Oct
16
2014

Who are you really selling to with UC?

For the past while on this blog, I’ve been writing about out of the box thinking and how taking different approaches can help you make better decisions when investing in UC. In some regards, this is about using unconventional perspectives to help make UC more than just a me-too idea to keep up with the competition. After all, if everyone deploys UC the same way, the vendors may be happy, but you’ll never get a leg up to give this any strategic value for the business.

After all, UC is both new and hard to define, so relying on traditional thinking about technology purchasing puts unnecessary constraints on the process. If anything, UC should be seen as a blue sky opportunity, where bold thinking can take you in bold directions, and that speaks to the transformative results I often talk about in my posts. If that’s your goal, then I hope you’ve been enjoying this series, where the examples I’ve been addressing are intended to get you out of the box to see new possibilities. Otherwise, UC becomes another routine technology decision, and that’s just missing the point completely.

Thinking out of the box for different approaches is hard to do, and most of us aren’t wired that way. I may be trying to push out and expand your comfort zone, but I also recognize we can’t all be original thinkers. So, we can take things down a notch, and instead of being radically different, you can also get good results by basing your decisions on conventional ideas, but with a broader scope of thinking. If this sounds abstract and/or obtuse, let me illustrate with the following example.

Are you buying UC or selling UC?

This is only a trick question if you view it in binary terms. Presuming you’re an IT decision-maker and/or key influencer, you certainly are a buyer when dealing with UC vendors or their channel partners. However, if you go back far enough on this blog, you’ll know that I’ve often written about how IT also has to wear the sales hat, especially if UC is your idea.

In cases where management/owners have decided on their own that thou shalt have UC, then you’re really just following orders. This isn’t the ideal scenario for all kinds of reasons, and no amount of out of the box thinking is going to change that. Your role will be a passive one of vetting various UC offerings and going with the vendor that ultimately fits best with management’s vision.

Of course, you and I both know that their UC vision will probably be pretty flawed and limited, but sometimes you are stuck in a situation where you can only go with the flow and hope for the best. If you survive this – in the wake of their misguided plans – you may get a second chance to present a more grounded vision that management will accept, but you have to hold your tongue and keep the I-told-you-so rebuke to yourself. After all, you have a job to protect – presuming that’s what you want at this point.

If this scenario does unfold – or if you are still driving the vision – then you can push the envelope and raise the UC bar by thinking more broadly about that sales hat. You didn’t sign up to be in sales, but when it comes to bringing new technology into the fold, IT is the expert, and selling management on UC is a given. In cases where your stock is riding high, management may give you carte blanche, but most businesses have reservations about amorphous offerings like UC. IT may have a deep understanding of how it works and the benefits it can deliver, but somehow, you have to get management’s buy-in.

For most forms of new technology, this is sufficient, and from there, you give the vendor the green light and the deployment process begins. UC, however, is more complicated, since you must get end user adoption for any of the benefits to be realized. As you likely know, UC is much more about employee productivity than network efficiency, so employee buy-in is arguably just as important as it is for management.

Selling UC – to end users?

So, how do you do that? The conventional approach won’t work – deploy UC, then tell employees it’s there and assume they’ll figure it out. I’ve written many posts about the steps in between to get their buy-in earlier in the process, and this is where you have to stretch your thinking. From the very beginning, you need to think about how you’re going to sell end users on UC – not the day you turn it up across your LAN.

One way to stretch your thinking is to include end users in the process right from the start. You’ve probably never done that – or even thought about doing it – but on many levels this is how you get their buy-in.  Employees need to feel valued, and this is a great opportunity to do that and make sure their needs are fully understood by UC vendors.

Otherwise, the vendors may just assume their offerings will create magical results, and there’s no reason for that to happen with UC. In short, it’s a simple matter of connecting the dots and realizing that end users may not be the economic buyers, but they hold more power than anyone when it comes to making UC a success. When you look at that way, the idea of selling UC to end users really isn’t such a bad idea.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/who-are-you-really-selling-to-with-uc/

Oct
09
2014

The Case for Making UC Mobile

I’ve been writing about out of the box thinking around UC for some time now, and this theme is only limited by one’s imagination. This type of thinking can take many forms, and that’s the point here. I’m happy to provide a variety of examples to stoke your thinking, but by no means do I have all the answers. My UC research is pretty far-ranging, but it will never be definitive. Hopefully, you will view my analysis as a springboard for other explorations, as I’ll never understand the particular needs of your business the way you do.

Take my last post, for example. The focus there was on making UC fun, which at face value does not sound very business-like. Given how widely-read that post was – and remains – this approach to UC clearly resonates with our readers. That, of course, is the point of this out of the box series. I want to provide accessible examples, but I’d much rather you see this as a provocative call to action, where you take things to another level and make UC truly integral.

