Jul
07
2014

Top 10 Clues You Might Need Unified Communications

This list is in the spirit of “you might be XYZ if….”, and based on what I see in the market, you should recognize the clues pretty quickly. Some signs will be easier to spot than others, and depends largely on how broad a view you take across your organization and beyond.

A conventional IT perspective will be network-centric, which is really too narrow to properly assess the need for UC. Conversely, an IP-based view will take a wider range of stakeholders into account, which is more aligned with the realities of UC. To illustrate, consider the following list of clues.

1.  Nobody is using their desk phones

There are many reasons this could be happening, and even if you just observe employee behavior, this clue will be easy to pick up. The desk phone may still have utility, but you may notice that it’s not ringing like it used to – yet employees seem to be productive. That’s a sure sign they’re finding other ways to communicate, but you’re not sure of what, why or how.

2.  Voicemail boxes are full and/or not getting cleared out

This is something you can definitely monitor, and reinforces the above trend. If those boxes are filling up, that means people are wasting time trying to get in touch, and that’s particularly worrisome when those are customers calling. When messages aren’t getting cleared, you’ve got a bigger problem which points to the need for UC. Aside from the wasted time, this likely means employees don’t even bother listening to messages since they’ve since found other/better ways of getting in touch.

3.  Employees relying on mobile devices for everything

This needs little explanation, and all businesses are trying to cope with the shift to mobility. When this becomes a BYOD situation, IT has to concede some network control to keep employees happy. After all, when businesses expect high availability from employees, BYOD is one way to make this a fair trade. However, if employees have free reign here, mobility may not be doing the business any favors. In that case, UC may be your best move to re-gain some of that lost control.

4.  Email messages are getting shorter

You may not have visibility on a personal level, but IT will have its share of email dialog with employees. If email messages are generally getter shorter – or less frequent – this may reflect new habits for text-based communication coming from messaging and social media. This clue is on the subtle side, but may tell you that employees are relying more on these short-form modes, which tend to reside outside your everyday realm – but well within the UC envelope.

5.  You have no idea what employees are doing online

This is an extension of the above clues, and speaks loudly on its own. IT has been losing control over how employees consume network resources for some time, and this will only continue with BYOD and WiFi. There are now many paths for employees to work off-net, especially when home-based or on the road, and decentralization remains a growing trend. Tech-savvy consumers know how to access all types of applications on demand, many of which have utility at work and are out of scope for IT. When deployed effectively, UC mitigates this problem and helps IT to better manage the network.

6.  Employees know what UC is

This may not seem intuitive, but remember, UC is a vendor-coined term, targeted at IT, not end users. While this is the norm for technology, UC is different since success depends on end user adoption. Most tech offerings are meant for and used by IT, and are generally transparent to end users. If employees start talking about UC, they definitely know what it is, making the time right for deployment. You may be coming to them after the fact, but if they’re ready for it, your chances of quick adoption will be pretty good.

7.  Management is asking about UC

Getting clues from the bottom-up is one thing, but the urgency will be even greater when it’s top-down. In fact, this will probably be IT’s strongest clue, and your job security may well depend on it. Hopefully, if management brings UC up, you’ve already been researching it and won’t be caught off-guard. In that case, you could be opportunistic and make them feel it was their idea – which could serve IT well if the deployment is effective. If you’re the last to hear about UC, however, it might be time to do something else.

8.  Customer satisfaction is declining

This may be a difficult link to establish, but ineffective communication will certainly drive such a result. Not all companies that measure customer satisfaction have contact centers, so this problem could just as well be coming from anywhere in your organization. You may need to be creative here, but if IT can identify chronic problems in this flow of communications, it’s quite likely that UC can reverse the trend.

9.  Company is spending a fortune on conferencing

By now, you’ve probably realized some nice cost savings with VoIP, but you may still be using conventional conferencing services. If that spending has been going up or staying high, this is an ideal point of entry for the UC discussion. Chances are you’re spending more than needed on conferencing, and you probably don’t have a way to assess how productive these calls actually are. Whatever you’re doing now, UC should absolutely help employees get more done on conference calls, plus at a lower cost.

