June 7, 2012

Non-Technical Barriers to UC Implementation

You're ready to consider unified communications (UC). Will it be plug-and-play, or will you encounter snags along the path to successful implementation? The answer is that there will be obstacles to overcome - but they won't all be about the technology.

Technologists' focus on the products and services associated with UC often misses the point. UC is more than a productivity-boosting technology - it's a change in the way business is done. A number of non-technical factors must be dealt with before UC can deliver on its promise.

For example, consider the following checklist:

•  Involve business unit staff. A good UC strategy should improve the probability that enterprise business goals will be met. Implemented effectively, UC can help increase sales, retain customers, improve technology and interactions inside and outside the enterprise, reduce turnaround and travel time, enhance the teleworking experience, and reduce worker frustrations and turnover. But achieving these goals requires the involvement of business unit staff; if they fail to participate in and provide clear guidance for UC tool deployments, it will be easy - but misguided - to blame the technologists when business goals aren't met.

•  Determine impact on business processes. Return on investment (ROI), the financial motivation behind UC, isn't easy to calculate without looking for both hard and soft dollars that will benefit the enterprise. UC is more than just a replacement technology for previously distinct functions such as voice communication, voice mail, e-mail, instant messaging, audio, video and Web conferencing; it can deliver existing and new services with a common user interface.

Improving enterprise business processes can justify a UC implementation, but judging the success of the implementation requires in-depth knowledge of those business processes and the ways they will be modified and enhanced by UC. Those contemplating a UC project must know their business processes well before successful implementation can be cost-justified.

•  Consider a hybrid cloud/on-premises approach.
IT is always under pressure from the enterprise to spend less and deliver more. While UC is an investment that can eventually reduce costs and improve productivity, these benefits will be felt chiefly in the business units - not within IT itself. In UC's first year of operation, there can be significant capital, software license, staffing and training costs to be absorbed, which could lead IT to consider moving some UC functions into the cloud.

Though this will reduce up-front costs, it could be more expensive in the long run if the enterprise plans to keep its on-premises UC systems for more than three or four years. IT should look at a hybrid approach, using cloud-based services for new functions or functions that would benefit only a minority of users. If the cloud-based services become more popular, the enterprise can always bring them in-house.

•  Use internal marketing to combat resistance to change. Every organization has a structure that has evolved over time. Users who have long been comfortable with that structure will resist any change UC might introduce. Even when structural changes are accepted, there will be a "burn-in" period. An internal marketing campaign by IT and the business units will help sell the changes and dampen resistance.

•  Accommodate old and new cultures.
Some enterprises depend mostly on the telephone, others on e-mail, still others on instant messaging. Once an organization has access to rapid instant communication, it will not reverse its path back to a slower method. IT groups and business units must not only accommodate the present culture, they must also look ahead as employees age and change their expectations of collaboration. The challenge is to support the emerging culture without hampering the older, disappearing one.

•  Insist that IT staff know its users. The IT staff must become even more user-aware, learning how users presently communicate and how UC collaboration tools can be applied to the business. Knowing how to implement and use the UC tools in a lab is not enough. IT staffers must place themselves in the user's shoes to grasp which UC functions apply and how they will improve the business operation.

•  Invest wisely in end-user training.
Once organizations have implemented UC, they will find that training users is the key to UC success. IT must budget a training investment if the UC implementation is to produce the anticipated ROI. Although this is the last item on the list, it's far from the least important: poor training can be the Achilles heel of the implementation.

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1 Comment

While I don't disagree with your list of non-technical issues involved in implementing UC-enabling business and communication applications, I think you omitted one of the factors that will both drive need for UC and will impact end user acceptance of solutions. That is mobility and the shift to multimodal smartphones and tablets that will require and user applications to be redesigned properly for Mobile UC.

While this is is a technical consideration, it will be key to end user acceptance and effective usage. Without it, there will be little interest or benefits to end users in just "desktop UC." To simply look at cost reductions is missing the boat for improving business processes performance and end user prodductivity.

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