

4.  Email messages are getting shorter

You may not have visibility on a personal level, but IT will have its share of email dialog with employees. If email messages are generally getter shorter – or less frequent – this may reflect new habits for text-based communication coming from messaging and social media. This clue is on the subtle side, but may tell you that employees are relying more on these short-form modes, which tend to reside outside your everyday realm – but well within the UC envelope.

5.  You have no idea what employees are doing online

This is an extension of the above clues, and speaks loudly on its own. IT has been losing control over how employees consume network resources for some time, and this will only continue with BYOD and WiFi. There are now many paths for employees to work off-net, especially when home-based or on the road, and decentralization remains a growing trend. Tech-savvy consumers know how to access all types of applications on demand, many of which have utility at work and are out of scope for IT. When deployed effectively, UC mitigates this problem and helps IT to better manage the network.

6.  Employees know what UC is

This may not seem intuitive, but remember, UC is a vendor-coined term, targeted at IT, not end users. While this is the norm for technology, UC is different since success depends on end user adoption. Most tech offerings are meant for and used by IT, and are generally transparent to end users. If employees start talking about UC, they definitely know what it is, making the time right for deployment. You may be coming to them after the fact, but if they’re ready for it, your chances of quick adoption will be pretty good.

7.  Management is asking about UC

Getting clues from the bottom-up is one thing, but the urgency will be even greater when it’s top-down. In fact, this will probably be IT’s strongest clue, and your job security may well depend on it. Hopefully, if management brings UC up, you’ve already been researching it and won’t be caught off-guard. In that case, you could be opportunistic and make them feel it was their idea – which could serve IT well if the deployment is effective. If you’re the last to hear about UC, however, it might be time to do something else.

8.  Customer satisfaction is declining

This may be a difficult link to establish, but ineffective communication will certainly drive such a result. Not all companies that measure customer satisfaction have contact centers, so this problem could just as well be coming from anywhere in your organization. You may need to be creative here, but if IT can identify chronic problems in this flow of communications, it’s quite likely that UC can reverse the trend.

9.  Company is spending a fortune on conferencing

By now, you’ve probably realized some nice cost savings with VoIP, but you may still be using conventional conferencing services. If that spending has been going up or staying high, this is an ideal point of entry for the UC discussion. Chances are you’re spending more than needed on conferencing, and you probably don’t have a way to assess how productive these calls actually are. Whatever you’re doing now, UC should absolutely help employees get more done on conference calls, plus at a lower cost.

10.  UC vendors have been saying these things all along

This is the “I told you so” moment, where vendor messaging about UC sounds less like a sales pitch and more like a thoughtful solution to problems you didn’t fully understand. Any and all of the above clues should take you to that conclusion, but until now you just weren’t ready to listen. After all, UC doesn’t address a tangible, glaring problem, and vendors have struggled with this all along. UC’s value proposition is difficult to articulate, but when you “get it”, the benefits are obvious. I’m not telling you to run out and buy the first UC offering you come across, but rather to say that vendors may actually understand where these technologies bring business value better than you, and that the time is now right to move forward.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/top-10-clues-you-might-need-unified-communications/

Jun
27

More Things that will Change with Unified Communications

In my last post, I introduced the theme of lists, with the first one being 10 things that will change with UC. My plan was to cover all 10 in one post, but it quickly became apparent that wasn’t a good idea, so I addressed half the list, and now I’ll get to the remaining five. It wouldn’t be a stretch to dedicate a separate post for each item, but that will take a long time for readers to digest, and by then there will be new things to add to that list. Such is the nature of UC, so for now, let’s go with a short and sweet analysis over these two posts.

6.  Need to actively manage your UC solution

This is another aspect of how IT’s role will change. Unlike standalone applications such as VoIP, UC will need attention, especially once it’s deployed. Once employees become native with UC, there won’t be much hand-holding needed, but that’s a best-case scenario. First off, not all employees are created equal when it comes to technology. UC won’t be of much value if your performance baseline is set to the LCD – lowest common denominator – of end user, so it’s important you set the adoption bar as high as possible.

Second is the fact that some employees are actually using UC right now – they just don’t know it. Many of UC’s benefits can be achieved using what you have today, but only with your tech-savvy end users. Furthermore, they may be getting the desired collaboration results, but nobody is calling it UC. A key part of actively managing UC is to educate employees about the concept – which is fairly abstract, so you can’t just assume they’ll figure this out on their own.

7.  End users should find teamwork easier

The more hands-on IT can be with UC, the better your results on all fronts.  Part of IT’s role is to ensure the technology works as intended, but another role is to educate and sell end users on the collective virtues of UC. They don’t need your help for improving personal productivity, especially if this is part of their performance evaluation. Group-level productivity is more of a gray zone, but teamwork is gaining traction as a core competency, and this is where UC pays off best.

Presuming UC is effectively rolled out, end users will notice the improvements right away. There’s no harm in IT helping to set that expectation, and this is where vendors can add value by providing resources to show the various ways UC enhances collaboration – and that you can share with employees. A well-tuned UC platform will make collaboration easier than ever before, as end users discover how the traditional barriers of time and space are minimized.

