Unify your communications and live happily ever after

By Adrian Thirkill, Easynet UK MD

What’s not to love about unified communications? Read any article on it and the words invoke a warm fuzziness rarely experienced in the world of telecoms: cohesiveness, sharing, working together and collaboration.

Research shows that the number of businesses rolling out a unified communications platform is accelerating at a rate of knots. Indeed ABI Research forecast that the global market for unified communications will reach $2.3 billion by 2016.

Interest in the cloud is helping: smart CIOs are carefully selecting which applications to move outside their own IT estate, and have discovered that unified communications and the cloud are a match made in heaven. A unified communications platform hosted in the cloud has the advantages of agility, the ability to scale up and down and the flexibility to add new features and functionality in line with future business changes.

Mobile workforces are also creating the need for a unified communications platform, and this is only going to increase in the future as businesses see the benefits of flexible working, and become compliant with new legal requirements.

What concerns me about rolling out UC across a business, though, is what happens once the service provider or integrator has delivered the platform.

They would have worked closely with the IT manager or CIO to ensure the solution is carefully designed, robust and futureproof. They would have toiled day and night to test the platform. New systems, processes and applications will have been meticulously planned and moved to the new platform, whilst redundant systems removed.

But then what? This is where it gets interesting: absolutely critical to the success of a UC solution is the guidance your business receives once everything is in place.

This isn’t Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – there should be no graceful riding off into the sunset. Your ROI, and the productivity of your business, depends on your staff actually using the converged voice, video, data and mobile solutions, and your service provider has a crucial role to play here.

Making sure people actually use – and love – the new platform should be as important to your vendor as it is to your organisation. No-one wants to return to the days of video equipment gathering dust in meeting rooms as staff don’t know how to use it (and don’t have time to learn).

During the selection process for your UC partner, place this high on the agenda. What internal marketing support can they offer you – can they help you raise awareness of your new UC platform throughout your organisation? Will they spend some time running a few training sessions for your staff or will they leave you to do that yourself? Handing you a few leaflets is no good.

Ensure your people are at the centre of your UC strategy at the earliest design stage, and not just in terms of collective productivity figures or predicted cost savings from reduced travel.

Consider a taskforce of specially trained UC champions drawn from different disciplines across your organisation. Ask them to identify how different departments communicate, and how they like to work. Do they bring tablets to work which would need to be integrated into your UC strategy? Share this information with your provider and incorporate the results into your solution design.

Think about how easy is it for your staff to use in practice. No-one wants technology to distract or inhibit them from doing their job.

Using a new system is a learning curve but simplicity should be at the core of every good UC platform. It should integrate seamlessly, not just in terms of technology but into your employees’ working lives. Make sure help is at hand – if your sales directors are in the middle of presenting the latest forecast to the US head office via videoconference and a screen disappears, do they hastily reschedule or is the service supported by a concierge?

Work closely with your vendor, place your staff at the heart of your UC strategy and happily ever after will become a reality.

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