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Trying the Emperor's news clothes for size

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Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Workshop Delving around the Web recently, I happened upon a very neat analogy in a couple of unrelated instances that really encapsulated exactly what Unified Communications (UC) had the potential to become.

You know how the old fairytale goes, where an emperor is tricked into believing he is wearing exquisite robes far superior to everyone else – so superior that no one else can even see them, they are that good.

Unfortunately for the poor, deluded emperor, of course, he ends up walking around in the buff for all to see, while still believing, until it is rather too late, that he has got something no one else has.

In the same way as the emperor’s new clothes, UC has suffered enormously from over-hype since its inception. Vendors have been guilty of bigging it up and presenting it as a solution that will be mind-bogglingly business-changing. And of course, while UC isn’t guilty of delivering non-existent benefits in the same way as the ‘new clothes’ were little more than thin air, unless it is properly implemented, and made to work in the business, companies might be left wondering what they really got for their money and their pain.

Rather than get caught up in the hype, and let themselves be driven by the vendor agenda, organisations need to define their problems in their own terms, and make sure that UC delivers against this.

This goes beyond dealing with the IT infrastructure and application integration, although these are not to be trivialized, of course, as they are major areas in their own right. It also goes beyond the top-down management endorsement of UC, and accompanying training, although again, these are critical to the success of any implementation. Even if these areas are well executed, the only way to see whether all the good work has paid off is to carry out proactive monitoring around UC, not just in terms of whether the right quality of service metrics are being achieved, and not just how satisfied staff are with the new systems, but also how it is allowing them to do things differently.

Using pre-UC work practices as a benchmark, and carrying out periodic reviews post-implementation, will allow a company to establish whether working practices have changed, and if so, how, and to what extent. On this point, the measurements need to be pretty specific to be meaningful. For example, how much has travel in to head office from remote locations reduced, and is this is line with what was expected. And how much has first call resolution increased by in the call centre? In short, what impact is UC having?

Behavioural changes will probably not be uniform across the business. As with all aspects of technology, some individuals or departments will be much better at taking UC on board than others. Monitoring on an ongoing basis will highlight where and when the company needs to place emphasis on getting things moving.

The question of who should deal with monitoring is an interesting one. Unless ownership is defined and agreed upfront, it could very easily fall through the cracks.

Should the initial UC scoping team pick it up? Or does this fall to the IT team? What is the process for defining the metrics? And how is information generated from monitoring used within the company. These are important questions that need to be addressed very early on.

Some businesses will doubtless continue to be sceptical of UC, and do their level best to avoid implementing it, dismissing it as a solution that really doesn’t need a home. With telephones, email, instant messaging and all manner of other mechanisms already at our fingertips, that work and to be honest, aren’t rocket science to operate, why bother to fix something that’s not broken. Yes, things do function, but the rather inconvenient truth is that communications are becoming increasingly fragmented across different mechanisms. Add to this the changing way that people work, and business processes are executed, and what begins to emerge is a scenario that isn’t working quite as well as it used to. How often, for example, do you manage to reach someone you call first time round, rather than a voicemail, engaged tone or even get no answer. Most likely not very often. And it won’t get any better.

While some may continue to dismiss UC as hype, the likelihood is that, like it or not, it will be on the agenda for most, and sooner rather than later. Fragmented communications aside, we only need to look at the air travel crisis brought on by the volcanic eruption in Iceland recently, and the likely impact it will have on business, to appreciate the value of UC in this context. Given all of this, it is worth thinking through what UC should bring to your business, and just how you will make sure it will happen.

If you’ve implemented UC, have you been able to determine its impact in your business, and if so, what metrics have you used. If not, what problems have you come up against? If you’re getting ready to hit the UC road, how are you planning to measure what it brings to the business? Let us know in the comments area below. ®

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