8.  Less wasted time trying to communicate

Aside from improved teamwork, UC will change the productivity equation by cutting down on wasted time. If call center performance metrics were applied to all employees, you would likely discover a massive sinkhole of lost time due to ineffective communications. Not only are the applications conducive to failure, but there are rarely processes in place to help employees develop better practices to manage these problems. Think about how many calls go to voicemail, how so much email flow is overkill, how difficult it is to set up and run a conference call, etc. All of these everyday activities add up, and by applying even crude costs based on pay scales, the business case for UC would be very clear. Even if employees used UC in a limited way, using presence across a few communications modes would cut down on this waste in no time.

9.  Millennial employees will be happier

This speaks to a subset of your company, but over time, this will become the norm across the board. Considerations for Millennials go beyond UC, and aligning business practices with their skill set may be the biggest success factor long-term. The degree of current alignment varies by type of business, but it’s essential to understand this demographic. Being digital natives, their adaptability for technology innovation is rapid, and often ahead of the pace a business can actually introduce it.

While UC may be new to IT and management, Millennials will find the underlying concept intuitive, making them the perfect early adopters. Not only will they find UC easy to grasp, but it will often be exactly the solution they’ve been looking for. I’ve often said that employees didn’t ask for UC, and that’s why IT needs to sell it as much as deploy it. Millennials may well be the exception, and you should expect them to be happier once UC gets into their hands.

10.  IT’s future will become clearer

Last but not least, you should expect UC to have an impact on the bigger picture for IT. On the plus side, if UC delivers business-level benefits, management will view IT as being more of a strategic player. This could be a big step up, and if so, IT can expect more funding for innovation projects, and an opportunity to drive the business overall.

Conversely, a sub-par UC experience could relegate IT to being a steward of the network with little involvement in broader business decisions. Even worse, as cited in the last post, this could also lead management to push UC into the cloud where the odds of success are viewed as being greater. This may well accelerate a shift to outsourcing more IT functions and paring down this resource to the bare minimum.

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/more-things-that-will-change-with-unified-communications/

Jun
18

Top 10 Things that will Change with Unified Communications

Time to shift gears, and as we ease into summer, our inclination is to think less intensely about things and enjoy the world around us. I count myself in that camp, and to lighten things up a bit, I’m starting a new series now on “top 10 lists” that you can quickly digest and still stay current with the ever-changing world of UC.

So, let’s start off with this basic theme – 10 things that will change with UC. There is a lot of ground to cover here, and I’ll present the first five in this post and round out the list next week.

1.  Focus will shift from communications to productivity

When you last bought a phone system, it was pretty much for telephony – basic communication for everyone. Businesses have long viewed legacy phone systems this way, and that thinking can be hard to change. UC is often a linear step up from a phone system, but the buying rationale will not be so simple. The ROI for UC is difficult to pin down, and productivity often becomes the lynchpin around the buying decision. With UC, you’re not buying a phone system – it’s a communications platform, and that opens up new possibilities for driving productivity and enabling collaboration across the business – rather than just making it easier for employees to make phone calls to each other.

2.  IT will have more direct involvement with employees

This change may be more challenging than it looks, as it will entail a new role for IT. With telephony – and many applications used across the business – IT usually just rolls it out and end users are largely on their own to use them. IT cannot afford to be so passive with UC, as the business case depends on widespread end user adoption. Unlike telephony, UC is not a physical product that is intuitive to use. Some employees will figure it out right away, but many will need guidance, and much of that task will fall to IT. This is an important change, not just because UC is new, but also because most UC applications are already being used by employees, but in a standalone fashion. UC only adds value when you can get them to do these things under a common, integrated umbrella. This is a subtle but important shift that will not be obvious to end users, and IT is really in the best position to ensure it happens.

3.  End users may shift away entirely from their desk phones

The extent of this change depends on many factors, but don’t be surprised to see such an outcome. Mobility is clearly becoming the mode of choice, and eventually many businesses will go this way entirely. If your current phone system is adequate but not great, UC will hasten this shift by making the mobile environment as good as or likely better than the desk phone. Once end users find a better way to do things, they rarely go back unless the new option is taken away. Aside from mobility, UC yields the broadest set of benefits from the desktop, and with many PC-based options for voice, end users will be less likely to use their desk phones once fully engaged with UC on a PC screen.

4.  Growing pressure to use the cloud

You may well get this from your UC vendor and/or channel partner, and it won’t matter if you’re staying premise-based or going halfway with a hybrid deployment. On the seller’s side of the equation, most players cannot move fast enough to the cloud, and it won’t be long before your telco could just as likely be your UC provider. They all have their reasons for becoming fully cloud-based, but they can’t get there until their customers are converted. These pressures will be a real test if you’re not yet sold on the cloud for UC, and to counter that you’ll need to do your homework to defend this position. This also means you should be prepared to find other vendors if they won’t cater to your preferences.

5.  Higher expectations from management

If IT has been the driver for UC, then management has been sold on the value proposition. Since UC will be new in most cases, that means they’ll have a difficult time determining if you’ve made a good decision. This could present a new challenge for IT, and to navigate the early stages of deployment when there will be a lot of questions, you’ll need to both set and manage a clear set of expectations. Management will be looking for productivity gains, and that’s a taller order than tracking ROI metrics for a phone system. Another scenario would be where management is the driver for UC, in which case IT will be under even more pressure since they’re not the ones setting the expectations.

Permanent link to this article: http://connect.adtran.com/top-10-things-that-will-change-with-unified-communications/

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