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Measuring the business benefits of unified communications

Workflow analytics, such as finding correlations between collaboration capabilities and product development efficiency, can pinpoint the business benefits of unified communications.

Unified communications success is declining -- so say UC leaders who participated in the Nemertes Research 2015-16...

Unified Communications and Collaboration Benchmark.

When asked to rate the overall success of their UC efforts, just 43% of respondents had a positive view -- that's down from last year when 61% rated their efforts as successful. This year, the remaining respondents felt success was neutral (32%) or they were unsuccessful (24%). For its report, Nemertes interviewed 50 senior-level IT leaders representing 45 companies, mostly with 2,500 employees or more.

When we asked participants to tell us the story behind their ratings, those with lower ratings of success primarily pointed to low employee utilization of their technology investments and the lack of measurable business benefits of unified communications.

Nearly half (46%) track employee usage as their primary metric for measuring success. Another 22% conduct user surveys to gain employee feedback into how UC tools are helping workers perform tasks. Just 10% focus on application performance metrics, such as trouble tickets and network-related issues.

And very few respondents look at cost metrics, such as, "Did I save money? Does my spending align with my budget?"

IT needs to rethink the benefits of unified communications

What this means is those responsible for rolling out UC applications aren't seeing sufficient uptake in the services they are delivering to affect positive business change. Or they aren't able to measure the business benefits of unified communications investments, even in environments where utilization of applications is high.

Why the disconnect? Largely because IT leaders tell us they are still too focused on operational metrics, such as mean time to repair, uptime and reported voice or video quality issues.

This governing philosophy, an extension of their approach to managing networks and data centers, means IT leaders aren't looking at how deploying emerging collaboration applications can affect positive change on the organization. They aren't measuring project times before and after UC deployments; correlation of individual or team use of collaboration tools; and performance metrics like customer satisfaction, sales generation or inventory turnover. They aren't driven to push utilization of bandwidth-intensive video conferencing for fear of the network impact of widespread use, and the potential cost of having to add bandwidth or network optimization devices.

In effect, the root of the problem is that IT leaders responsible for the benefits of unified communications and collaboration are still managing their services as commodities -- such as dial tone and network access -- and not as services that can help business goals become more agile, enable distributed work, improve customer and partner relationships, and deliver new services more rapidly to market.

This paradigm is rapidly changing due to a number of factors:

  • The move to IT as a service models means IT must demonstrate the value it brings to the organization for the cost of its operations.
  • UC applications are increasingly being integrated into other business applications rather than operating as standalone clients on the desktop or mobile device. So, for example, when UC enables a salesperson to make calls from within the customer relationship management system, or allows a process control manager to chat with field engineers in real time from within their operational management dashboard, UC becomes more embedded into the overall operations of the business and not a standalone app for making calls, conducting chats or sharing screen content.
  • Vendors are increasingly enabling UC analytics within their products that allow not just IT, but also line-of-business managers to see the real-time impact of UC capabilities. Some examples include correlating employee use of instant messaging and video chat with sales performance; or showing how those who are most engaged with their co-workers through social tools exceed the performance metrics of those who do not engage; or measuring product development cycles and correlating change with the rollout of new capabilities, such as team chat, virtual whiteboards or video sharing.

Ultimately, achieving UC success means first identifying and establishing the business metrics that can be improved via investment in better collaboration capabilities. Then, identify roles, personas and processes that can benefit most in the shortest period of time. Finally, change the definition of success away from network and application performance-centric goals to business-centric ones.

About the author
Irwin Lazar is vice president and service director at Nemertes Research.

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