10.  UC vendors have been saying these things all along

This is the “I told you so” moment, where vendor messaging about UC sounds less like a sales pitch and more like a thoughtful solution to problems you didn’t fully understand. Any and all of the above clues should take you to that conclusion, but until now you just weren’t ready to listen. After all, UC doesn’t address a tangible, glaring problem, and vendors have struggled with this all along. UC’s value proposition is difficult to articulate, but when you “get it”, the benefits are obvious. I’m not telling you to run out and buy the first UC offering you come across, but rather to say that vendors may actually understand where these technologies bring business value better than you, and that the time is now right to move forward.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/top-10-clues-you-might-need-unified-communications/

Jun
27
2014

More Things that will Change with Unified Communications

In my last post, I introduced the theme of lists, with the first one being 10 things that will change with UC. My plan was to cover all 10 in one post, but it quickly became apparent that wasn’t a good idea, so I addressed half the list, and now I’ll get to the remaining five. It wouldn’t be a stretch to dedicate a separate post for each item, but that will take a long time for readers to digest, and by then there will be new things to add to that list. Such is the nature of UC, so for now, let’s go with a short and sweet analysis over these two posts.

6.  Need to actively manage your UC solution

This is another aspect of how IT’s role will change. Unlike standalone applications such as VoIP, UC will need attention, especially once it’s deployed. Once employees become native with UC, there won’t be much hand-holding needed, but that’s a best-case scenario. First off, not all employees are created equal when it comes to technology. UC won’t be of much value if your performance baseline is set to the LCD – lowest common denominator – of end user, so it’s important you set the adoption bar as high as possible.

Second is the fact that some employees are actually using UC right now – they just don’t know it. Many of UC’s benefits can be achieved using what you have today, but only with your tech-savvy end users. Furthermore, they may be getting the desired collaboration results, but nobody is calling it UC. A key part of actively managing UC is to educate employees about the concept – which is fairly abstract, so you can’t just assume they’ll figure this out on their own.

7.  End users should find teamwork easier

The more hands-on IT can be with UC, the better your results on all fronts.  Part of IT’s role is to ensure the technology works as intended, but another role is to educate and sell end users on the collective virtues of UC. They don’t need your help for improving personal productivity, especially if this is part of their performance evaluation. Group-level productivity is more of a gray zone, but teamwork is gaining traction as a core competency, and this is where UC pays off best.

Presuming UC is effectively rolled out, end users will notice the improvements right away. There’s no harm in IT helping to set that expectation, and this is where vendors can add value by providing resources to show the various ways UC enhances collaboration – and that you can share with employees. A well-tuned UC platform will make collaboration easier than ever before, as end users discover how the traditional barriers of time and space are minimized.

8.  Less wasted time trying to communicate

Aside from improved teamwork, UC will change the productivity equation by cutting down on wasted time. If call center performance metrics were applied to all employees, you would likely discover a massive sinkhole of lost time due to ineffective communications. Not only are the applications conducive to failure, but there are rarely processes in place to help employees develop better practices to manage these problems. Think about how many calls go to voicemail, how so much email flow is overkill, how difficult it is to set up and run a conference call, etc. All of these everyday activities add up, and by applying even crude costs based on pay scales, the business case for UC would be very clear. Even if employees used UC in a limited way, using presence across a few communications modes would cut down on this waste in no time.

9.  Millennial employees will be happier

This speaks to a subset of your company, but over time, this will become the norm across the board. Considerations for Millennials go beyond UC, and aligning business practices with their skill set may be the biggest success factor long-term. The degree of current alignment varies by type of business, but it’s essential to understand this demographic. Being digital natives, their adaptability for technology innovation is rapid, and often ahead of the pace a business can actually introduce it.

While UC may be new to IT and management, Millennials will find the underlying concept intuitive, making them the perfect early adopters. Not only will they find UC easy to grasp, but it will often be exactly the solution they’ve been looking for. I’ve often said that employees didn’t ask for UC, and that’s why IT needs to sell it as much as deploy it. Millennials may well be the exception, and you should expect them to be happier once UC gets into their hands.

