June 18, 2012

How to be a Hero When You Roll Out UC

So management has decided it's time to take the unified communications (UC) plunge. You've gotten the budget and allocated the resources. What's it going to take to get the project done right?

Organizations finding themselves in this position are often gripped with cold fear, because they are short on experience, users have high expectations, and management has the project under the microscope. Fortunately, UC deployments are no longer rare, and a considerable body of expertise has been developed to draw upon. By keeping a few basics in mind, you can deliver a stellar UC rollout and look like a hero to management and users. 

•  Don't try to do it all on Day 1. Not everyone is ready to swallow UC all in one gulp. Think carefully about which capabilities will have the biggest impact with the least inconvenience, start there and keep focused. If you've done your planning right, once users start to experience what UC has to offer, they'll be eager for more. Approach the rollout as a planned and phased implementation, not a blitzkrieg. 

•  Find the right partners. If you plan to use a VAR or systems integrator for your deployment, shop carefully. Just as data network managers had trouble mastering voice communications, UC requires another major leap in understanding. Many of the most knowledgeable VARs for solutions like Microsoft Lync are data-focused, so find partners with voice expertise, too.
•  Secure the right ancillary components. Many user UC complaints relate to basics, such as headsets. No UC vendor has all of the bits and pieces you need, so they depend certified partners to provide gateways, session border controllers, desk sets, video teleconferencing equipment and even headsets. Buying components designed to work in conjunction with your UC platform will stave off an avalanche of user complaints and save you lots of aggravation.

•  Plan for - and document - hard ROI. In today's economic climate, business managers are looking for a measurable return on investment. To get your UC project the support it needs, start collecting data on hard-dollar saving initiatives from the outset. Typically conferencing and collaboration can have major payoffs from UC such as reduced use of outside conferencing services. That can be an easy sell to users, because the ability to schedule conferences easily and to join with a single click trumps dialing access codes, entering PINs and waiting for laggards to jump in. 

If you can add video and Web conferencing capabilities, you can likely reduce travel costs for multi-site meetings, regularly scheduled conferences and training events. Once managers start comparing the cost of hosting those events electronically to traditional travel costs, UC starts looking like a real bargain. Start collecting and documenting those savings right from the start, not after the fact, so when management asks why you're spending all this money, you can reply with stats on how much money you're saving.

•  Think "applications." Key to delivering hard ROI on UC is integrating communications with core business processes. Customer-facing contact centers are one obvious target, but you should investigate any communications-intensive business activity. Check the vendors' Web sites for case studies to get ideas. We have seen loan organizations able to process applications days faster, healthcare facilities reduce patient checkout time from hours to minutes (freeing beds for other patients) and organizations handle greater sales-order volumes with fewer employees. When you can start tying UC capabilities to top- and bottom-line performance metrics, you bolster your credibility.

•  Communicate with users. UC isn't something you can simply dump out there and hope users will pick up on it. User training is essential and should be a key deployment element. We worked with one client that had hoped to slash its $12,000 monthly conferencing bill but six months post-UC deployment was shelling out the same $12,000 to the conferencing service each month. It turns out nobody had bothered to teach users how to set up a UC conference (which was far easier than with the service) so they kept doing things the old way.

User communications is how you discover those real ROI-producing applications. So along with training, marketing and user engagement, work with business managers on how UC can make their operations run smoother and more efficiently. The key to UC project success is to understand the magnitude of the change, plan ahead and focus on business and user adoption concerns.

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