What to do with UC when Employees are Laggards

If you were a teacher, which would you rather have – a class full of slow learners, or high achievers? Each group learns very differently, and conventional wisdom would say that each requires a distinct approach to teaching. There’s a lot of truth in that, but for some teachers, the opposite is the right answer. In other words, they would teach each group exactly the same way, with only a few nuances specific to each. Both scenarios can produce great results in the right hands, and it all comes down to the relationship teachers cultivate with their students.

You might dismiss these ideas since reality is never like this – classrooms almost always have a mix of learners, and teachers no doubt are endlessly challenged to cover all the bases. That probably describes your environment in terms what to do with UC, so that’s the level we have to work at. I’m sure there are times when you wish all your employees were Millennials and others when they were just old-school, but it’s more likely you’re surrounded by both.

This is perhaps the biggest thing that UC vendors did not take into account early on, and it’s the basis for many of their challenges to drive market adoption. For the foreseeable future, the workplace will have an evolving mix of digital natives and digital immigrants, and UC has to somehow resonate with both groups. The early UC developers were very much from the analog world, and it’s fair to say their offerings reflected that era. Millennials were not yet the force they are today, and in a few short years their rise has created a different kind of end user that UC vendors weren’t really ready for.

They’ve been scrambling ever since to figure that out, and over the next few years, that gap will close for two reasons. First, Millennials will soon become the majority of the workforce, at which point they will be driving the market more so than the older generations who are leaving the ranks by attrition. Second, Millennials will also become the drivers in the vendor community, making tomorrow’s UC very much of the present. They will move on from legacy applications such as email, telephony, fax, etc., and make UC resonate on a deeper level than what most employees experience today.

What about right now?

Exactly. The above crystal ball exercise tells you what’s coming, but what to do when most of your employees are basically technology laggards? If your company is pretty much all fresh-faced under-30s, there’s no need to read further unless you care to see how everyone else still struggles with the basics.

Most of the companies I come across in my research definitely fit this mold, and while they embrace UC for all the right reasons, they face an uphill struggle in getting the desired results. The do-nothing approach outlined in my recent posts will be risky for this audience, especially if the ROI bar has been set high for UC. They will only self-discover features and applications that fit in their comfort zone, and that may not be enough.

Think back to the student/teacher dynamic above. With this audience, you have to let the learning come from them, from which point you can do some gentle hand-holding to bring them along to the next level. How do you do this? Well, if you are seriously invested making UC a success, you have to be hands-on with employees and provide open channels of communication. Basically, you want them to share their learning with you, and based on the needs of their job, you can then steer them to something new that they can handle and will clearly be beneficial to them. They may never figure this out on their own, but with a light touch, you can teach them in a manner that suits their learning style.

Is this worth it?

Clearly, with an employee pool largely at this level, the learning will be incremental, but with each little success, they will become increasingly empowered. Eventually, the process becomes easier as they’re building on a foundation of knowledge and they’ve come to trust you as an effective enabler. Leaving them alone to sink or swim won’t be effective here, so you need patience and perseverance. You might even want to hire a retired teacher to facilitate the learning process.

There is no magic formula to follow, but you absolutely must establish the kind of relationship that is appropriate to their comfort level with new technology. Once you have that, success is much more contingent on managing that relationship than struggling with the technology. Remember, this is a process, and once you do it with basic UC applications, learning the more complex applications isn’t so hard. Furthermore, UC will never be finished, so as new applications come along, your chances of getting value from them is very much based on the strength of that relationship.

If that seems like too much work, this might not be the right time for UC. The situation is not permanent, as the ascendancy of Millennials ensures that technology laggards will become a shrinking pool of your workforce. So, if you can take on this mantle for what should be a short period of time, you stand to experience some great upside – not just for employee productivity, but also in the trust they have in IT to give them the best tools to do their jobs. That’s a pretty good payoff, and if I were you, I’d take it.

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How Much UC is Enough UC?

Over the past couple of posts, I’ve explored the laissez faire approach of letting employees discover UC for themselves. This path to UC success is fraught with risk, but the payoff could be tremendous if you read the tea leaves right. Of course you could just end up being lucky where all the stars align and magic happens. There’s a fine line between meddling and letting go, and I’ve been saying from that start this is all about trust between IT and employees.

When you’re ready to roll out UC across the organization, you have no idea what’s going to happen. Another twist here is that UC is unlike other new technologies, in that you need end user adoption for success, and no two people utilize UC exactly the same way. Even if you’ve had a stellar track record with introducing new technologies, it would be dangerous to assume more of the same with UC. You could be just as effective taking an active, hands-on approach as sitting back and letting things take their own course.

Conversely, being heavy-handed may only be getting in the way, indicating that you’ve underestimated the ability of employees to adopt UC. This a bit like knowing when to take the training wheels off your child’s bike, where you have to trust your gut as well as what your child says about being ready to ride solo.

How much is enough?

From what I’m seeing in the market, things are all over the map in terms of finding that balance. It’s just as easy to underestimate end user adoption savvy as to overestimate it. Being right or wrong largely depends on the relationship IT has with end users. Traditionally, there been little need to have a relationship, as IT called the shots and end users had to take what was given. That comes from taking a technology-centric POV – point of view – where IT thinks in terms of network operations, managing data traffic and connectivity with end points.

