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The Technology Needs Assessment, continued

Page 2: 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 is the second part of our story, Success with unified communications: The technology needs assessment

Get out and talk to people

"If I were to do a needs assessment, I would go around to the different business units and ask them about certain requirements they have," Herrell said. "Are there any areas where they have difficulty communicating with others in their teams? If you're supporting remote workers, do they have difficulty finding each other and feeling connected? Are employees not aware of where their other team members are? Does it take up to a whole business day to get a team together for an internal conference call?"

She said the needs assessment team can use this opportunity to identify some tactical opportunities that could earn a unified communications deployment quick payback opportunities. Expense reduction is a big one that gets touted by video conferencing and telepresence vendors. They argue that high-quality video communications can reduce the need for face-to-face meetings, which can cut down on travel expenses. There are other areas where expense and costs can be driven down.

Herrell pointed to conference call expenses. A company could stop using a service provider for internal conference calls and run them on a new IP telephony platform. Training costs could be reduced with desktop unified communications as well. The training could be cheaper, and productivity lost to traveling to a local offsite training program would be regained.

Interviews with stakeholders are more important and effective than a survey, according to Yu, although his organization will do both with customers.

"We'll put out surveys, but usually we start with deep-dive interviews," he said. "We always start by interviewing, just so we can get a basic feeling for what they would like. It has to start with that. Once we get it, we usually custom build a survey just to test our hypothesis. But I would say the deep-dive interviews really set the stage."

Yu said the interviews emphasize the importance of segmentation of end users. If the assessment team segments users properly, it need only interview a few key representatives of each segment.

Interviews are better than surveys when it comes to talking to users, Herrell said, especially if the unified communications project team wants to sell its project to a budget director.

"The problem with unified communications is [that], many times, people are trying to sell the company on a concept," she said. "If you do a survey, then you go into the boss's office and say, 'We really need this new technology, and it's going to cost this much,' the boss will say, 'Not this year, there's no budget.'"

But if the unified communications project team can go into the budget director's office and talk about all the conversations they have had with the company's department heads, that director will listen. Herrell said project leaders can talk about various business processes in a company that are being held back because employees don't have effective communications and collaboration tools. Then the team can present the needs assessment as a solution to real business problems rather than a science project that some survey respondents liked.

Focus on business processes, not worker productivity

Once you have segmented the population of a company, you can start identifying key business processes performed by those groups.

"There are always business processes, and most of them will be influenced by communications," Yu said. "When you find those processes, you can determine ahead of time what you want to do to change them. It always comes down to [whether] you want some metrics of change to measure against. You have to change a business process. Then it becomes a little less like a technology process and more a change initiative enabled by technology."

Herrell said the assessment team should work with stakeholders to identify key business processes and find out what obstacles there are to getting that business process done.

"You can say individual employees will be productive and waste less time, but that is not how you go about justifying UC," she said. "You need to relate it to overriding business processes, which is something like a sales cycle. Are sales getting closed? Are they getting processed through the system? In service, is the company responding to customers better? In manufacturing, it's: Are products getting out the door fast enough? You need to relate how UC will promote that."

"We worked with a pharmaceutical company and found that they have a very high churn rate for their sales force," Yu said. "Since they're out in the field all day long, the sales reps usually gave out their cell phone numbers to customers, and then they would basically steal or confuse those customers when they leave and go to another company. That's a very specific problem that you have to dig deep to uncover. We found we could solve that process with something that was very simple technically. Give each of them a single phone number, and that number will belong to the Northeast sales rep, for instance. And it's always the same number. When you call them, it rings whatever phone they want it to. Most UC vendors can do something like that. It's a very simple solution that will increase customer satisfaction, increase availability and increase the speed and number of orders."

Everyone likes UC

On the surface, it seems like a slam dunk to deploy unified communications. It's a hot technology that everyone loves.

"People who used unified communications don't ever want to give it up," Herrell said. "People say it's so much better than what they had."

This is an easy trap, she said. Happy workers are not a business case. The IT department might be able to get money for a pilot project that way, but wider deployments won't be easier to justify unless the project team can offer measurable results.

"The consequence of not doing a needs assessment is that it gets stuck," Herrell said. "People roll it out to a small group, and that group spreads the word to other groups, and it can catch on. I think UC is going to eventually be pervasive, and you will not even have this discussion because people will just be using these tools more effectively. But in the earlier stages of this, you have to go around and make a case for it and show the business need for it. There was a day when we didn't have voicemail. People used to leave pink message slips everywhere. People today say that's not the way to leave a message. But at the time, everyone thought that was the way you left a message. Those messages would get lost, and people wouldn't communicate."

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