10.  IT’s future will become clearer

Last but not least, you should expect UC to have an impact on the bigger picture for IT. On the plus side, if UC delivers business-level benefits, management will view IT as being more of a strategic player. This could be a big step up, and if so, IT can expect more funding for innovation projects, and an opportunity to drive the business overall.

Conversely, a sub-par UC experience could relegate IT to being a steward of the network with little involvement in broader business decisions. Even worse, as cited in the last post, this could also lead management to push UC into the cloud where the odds of success are viewed as being greater. This may well accelerate a shift to outsourcing more IT functions and paring down this resource to the bare minimum.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/more-things-that-will-change-with-unified-communications/

Jun
18
2014

Top 10 Things that will Change with Unified Communications

Time to shift gears, and as we ease into summer, our inclination is to think less intensely about things and enjoy the world around us. I count myself in that camp, and to lighten things up a bit, I’m starting a new series now on “top 10 lists” that you can quickly digest and still stay current with the ever-changing world of UC.

So, let’s start off with this basic theme – 10 things that will change with UC. There is a lot of ground to cover here, and I’ll present the first five in this post and round out the list next week.

1.  Focus will shift from communications to productivity

When you last bought a phone system, it was pretty much for telephony – basic communication for everyone. Businesses have long viewed legacy phone systems this way, and that thinking can be hard to change. UC is often a linear step up from a phone system, but the buying rationale will not be so simple. The ROI for UC is difficult to pin down, and productivity often becomes the lynchpin around the buying decision. With UC, you’re not buying a phone system – it’s a communications platform, and that opens up new possibilities for driving productivity and enabling collaboration across the business – rather than just making it easier for employees to make phone calls to each other.

2.  IT will have more direct involvement with employees

This change may be more challenging than it looks, as it will entail a new role for IT. With telephony – and many applications used across the business – IT usually just rolls it out and end users are largely on their own to use them. IT cannot afford to be so passive with UC, as the business case depends on widespread end user adoption. Unlike telephony, UC is not a physical product that is intuitive to use. Some employees will figure it out right away, but many will need guidance, and much of that task will fall to IT. This is an important change, not just because UC is new, but also because most UC applications are already being used by employees, but in a standalone fashion. UC only adds value when you can get them to do these things under a common, integrated umbrella. This is a subtle but important shift that will not be obvious to end users, and IT is really in the best position to ensure it happens.

3.  End users may shift away entirely from their desk phones

The extent of this change depends on many factors, but don’t be surprised to see such an outcome. Mobility is clearly becoming the mode of choice, and eventually many businesses will go this way entirely. If your current phone system is adequate but not great, UC will hasten this shift by making the mobile environment as good as or likely better than the desk phone. Once end users find a better way to do things, they rarely go back unless the new option is taken away. Aside from mobility, UC yields the broadest set of benefits from the desktop, and with many PC-based options for voice, end users will be less likely to use their desk phones once fully engaged with UC on a PC screen.

4.  Growing pressure to use the cloud

You may well get this from your UC vendor and/or channel partner, and it won’t matter if you’re staying premise-based or going halfway with a hybrid deployment. On the seller’s side of the equation, most players cannot move fast enough to the cloud, and it won’t be long before your telco could just as likely be your UC provider. They all have their reasons for becoming fully cloud-based, but they can’t get there until their customers are converted. These pressures will be a real test if you’re not yet sold on the cloud for UC, and to counter that you’ll need to do your homework to defend this position. This also means you should be prepared to find other vendors if they won’t cater to your preferences.

5.  Higher expectations from management

If IT has been the driver for UC, then management has been sold on the value proposition. Since UC will be new in most cases, that means they’ll have a difficult time determining if you’ve made a good decision. This could present a new challenge for IT, and to navigate the early stages of deployment when there will be a lot of questions, you’ll need to both set and manage a clear set of expectations. Management will be looking for productivity gains, and that’s a taller order than tracking ROI metrics for a phone system. Another scenario would be where management is the driver for UC, in which case IT will be under even more pressure since they’re not the ones setting the expectations.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/top-10-things-that-will-change-with-unified-communications/

Jun
13
2014

Two Things Not to Expect with Hosted UC

If you follow my writing either here or elsewhere, you’ll know that I often present two sides of the coin in my thought leadership. Objectivity and balance are hallmarks of being an analyst, and while I’m not shy about taking a clear position, you need this for credibility. It’s easy to take a contrary position with a selective point of view, but you can only fool some of the people some of the time.

