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May 12, 2015 No Comments

Featured article by Michael Fitzpatrick, CEO and founder of ConnectSolutions

With Microsoft and others rebranding their unified communications offerings (UC), and just about everyone calling 2015 the year of UC, it would seem now is the time for CIOs to get on board. True: More organizations are turning to unified communications. True: IDC predicts the market will grow to $38 billion next year. But even after being told so many times about the benefits of UC, many CIOs are still wary of something that hasn’t delivered on its promise for more than a decade.

A big part of the hesitance in deploying UC is a result of various vendors pushing one-size-fits-all implementations on CIOs that can’t see how such deployments would generate real value for their business. While Skype for Business, for instance, will provide adequate out-of-the-box UC capabilities for some, others will require a more tailored deployment of the solution in order to achieve real business value from UC. The question is, at what point does an organization require customization? And how much?

A UC deployment strategy requires more than simply rolling out new plug-and-play collaboration tools to employees. It means looking at where integrating these tools in with legacy systems can dramatically improve specific business communication processes. It means truly understanding one’s own unique business needs and workforce dynamics to ensure that enterprise collaboration tools are generating a real return on investment.

But it takes time. The way I see it, you don’t simply adopt unified communications, you must grow with it. I think of it as a four-phased journey that organizations must embark on in order to unlock the value behind the investment in these tools:

Plan

First, there’s the planning stage, which involves looking at where value can be derived from UC based on how the organization currently conducts business. Questions to ask oneself about the organization include: What communication tools do we use? How are they used and by whom? Do they serve our needs? What are our future plans? Then, a vision needs to be put in place that considers how certain available tools and integrations can bring change to the enterprise, and this requires some expertise. The ability to perform basic duties such as making a call is not what most people would describe as being broken, but that’s because most organizations don’t realize just how much business productivity and IT value can be derived from connecting voice to other tools that employees are using to be productive. Another challenge is that many CIOs simply can’t see past the adoption roadblocks. Not all changes can be implemented right away, so others will need to be phased in and even segmented to give end users time to adapt. For instance, millennials may prefer to communicate via text while others have a hard time giving up the phone. These preferences can be accommodated to avoid pushback later. But while change in itself must be incremental, the value derived from the overall deployment must be transformational to justify the investment, and key performance indicators must be drawn up as part of a measureable success plan to ensure that value is realized.

Deploy

This is where the system is built and integrated in with pre-existing telco and other legacy systems, followed by testing, training and onboarding. The constructed vision is important, but you also must have a solid foundation. CIOs must consider not only which tools they choose to deploy as part of the company’s UC strategy, but also how they are deployed. No one enterprise IT environment looks the same, and every company’s network is different, so a good measure of standardization is necessary when deploying UC. However, too much standardization can limit the types of tools and vendors that CIOs are eventually able to integrate into their UC system. Ultimately, as companies begin to mature in their use of UC and transform their communication process, too much standardization will cause them to hit a ceiling, dampening the flexibility to try new tools and vendors that can grow their UC capabilities. Once deployed, CIOs must constantly ask themselves: Are employees properly trained? Are our tools working together? Do employees see the value?

Run

The run phase focuses on the care, maintenance and feeding of the environment, ensuring that patches and updates are done with minimal disruption. Here, CIOs must ask: Are my goals being met? Are support issues being resolved quickly? Can we scale as our business grows? Here, it’s imperative that CIOs have ample monitoring in place not just to troubleshoot problems as they arise, but to ensure that they’re adhering to their success plan in terms of end user adoption. Any drop off will result in missed ROI, and the sooner any kind of disenchantment is detected, the sooner the CIO can get employees back on track through continued training or incentives.

Expand

The most exciting part of the UC journey is the prospect of expanding your strategy to unlock the full potential value of UC. By now, workers have adapted to what’s already in place, but CIOs are starting to realize how UC can further transform the way people communicate, collaborate, and produce. They can take on communication-enabled business processes (CEBP) to embed seamless digital communication through any app, file or browser, so workers can connect within the context of a certain task. They can incorporate the camera on today’s ubiquitous smartphones to instantly communicate an issue visually to entire groups of people that would otherwise be much more tedious and time consuming to communicate via written or spoken word. The possibilities are truly limitless, but it takes more than a UC product demo for a CIO to fully understand them. Not only must CIOs truly understand how their workforces operate, they must experience UC for themselves and live with it long enough for their creativity to take hold and invent new productive uses of UC within their organizations that nobody else could have otherwise imagined.

fitzpatrickprofile

Michael Fitzpatrick is CEO and founder of ConnectSolutions, the trusted private-cloud solutions provider for Microsoft Skype for Business and Adobe Connect.

 

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