When I say truly, by the way, I don’t just mean as a technology solution that plays nice with your current infrastructure. That’s great to have, but I’m reaching for things that are integral to how you do things, how employees become more productive, how teams perform at a higher level, etc. When you roll all of that together, I’m really talking about your culture. Organizational culture gets at the heart – and soul – of how a business functions, and in short, the easier it is for people to communicate, the better they will do their jobs.

How can you not think about mobility?

The concept of workplace culture may be little more than a warm and fuzzy feeling, but you can’t deny there are certain shared values that characterize the nature of your organization. This will often be defined by your “work ethic” or something that reflects personal qualities such as striving for excellence, competitiveness, or even social values such as diversity or sustainability. These cultural markers are easy to recognize, but difficult to manage, and I’d rather focus on a universal value that is technology-based and more within the scope of this blog.

When it comes to technology these days, what is more universal than mobility? While this reality is as plain as day, it’s a pretty recent phenomenon that everyone is struggling to adapt to. Millennial workers have known nothing but mobility, but decision-makers considering UC are typically from an older generation with different points of reference. For the latter, mobility began as a luxury and was 100% about voice. Today, telephony is practically an afterthought for smart phones, and mobility is more like an all-encompassing state of being.

To support this blissful state, many forces had to fall into place – 4G networks, cheap broadband, cool mobile devices, etc. – and all that matters right now is what people have come to expect. The allure – and value – of mobility will only get stronger, and in time will simply become the default mode for how people engage with communications applications. It doesn’t matter whether people are making calls, checking email, doing video chat, sharing files, collaborating on white boards, etc. – their preferred mode will be mobile.

You can choose to see this as an inconvenient truth – after all, mobility takes power away from IT and puts it in the hands of employees – or go with the flow and start thinking in terms of opportunities. To date, UC and mobility have not really gelled – the applications exist, but the devices don’t lend themselves to intensive collaboration sessions.

Conclusion

This shouldn’t lead you to overlook the bigger picture. If your goal is to deploy UC to make employees more productive, it stands to reason they’ll do so when following the path of least resistance. Mobility is increasingly becoming that path, and it’s not a big leap to think of UC in those terms. Where you need out of the box thinking is to show employees how much value UC can have in a mobile environment. UC at the desk top is fairly easy to do, but if you’re in support of the mobile trend, then you have to show employees how well UC works in that environment.

Of course, this brings up the BYOD discussion, and that’s often reason enough to turn away from pushing everything out to mobile devices. That’s an understandable position, but there’s nothing here that the right technology and sensible data management policies can’t solve. Mobile UC is very feasible, and the out of the box thinking comes from looking at the results, and then working backwards for the solution. All too often, technology hurdles curtail thinking ahead to what’s possible, and when you consider the power of mobility alongside the power of UC, it’s hard to imagine a better combination.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/the-case-for-making-uc-mobile/

Sep
25
2014

Where’s the Fun in UC?

For the past few posts, I’ve been exploring examples of out-of-the-box thinking for UC, and hopefully this is triggering new types of dialog for what this might look like inside your organization. UC’s amorphous nature is both a blessing and a curse, but if you buy into its basic premise, I encourage you to view this as a blank canvas that can truly speaks to your needs.

After all, everyone wants improved productivity, and chances are that your interest in UC is coming from management demanding as such. They understand how this can drive competitive advantage, and if that’s the product promise they’re seeing in UC, then UC may well be at the top of your agenda now.

The more clearly the opportunity around UC becomes framed, the more precise the expectations will be. To the extent this is happening in your company, you need a plan to ensure UC delivers. There no doubt will be deployment scenarios where UC expectations are unclear, but that isn’t our focus here. I’m more concerned with situations where the bar is set higher – while the challenges are greater, so are the payoffs, and that’s how you make UC a strategic investment for the business.

So, how do you do that?

The theme of this series is thinking outside the box, and that’s the high level answer to this question. If you take the path of least resistance and just do what the vendor says, you’ll do no better than the mean. You’ll get decent productivity gains, but really no more or no less than your competitors. While the Internet democratizes information by making it more accessible, it also leads to a lot of conformity in how people do things. As such, doing what everyone else does only ensures the status quo, and I’m sure you want more than that.

You probably didn’t sign up for being a breakthrough thinker, but you need a bit of that to really get the most from UC. Regular readers of my column will know that the heart of the issue here is driving adoption among end users.  All vendors can provide perfectly capable UC solutions – there will be varying degrees of technical hurdles along the way, but their offerings are mature enough to enable the productivity gains you’ll be looking for.

