What makes enterprise unified communications work
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Previously Site Editor Tessa Parmenter and Ovum Principal Analyst Mike Sapien discussed how the analyst firm's recent "Future of Unified Communications & Collaboration" survey showed a positive future for UC&C. Join them for part 2 of the interview to find out what IT needs to ensure a successful UC&C deployment.
What challenges are preventing the success of a UC&C deployment?
Mike Sapien: One of the things that's held UC&C back for many years is that there are lots of features and functions that aren't used. UC market suppliers try to [up]sell additional UC applications when most business users wouldn't find them necessarily useful or put them to good use, so the company would spend the money and not see much additional uptake of those applications.
Calculating employee productivity and increased flexibility can be a major challenge for businesses. … [This is in part due to IT's] ambivalent attitude toward user profiling. About a third of large companies who plan a UC investment said they would engage in user profiling; a third said they would think about it; another third said they wouldn't [do user profiling.] Half of those who weren't said it was because they didn't understand the value of profiling users. … We found that end users are among the most consulted constituents in the organization, but they were among the least influential.
It's strange because they want to increase employee productivity, but they don't seem to be building in the systems to increase user uptake and make sure that translates into more efficient working styles. UC requires consultancy services, assessments and measurements in order to be successful and deliver on those lofty goals.
Only 42% of users surveyed have even heard of UC clients. Why is it important that IT educate their users about them?
The fact that so many users had never heard of a UC client on their smartphone is an indication that companies deploying unified communications need to actually train their users.
Sapien: If there is a stated goal by the people with the IT budget to improve employee productivity, you have to measure user uptake of these services. The fact that so many users had never heard of a UC client on their smartphone is an indication that companies deploying unified communications need to actually train their users. You can't just assume you can send a PDF user manual around and say 'OK, here you go. Now you can use it.' You should probably launch a proper training program so that people know how to use the new conferencing facility, how to access the corporate mobile directory on their device, how to initiate a video chat with someone. Otherwise, these systems might not actually be used. The investment might be wasted. It's very easy as a vendor or an analyst to be comfortable with all of the terminology and technology, but most users don't even know how to transfer a call from one desk to another.
What might contribute to the failure of a UC&C deployment?
Sapien: [Business] latency could be reduced if you actually mapped communication requirements to business processes. But there are very few businesses doing it. That's one of the reasons why many UC applications could be seen as a failure, because there's no attempt to do a requirements assessment against key business processes that need to be improved through communications enabled. If you haven't done that exercise then it's unlikely the benefits offered by a UC implementation will actually bear fruit and improve a business process.
Are enterprises taking advantage of UC&C consumer applications for business? Should they?
Sapien: There's a degree to which you don't have choice … [but to] use consumer applications for business. For example with Twitter and Facebook, you have to be on there as a customer-facing corporate entity; whether that's used for employee collaboration is another story. But we find employees using apps like Skype anyway regardless of whether they're vetted by the employer.
It makes sense to me to take advantage of all of these applications and see how you can incorporate them into corporate enterprise communications or IT policy and then harness those so that you can save a bit of money as a business. I don't really see a downside to using consumer applications in the enterprise in an appropriate manner. I mean, they will not deliver the service levels, reliability and robustness required by most companies for critical communications, but they might be appropriate for use in certain contexts -- like employee-to-employee calls, where call quality or jitter isn't as critical as when you're dealing with a client environment.
Does "shadow IT" run the risk of overthrowing what enterprise IT has already put in place?
Sapien: These things are phrased rather dramatically, but not everyone can have total control over what employees use. My view would be, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Just make sure you roll out policies for appropriate use in working environments. For example, you wouldn't want a big sales pitch with a corporate client to be over Skype. That would be ridiculous. You would want a secure bridge with a service-level agreement, call quality, quality of service assurances and someone contractually responsible for it to make sure you don't have some catastrophic failure that could affect your commercial performance. That's an extreme example, but a valid one. At the same time, I had a two-hour Skype conference call with a few people in England, and the quality was fine. So in each company you will have a different tolerance level for when such consumer applications are appropriate or not. Rather than build a dam to resist the intrusion or these consumer applications, someone has to get to grips with [application] policy and enforcement.