The "unified" in unified communications (UC) generally implies the integration of disparate applications into a common user interface. It's a nice idea, but according to the Nemertes "2013-14 Enterprise Technology Benchmark," just 39% of companies have a single strategic vendor for UC. And even for those that have aligned with a single vendor, it's rare that all their UC applications -- voice, instant messaging (IM), and audio, video and Web conferencing -- come from the same vendor's products.
We advocate a user-centric approach toward UC: Start with the end user and work back to the data center.
In a related finding, UC success is also lagging. Just 45% of IT leaders interviewed by Nemertes rated their UC implementation as either "successful" or "highly successful," while 28% said they are unsuccessful. The most commonly cited reasons for lack of success were integration challenges and lack of demonstrable business value. Therefore, creating a successful UC deployment plan requires addressing three upfront requirements: Build the right organization, build the right solution and gain buy-in.
Building the right organization
Solving the technical challenges related to UC is easy. Solving the organizational challenges is the hard part. Here's how it tends to break down. Most midsize and large companies have a dedicated messaging group responsible for email, calendars and IM; a telecom group that owns voice; a networking group that owns the underlying LAN and WAN infrastructure; and maybe even a video group responsible for conferencing. Web and audio conferencing are usually purchased from a service provider, either by IT or by lines of business. A growing trend is to also have lines of business increasingly buying their own tools, like file sharing and social collaboration.
The first step toward UC nirvana is the creation of a single team or functional area responsible for aligning these different groups into a single vision, roadmap, architecture, and ultimately, an integrated set of technologies. This means overcoming political and territorial challenges, while also addressing various needs for reliability, security and governance.
Building the right solution
Implementing the "right" solution doesn't typically mean you have to rip and replace existing applications and infrastructure. Most often it means integrating what you have today as you plan for tomorrow. We advocate a user-centric approach toward UC: Start with the end user and work back to the data center. This means gaining a solid understanding of how users live in the world of their current collaboration environment. Are they spending most of their time in email, in a business process application, in IM, a shared workspace, at their desks or on mobile devices? Do they need or want video? Where are they physically located? What types of collaboration capabilities do they need? Who do they need to collaborate with internally and externally?
Learn more about developing a UC deployment plan
Best practices for migrating to UC
Building a UC strategy with minimal service disruption
Mixing different services in a UC deployment
Once you understand the various requirements for different types of users, you can craft a solution that integrates UC into their current operating environments, rather than forcing employees into new and unfamiliar interfaces they will likely reject.
Getting buy-in is typically the hardest area for IT -- even harder than building the right organization. Success here comes from marketing new UC capabilities to end users so they realize the added value of what IT is providing. Value propositions could include faster access to information or experts, shorter time to market, less travel, more productive meetings or a better working experience for distributed workgroups. All too often end users want collaboration capabilities that already exist -- they just don't know about them.
In the end, UC success isn't solely about deploying a new technology. The real success comes from successful integration of what you have today to deliver real value to your organization as you plan for tomorrow.