As such, instead of focusing on the technology behind UC, I would shift attention to the desired behaviors needed to achieve the desired outcomes. If your employees are trending to a younger demographic, then you need to find ways for UC to resonate with them. Much has been written about the nature of Millennials, and if you’re not following this now, I’m sure you will be soon. This generation has a very different frame of reference for using technology than older generations, and time is certainly on their side.

In this context, thinking outside the box means introducing UC to employees on their terms, not yours. This is a demographic that is comfortable with new technology, and has high expectations about being user-driven and personalized. UC can do all these things, and it’s just a matter of how you present it to them. There is no magic formula to follow, but here are three ideas to consider:

1.  Make it “their UC”  There are many ways for end users to personalize their UC experience, and by showing them how easy this is to do, the more they’ll feel like it’s their UC.  Remember, they don’t need UC to do their job, but you need them to embrace it. You won’t win them over if they feel UC is being imposed, and personalization is a great way to make it feel user-centric. This means you have to loosen the reins a bit and give them more control over their experience, but you may find this easier to do than expected.

2.  Gamify the use of UC  Millennials tend to be avid gamers, so they should be quite receptive to any such efforts. You’ll need some creative energy to do this, and that might involve hiring some 20-something developers, but the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive. Not only do you need end users to adopt UC, but you want that to happen quickly, otherwise management will start second-guessing this decision. Thinking out of the box here means focusing on the outcome, not the process. You don’t need to know how to gamify UC – that’s what developers are for – you need to recognize first if this path is going to produce that outcome.

3.  Make it fun  Ultimately, that’s what I’m getting at in this post. My last post talked about making UC social, and that’s one way to inject some fun into the mix. Gamification is another form of fun, but there are other things you can do that will get people using UC without even realizing it. The key is to focus on things they enjoy doing, but in a way that involves UC applications. This could be along the lines of an Ice Bucket Challenge, where you engage employees across multiple media modes that involve everyone. Remember that Millennials are already using UC-friendly applications in personal settings, and these are often recreational, so they know how to have fun with the same tools you’re trying to get them using at work. You definitely need some creative thinking here, but the effort will almost certainly yield better results than presenting UC as a strictly business platform with no room for fun.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/wheres-the-fun-in-uc/

Sep
18
2014

Getting out of the Box and Making UC Social

As this series on thinking outside the box about UC continues, more ideas come to mind as I look for examples in my research. Of course, there’s nothing wrong in considering UC for all the reasons most businesses adopt – it’s what they know and it’s what gets budget approval from senior management. If this describes your situation, I would encourage you to read a bit further before making any final decisions.

What’s your hurry?

UC can do wonderful things for your business, not to mention enhancing IT’s value to the organization, but there’s never really a right time to deploy. As you may know, UC is a perpetual work in progress – it will never be done, so it doesn’t matter whether you move forward today or next quarter. More importantly, UC isn’t deployed to fix something essential that just broke down. UC introduces new capabilities, but is largely a productivity platform to make existing things better – not necessarily new or different.

As such, if you’re not aiming for transformative results, then you’ll be deploying UC just like everyone else. I’m making a dangerous assumption here in that every situation is unique and that every business wants to stand out. However, I would also contend that most will follow the path of least resistance, especially for something where a hard ROI is difficult to demonstrate.

UC requires a leap of faith, and that generally narrows the window of risk-taking in terms of going beyond table stakes. With this thinking, UC will never provide long-term competitive differentiation, and if that’s needed to seal the deal, you need some out of the box thinking. That’s the focus of my current theme on this blog, and I’ll continue now with another example.

Making UC social

This is easier said than done, but put yourself(ie) in the shoes of a Millennial employee. Observe their behaviors, both around how they communicate and interact with other people. Presuming you are not a Millennial, then reflect back on how you do those things. Now think about who has been developing today’s UC offerings, and is it any wonder why UC has not taken the IT world by storm?

First off, most UC solutions are either telecom-centric, or rooted in that space. After all, UC initially emerged as the successor to the IP PBX, as these vendors saw a declining market in phone systems, and needed something for the next generation. That is hardly the only storyline in UC today, but it speaks to where the lion’s share of the market is coming from.

Secondly, UC is built on conventional communications applications that we rely on to get things done. As with the highly familiar world of telephony, the other core applications –  chat, video, email and conferencing are first nature to everyone. Remember, UC is not about reinventing communication – it’s about making what we already do better.

Having said that, I have long described presence as the secret sauce of UC, as it holds the key to making communications better. Presence is very much an IP-based concept, so it’s new relative to everything else cited above. However, it is highly intuitive and works quietly in the background, posing nominal obstacles to UC adoption.

While all of the above makes for a workable UC offering, there is nothing that brings social media into this virtuous circle. This is understandable, since social media activity largely takes place in personal spaces, beyond IT’s control. Vendors have tried incorporating social media tools into their UC offerings – with Cisco Quad/WebEx Social being a prime example – but none have really succeeded.