I’m not here to fool anybody, and my stock value is based on considering the big picture rather than honing in on a narrow slice of the pie. My previous post in this series set the table for this broader perspective by outlining three things you should expect with hosted UC.

With three viable deployment paths to choose from – premise-based, cloud-based and hybrid – you owe it to all stakeholders inside your company to make the right decision. Now that you know what to expect, it’s time to look at the converse – what not to expect with hosted UC.

1.  Don’t expect this will be easy

Your thinking on this will depend on what UC vendors are telling you, as well as what you actually believe. With cloud being new for communications applications, there is no textbook plan that works for everyone. This is especially true with UC, where the value is built around supporting real-time modes, something that gets harder to do the further removed the solution is from where the end users are.

Add to this the fact that legacy telephony has been so reliable for so long and is relatively trouble-free. This is the gold standard set by TDM, and remains the bar against which all other real time applications are measured.

Just because hosted UC is easy for the vendor to provide, doesn’t mean it will be easy to deploy in your network.  Since the solution is largely in their hands, you are very dependent on them to have the right competence, and this can be a dangerous assumption. They may have a great track record with premise-based solutions, as this is the DNA for most UC vendors. However, the cloud model will be new for them, and whether deploying directly or via a channel partner, this expertise is in short supply.

If this doesn’t inspire confidence, you can always consider UC vendors that are cloud-based by nature. This is a new breed of player, and while hosted solutions are their forte, they lack the communications-based pedigree of the established UC vendors. Some will be small and possibly under-capitalized, so there are different risks to consider here.

Others, however, will be as big if not bigger than the familiar vendors, and for them UC is an extension of other things they’re already doing with enterprises. This could be the safest path of all, but requires a leap of faith that they can provide a UC solution that is truly right for your business.

2.  Don’t expect this will be cheaper

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but this is an important scenario to be prepared for. On paper, the cloud has a lot of economic attractions. Off the top, the burden shifts from Capex to Opex, making UC viable to businesses with constrained IT budgets. Furthermore, depending on how far you go with the cloud, you’ll have a limited financial outlay for hardware-based elements needed such as phones, media gateways and maybe session border controllers. If you don’t have unconditional buy-in from management, this will probably be the way to go.

The positive financial impact will be felt immediately, especially if you have already researched the investment needed for a premise-based solution. In that regard, cloud UC gives you the best of both worlds – IT gets the solution it wants, and management gets it at a cost they can support.

All of this is good, but UC isn’t free. Cloud may be less initially than premise-based, so the upfront savings really only come if you’re switching from premise-based UC to hosted. The expectation of cost savings may come from your VoIP experience, where you are basically going from like-to-like. UC, however, has no predecessor, so it’s not fair to apply that logic here.

Your initial outlay will certainly be less than premise-based UC, but that can provide a false sense of security. Over time, leasing is always more costly than buying, but hosted UC hasn’t been around long enough for us to know when those cost curves reverse course. As UC becomes more entrenched, the hosted model will deliver economic benefits, especially in terms of the IT resources needed to support it. Furthermore, cloud costs will likely decline as data centers scale to support booming demand.

Conversely, as UC matures, new applications will be added, and deeper integration with your business applications is inevitable. Hosted UC vendors will become endlessly inventive to create new revenue streams by making their platforms as mission-critical as possible. Over time, your IT expertise will likely atrophy, making you ever-more dependent on your cloud UC vendor. In this regard, there is a hidden price to be paid, and you need to be prepared for that.

Of course, this becomes a non-issue if you can leverage the power of the cloud to deliver new benefits that drive business growth. This is no different than any other risk-reward scenario, and if you embrace the cloud with this outcome in mind, cost will really be a non-issue.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/two-things-not-to-expect-with-hosted-uc/

Jun
05
2014

Three Things to Expect with Hosted UC

Over the past few posts, I’ve been examining the rationale for deploying cloud-based UC. Whether you call it hosted or managed or cloud, this is becoming the model of choice for any and all business applications. This model has been widely used for years by IT, but communications applications are quite new. As such, there’s a need to be asking some basic questions about the cloud when it comes to UC.

