How do IT decision makers and pros define unified communications (UC), and who are the real UC decision makers within enterprise organizations? Answers: "Who cares?" and "You may be surprised."
Firstly, based on my interactions with IT decision makers/managers, my opinion is that most do not have time to care about how unified communications is defined, and even if they did, I still contend that they're not interested in an exacting, indisputable definition of unified communications. A universally accepted definition of unified communications isn't what matters to adopters.
Unified communications: What's really important to end users?
I concede that I was as guilty as most media types (editors, writers, analysts and the like) of overvaluing the importance of a precise, consistent definition of unified communications. There was and remains a great deal of confusion about what UC is,
However, I realized early on that the majority of IT managers and decision makers I speak with approach unified communications in a near utilitarian fashion. Quite simply, they want to know what unified communications technologies are available (or will be available) to relieve business process pain points of the workforce they support. They are looking for proven collaboration tools that reduce human latency/increase productivity and sharpen their company's competitive edge.
Another issue that is important to IT managers -- one that is rarely discussed -- is fulfilling the innate ambition to be acknowledged by upper management and peers for a job well done. Procuring the right UC tools and manifesting an unequivocal return on investment (ROI) not only demonstrates the core competencies of an individual, but also spotlights his technical acumen and strategic vision. The weak economy has a silver lining: More people have new responsibilities -- a.k.a., a fast-track opportunity to show off a wider skill set, clinch their current position, increase promotion prospects and bolster their resumes.
Who are the UC decision makers?
Over the past few years, the economy has forced companies to do more with less. Almost every branch on the organizational chart is heavier with additional responsibilities, and inevitably (let's call it gravitational workflow) some of those responsibilities fall to other branches. By and large, IT departments, for example, are being told by upper management: Here's the problem -- find a way to fix it.
Developing a unified communications strategy was formerly based on a consensus among business groups and IT departments. Now, the onus of finding best-fit communication and collaboration solutions falls on IT. Selecting unified communications solutions that have short-term ROI, typically within 12 months, is the new baseline. If a rollout is successful -- excellent; if not, the weight of a failed implementation that was once distributed across business groups and IT now falls squarely on the shoulders of IT managers.
At the recent VoiceCon Orlando conference, I spoke with an enterprise-level IT executive for the healthcare industry who was anxiously trying to pull together a viable short- and long-term unified communications strategy. This obligation had fallen under his purview during the economic recession, but with the recent passage of the healthcare reform bill, he explained, upper management will be buried and will have even less time to be bothered with the details of unified communications rollouts.
In a roundtable discussion at VoiceCon Orlando, a panel of end-user enterprise executives discussed how they approached their respective unified communications strategies and implementations. The session was kicked off by the question: What does UC mean to your organization?
Though all the panelists described what they hoped to achieve with their investment in unified communications in different ways, the core objectives were the same: centralizing or unifying communications on a single platform so users can access everything from a single screen, reduce human latency and incorporate video conferencing into their day-to-day workflow.
When asked who makes the UC decisions within their organizations, each panelist shared a similar game plan. First, they identify the rough patches in the workflow process by listening and surveying what employees want and need to do their jobs better, and then they prioritize those needs and hand the matter to IT to figure out how to make it work.
If there weren't so many inherent organizational challenges deploying unified communications within the various groups that make up IT, this approach to UC deployment (identifying pain points, prioritizing needs, and allowing IT find the best tool or set of tools to fix the problem) could be an effective one. But network, telecom and systems managers/departments don't see eye-to-eye -- and don't have much interest in doing so.
While it's encouraging that unified communications solutions are finding their way into the enterprise based on end-user and business needs, there is still some fine-tuning to be done with the orchestration. Rest assured -- we're getting there.