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Success with unified communications: The technology needs assessment

In part 1 of our series "Success with Unified Communications," we explore the technology needs assessment. Before you look at vendors and before you think about voice, conferencing, instant messaging or anything else, think about the problems you need to solve for end users and how you can improve business processes.

This story is the first part in a new series, "Success with Unified Communications." Each of the stories in this ongoing series will explore the different steps that every enterprise should take on its way to a successful unified communications deployment. From a technology needs assessments to vendor selection, from forming the right unified communications operations group to selecting the right management technology, we will offer insight from top experts in the field on what it takes to harness the power of unified communications.

What is the mandate of information technology? Do you deploy the latest and greatest applications and infrastructure simply because that is what you do? Or should you deploy technology to solve business problems?

Unified communications remains a hot buzzword in the industry, and naturally IT organizations might feel compelled to deliver at least a pilot project just so that the CEO doesn't walk into the CIO's office and ask, "Why don't we have that?"

Shane Yu, director of unified communications consulting for Avaya, says that many IT organizations come to him with this mandate. He describes that approach as a science project.

The needs assessment should not be isolated in the IT department. The business units have to be involved in the decision making.
Elizabeth Herrell
Vice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research

"They say they don't need a needs assessment," Yu said. "A lot of our customers say, 'Hey, that looks cool. Let's just throw that in there and see what happens.' We try to dissuade them from that, but it still exists."

In reality, this approach is flawed. A technology needs assessment should be the first thing an enterprise does before embarking on a unified communications project. It will guide the vendor selection process first of all. It will also help them decide which applications to include in a unified communications deployment. More importantly, it will give them something against which to measure success.

"There are so many companies that just don't see [a technology needs assessment] as necessary," said Elizabeth Herrell, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research. "The IT department puts a pilot in and they say, 'Well this stuff works.' But it doesn't help you hold a business case together that would allow a finance person to approve adoption for a larger group of employees. Just because it works doesn't mean everybody needs it. The whole point of a business case is that you're providing a new and better way of communicating and collaborating ."

If a technology needs assessment is the first step any organization will take in a unified communications deployment, it should be done right. The first thing to do is to make sure the right people are involved from the start.

Technology shouldn't drive the needs assessment

IT organizations will ultimately own any unified communications project, and IT will be judged on the success or failure of any deployment. But if higher-level executives have sent an ivory-tower directive down to the networking or voice teams saying, "Make it so with unified communications," the technology lead should turn right around and tell the executives that business units need to be involved from Day 1.

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"The needs assessment should not be isolated in the IT department," Herrell said. "The business units have to be involved in the decision making. We have found that the purchase of IT tends to be a collaborative type of decision which involves most likely the data networking professionals and the telecom professionals, but also the business decision makers from other business units. So when you're launching or trying to establish requirements for unified communications, it's important to get feedback from the business units that have a lot of pain points that UC could potentially address."

Yu said that if a directive comes down to just "do unified communications," the IT project leaders should insist on talking to business unit managers. Get them in the room and make them stakeholders, he said.

"We are seeing a lot of cases where projects are starting to be driven directly by business unit," Yu said. "At the beginning, we saw a lot of customers coming in – IT managers – saying, 'Hey, I know I need to deploy this technology. That's what I'm measured against. What should I do now?' We're starting to see questions coming in from the head of sales operations, the head of field services or the head of the contact center. These people are starting to understand what this stuff does because their competitors are doing it or other people in the space are doing things with it. The IT guy becomes more of an enabler."

Segment your users; figure out which ones will be UC superstars

The first step in any needs assessment is the segmentation of users, Yu said. There are certain types of employees who present specific communication and collaboration challenges to the company.

"We always do a segmentation of their customer base first because the thing with UC is that it's a very broad topic with lots of different technologies," he said. "And some are going to be useful for different types of people in the organization. Most organizations aren't monolithic in the way they work."

Yu said 80% of any company's employees can be divided into four general segments. Once that's been done, the task is to identify the unique communications needs of each of those groups. Then you can focus a unified communications deployment on one or more of those groups, demonstrate success, and push it out to larger population, including the final 20% of employees who don't fit into any easily defined segment.

"One of them is always the segment of the population that travels a lot," he said. "The second segment, and we've seen a lot of these in the past year, are teleworkers. The third group might be around collaborative teams that are in multiple locations. For instance, I see a lot of marketing or research and design teams that are global in nature. A unified communications program would focus around how to make those groups collaborate and work together as if they are in the same room."

Click here to continue onto page 2 of this story.

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