I’ve already addressed some of those questions, and in this post, I’m going to extend the analysis by citing three things to expect with hosted UC. As you’ll see, this move is more than simply adopting new technology in a new way – although there’s nothing simple about UC, but that’s another conversation.

Expectation #1 – greater flexibility

You will likely expect that going in, but you may not appreciate what this really means until after the fact. Even if you’ve already experienced this with cloud-based applications like Salesforce.com, UC is more central to everyday operations. When deployed effectively, UC touches everyone, especially once you get them all using the same interface across their devices.

This is where the cloud earns its keep, and the more dynamic your environment, the gladder you’ll be for taking this path. Some workplaces are stable in terms of headcount and day-to-day communications needs, but that’s not the norm. For companies in growth mode, the cloud is ideal for scaling UC as you expand – regardless of where employees are located. This capability also aligns nicely in cases where businesses are trying to grow cost-effectively by decentralizing operations. Cloud-based UC makes it easy for home-based or remote workers to access the same tools as their office-based co-workers.

The same benefit holds for businesses with cyclical or seasonal swings in demand. These peaks put undue stress on the network, and in the legacy world this means over-provisioning capacity at great expense. This problem goes away with the cloud, as its elastic nature means you can always right-size the network to provide as much UC horsepower as needed – no more or no less.

Building on this, consider the fact that as a product, UC will never be finished. Unlike a purpose-built phone system, UC is a platform that supports an ever-evolving suite of communications applications, and also integrates with an ever-expanding set of business applications. With the cloud, you don’t have to worry about how to possibly keep up with all these changes. As such, you should expect this to not be an issue when deploying UC via the cloud.

Expectation #2 – IT’s role will change

You may not be thinking this way yet, but your role will change with the cloud. If you stick with a premise-based UC plan, the impact on IT will be little more than an extension of upgrading the phone system. With the cloud, maintaining that comfortable status quo will prove difficult, if not impossible.

Depending on where IT ranks on the depth chart inside your company, this change could be drastic or even fatal for the future. By going to the cloud, IT becomes absolved from many roles that would be needed for a premise-based solution. In some cases, this is simply the right thing to do if the in-house expertise isn’t sufficient to support UC. IT budgets aren’t generally growing, especially for infrastructure projects, so it’s not likely an option to get the funding required to ramp up the team for premise-based UC.

This could also be reflective of a bigger trend in your company where outsourcing is becoming a mantra for cost reduction. If so, IT’s role will most definitely change or even come close to being phased out. This wouldn’t be happening if IT was innovating and finding new ways to add value, so cloud-based UC may be a serious challenge to your future.

At minimum, IT will need to think about new roles, both internal and external. With cloud, IT needs a different type of relationship with both the UC vendor and service provider. Your budgets will shift from Capex to Opex, meaning that IT’s focus will be on ensuring that UC applications are optimized for your network rather than the other way around. Internally, you will have to develop new competencies, namely around driving end user adoption, along with demonstrating the value of cloud UC to management in terms they understand.

Expectation #3 – the jury will remain out on cloud UC

Finally, you should expect that all of this will unfold with a fair bit of uncertainty. The mysteries of the cloud will not be solved any time soon, and the track record is too short to reliably ascertain its TCO. Being optimistic, there will likely be more successes than flops, but everyone is climbing the same learning curve.

As such, you will encounter both doubters and believers of the cloud all across the UC value chain, so good judgment will have to carry the day. Management will be looking to IT for an informed recommendation, so it’s very much in your interest to be prepared. This is especially important in cases where management has bought into the cloud – or rejected it – for reasons you may not agree with. If their thinking is misguided, it all falls on you to refute this with a better argument. Your future may depend on it, so don’t underestimate the realities of making decisions on somewhat shaky ground.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/three-things-to-expect-with-hosted-uc/

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