This isn’t to say end users don’t want those capabilities – in fact, the opposite is probably true. If UC was being designed today from scratch by Millennials, it’s fair to say it would be unthinkable for social media to not be a core capability. Think about how anxious younger people get when they can’t check their social media updates every five minutes – this is their oxygen, and this is what collaboration means to them.

Implication

You won’t find a social media-centric UC platform any time soon, but that day will come. When Millennials become the decision makers and prime buyers for UC, their sensibilities will demand it. Until that time, you should talk to your younger employees and learn how they think UC can be more social in order to reflect what works best for them – not just personally, but in their jobs and working in teams with co-workers.

Similarly, you need to ask vendors where social media is on their roadmap. A key indicator will be their ecosystem of applications developers and technology partners. UC’s amorphous nature means it is highly adaptable, and if you lean hard enough on them, you should find at least one vendor willing to push the envelope and customize some social elements for your deployment. Again, it’s all about making communications better, and if this tweak works, you’ll probably have a new competitive edge. Isn’t that what thinking outside the box is all about?

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/getting-out-of-the-box-and-making-uc-social/

Sep
11
2014

Federation and out of the Box Thinking with UC

In my last post, I outlined the idea of thinking differently about how you roll UC out in your organization. I stressed the need for an active approach and to take ownership since so much is at stake here. With an IP PBX, you can afford to be passive – everyone knows how to use the phone, and they’re going to use it regardless of how you handle the deployment. Not only that, but there is no upside for IT to go above and beyond – the phone system is first nature and there’s not much value to be added.

UC is another story, and once you view it as an opportunity to do something different, you’ll key in on this “out of the box” theme. Think about this in two ways – first, it’s an opportunity to enable employees to be more productive with something new, and that will serve the business very well. Perhaps just as important, UC also gives IT an opportunity to contribute in a more strategic way and be more involved in making business-level decisions.

You’d be right to say there’s a bit of ego at play here, but it’s more than that. Think about the pressures facing IT today and how hard it is elevate the role beyond one of managing the plumbing. If IT takes the right steps to “own” UC – and if tangible results are achieved – management will view IT more favorably as a driver of change and keeping the company on the leading edge of technology. Now think about what that could mean for getting budget increases, or faster approval for deploying other new technologies.

So, how do you think outside the box? First and foremost, you need to identify where and how UC can add business value. Where can it have an impact beyond just making communications more efficient? Another example is using UC to engage employees in new ways that empower them to adopt higher-order capabilities that can truly drive productivity. I’ve got a few examples to share, and let’s get to the first one for the balance of this post.

Using UC for federation

This can be an abstract concept, but federation offers distinct value in the right situations. In its most simple form, UC creates internal federation by having all employees on a common directory. That’s the starting point for any communications platform, and for UC, the key is to integrate everyone regardless of what IM client they’re using. UC vendors can do this to varying degrees, and the real value comes from doing more than just checking presence or trading chats on the fly. Any IM platform can do that, but you need UC to support real-time multimedia communication, which in turns leads to collaboration via sharing of information across multiple modes.

With that in mind, think about how UC could be used to federate employees with groups from outside your organization. Not only is UC flexible enough to do this in a variety of ways, but it offers up a new role for IT to play, especially as a neutral party to negotiate and manage these connections.

One example would be with select customers your company works very closely with. Perhaps there might be a desire to have ongoing collaboration to develop new products. This could be done just with a specific department or region with your customers to keep the engagement manageable. To some degree, you can do that now with conventional modes – email, phone calls, conference calls, etc.

However, if all parties see a benefit for a tighter environment to support more intense collaboration, the conditions would be right for federation. The key is establishing enough trust to integrate across the various directories, and then ensuring that the UC platform will support all the various networks and endpoint involved. Presuming this can be done, UC now provides a new way of working that benefits everybody.

You can also extend federation across your supply chain and even with industry peers. For the former, think about the efficiencies that can be created with this kind of integration among suppliers and partners. Similarly, there are numerous scenarios where peer level collaboration is needed, and UC would be an ideal solution to tie everyone together. Consider a scenario where new regulations are coming, and all the players need to develop a united response. Or an unforeseen event creates a need that no company can address on its own, and an industry-wide effort is needed. Presuming all the technical hurdles can be addressed, this type of federation offers a powerful use case for UC.

Conclusion

I’m sure you can think of other examples, and the main idea is that federation is one way think outside the box for everyday UC applications. The above scenarios really should serve to start a conversation inside your organization for IT to take UC beyond the expected. This is just one possibility, and I’ll move on to a few others as this series continues.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/federation-and-out-of-the-box-thinking-with-uc/

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