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Think you can’t teach an old business UC tricks?

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UC Unified Communications (UC) fixes fragmented workplace communications, right? But if businesses implement UC and carry on working in pretty much the same way as before (albeit more efficiently), they are probably missing a trick or two.

A UC implementation offers businesses a great opportunity to review the way they work, and think about doing things in a much smarter way. Consider a research team that comprises a mix of working styles, from desk-based analysts, to individuals who are home workers, to staff constantly on the road. Before UC, the logistics in getting the whole team together for a meeting would be headache-inducing. As a result, meetings would probably be limited to once every couple of months, and be used to cover off-key items saved up since the previous meeting. Timely and efficient they would not be! The introduction of UC allows businesses to approach team meetings in a whole new way. Rather than a bi-monthly meeting, the team could ‘meet’ on a weekly basis, or even on demand, via web-conference - something that wouldn’t have been possible before.

The ability to ‘do things differently’ isn’t just limited to general communications and collaboration but also extends to business processes. A simple example to illustrate this is a situation in a hospital where a bed needs to be found for a patient. To deal with this, an administrator will need to contact a number of wards, one after the other until a bed is found. With a UC overlay, rules can be embedded into the process, to enable the administrator to reach out to the different wards in parallel. The result is a more streamlined process, but with the added benefit of reduced overhead. It is easy to imagine this example extended out to other processes in other businesses in other sectors.

When companies put their business case together for UC, they may have already identified some of the potential positive outcomes such as the ones above, and these will provide a good start point. But it shouldn’t stop there. As part of the transitioning process it is important to build on these, by identifying opportunities for improvement in a systematic way, and proactively driving these into the business.

Alongside this, training requirements need to be implemented, and these will vary from business to business. So for example, training for a 10-person business might be handled by informally taking people through things in a company meeting. Where things are more process-oriented, the approach might be very formal and structured. And where there is a company-wide rollout to tens of thousands of users, you might send out instructions via email with crib sheets and computer-based training (CBT) links.

However the training programme is implemented, it should be considered as something that will run over weeks or even months, rather than days, with checkpoints built into it that will allow monitoring of how well it is working.

Of course, it is also useful to proactively consider the downside of UC. The ability of your colleagues to know your every move leaves you open to continual interruption, which will probably make you less productive. Transition presents a good opportunity for a company to draw up a code of conduct with etiquette around contacting people, as well as some sensible rules around calendar management. For example if someone is available from 6pm in the evening, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are free to go on a two-hour conference call. Staff will already be in ‘change mode’ so are more likely to take on board new rules more meticulously.

A lot of this is based on business common sense, but it is worth making people aware proactively, rather than letting them work it out for themselves. It might be useful to consider setting up a ‘community of interest’ where staff can share ideas and experiences. Or to identify a handful of ‘office experts’ that can be on hand to help people with simple problems rather than them needing to contact the helpdesk.

Beware, though, to make proper provision for this. Staff who are formally expected to take on the role of office expert with no allowance against their day job could become resentful. A lot of this will depend on how you frame things with the broader user base.

The trick is not to expect transition to be trouble-free, but to make it smoother, by covering as many bases as possible. As with all new technologies, some people will be more receptive to the introduction of UC than others. Provide for this, and make sure that the implementation is seen as a top-down initiative, with senior management as genuine proponents of UC. This means getting them to actually use it, not just talk about it – eg by starting to organise virtual meetings themselves, and even reaching out to team members on instant messaging, for example.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to get them to talk about it too, in terms of its impact on the business – reduced travel costs, increase in home working etc – on a regular basis. Like most technologies, UC has something of the ‘viral’ about it. Once it starts being used successfully and talked about, it won’t be long before people are wondering how they managed without it. ®

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