This model just doesn’t work in the world of IP, cloud, mobility, BYOD, etc., and clearly we need a more people-centric POV. Some vendors call this “human-centric”, but even this still sounds clinical as if we’re subservient to technology. The man-versus-machine paradigm does have a place in this analysis, but another time – it’s too much of a distraction from the UC challenge we’re all trying to figure out.

IT isn’t used to thinking about the user experience that every UC vendor is fixated on lately. If they still think about end points instead of end users, then you know which POV from above is driving their plans. A lot of this comes back to what has been done in the past, as that POV forms the basis for how we look at the present. Think about the IP PBX, which is probably the most recent – and relevant – communications technology IT has deployed prior to UC. Was the “user experience” ever part of the conversation around which IP PBX vendor to go with, or what the deployment plan will entail? Not likely.

That totally has to change with UC, and as I’ve been touching on in recent posts, this largely depends on how well IT’s POV is aligned with the POV held by end users. Ensuring that UC flows smoothly across the end points is really important, but is a minor factor in defining the user experience.

What to do next?

When considering how much UC is enough, that alignment will tell the story. IT must decide whether the process is going to be one of spoon-feeding UC-challenged employees, or letting them run with it. This is a difficult choice, and to some extent will come down to your gut instinct that I alluded to earlier. However, it will also be guided by what priorities have been set around by UC and by whom.

UC might be IT’s project to own and operate, but you may instead be beholden to higher forces, namely management. If the latter, you will likely be required to monitor UC’s adoption as per their set of ROI metrics, in which case you’ll need a heavier hand, not a light one to drive adoption ASAP. Of course, this brings POV back into the discussion in that you really should gauge how well management’s UC thinking is aligned with what’s in the minds of employees. This could be a big challenge if employees are more like laggards then early adopters, and I’ve come across a lot of that in my research.

The plot is thickening here, and I’m going to leave things pat and continue the exploration in my next post. At some point, of course, you have to make a decision and move forward, so you’ll never have perfect information. However, I’m seeing a lot of disjointed expectations in the market, and that’s why I want to hone in further on importance of gauging the right amount of UC to introduce, along with the most effective way of doing so.


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More Ado about Doing Nothing with UC

My last post set things off in a new direction when it comes to out of the box thinking with UC, and there’s more to be said on the topic. As I’ve noted many times, UC is a moving target for everyone, and I can’t think of a better scenario to try different things in order to drive adoption. By now you should know that buying UC is the easy part, and to some degree this also holds for deploying it. The real challenge comes from getting employees to embrace it. They have no economic stake in UC, and unless usage is dictated by management, IT somehow needs to get them engaged.

UC is not like your IP PBX, where all you have to do is put IP phones on the desk, and employees will take it from there. This is not a passive deployment where employees use the technology regardless of what IT does. Furthermore, with standalone applications like VoIP, it doesn’t matter whether employees use it a little or a lot. There is no incentive for employees to increase usage, since the cost savings filter down to the business and not their personal phone bills. Also, there are no accretive benefits when adoption scales across the organization – VoIP is equally effective whether 10% or 100% of employees make use of it.

The realities for UC are fundamentally different in that the network effect is very much in play here. As more people use UC – and as they use more applications within the UC framework – the productivity benefits scale accordingly. Not only does each employee’s productivity rise as they become immersed in UC, but invariably the same happens for the teams they are attached to, and ultimately, all of this will make for a more productive organization. Little things can quickly add up to big things, and that’s why driving adoption from the outset is so important, especially if you’re trying to make UC a strategic investment for the business.

How do you make something from nothing?

This is a classic Yiddish saying where you take scraps that nobody wants and then turn them into something special. UC can be like that, but you get the best results when people figure things out on their own terms. However, the challenge here is that not everyone is a tailor, and they won’t know what to do with UC when put before them.

I touched on this is my last post in the sense that IT will get the best results with UC among the employees they trust the most. To some extent this is a generational issue, where younger employees will be more receptive to trying new things, and have a better native understanding of innovations like UC. When you have people like that, the conditions are right to introduce a bit of an experiment.

If earlier efforts or ideas about encouraging UC adoption have not taken root, it’s time to try something different. This brings us to the option of doing nothing, which might seem antithetical to everything you’ve believed to this point. Well, it may not be as far-fetched as you’d think, so consider the following.

The do-nothing approach can be effective presuming the UC solution comes as advertised. In other words, it has to work the way it’s supposed to work and the features are really easy to use. On top of this, the outcomes from using those features should be evident to the end user right away. If you have that, then here’s a plan to consider if all else has failed. Try to identify the “early adopter” types as per my comment above and form a beta group with them. Then, deploy UC among them – but don’t tell them about it.

Part of being a tech-savvy person means having a natural intellectual curiosity about trying new things, and this type of person will quickly discover the virtues of UC without any help. Not only that, but they will be more likely to explore UC pretty thoroughly and push the envelope to see what it can do. When technology is easy to use and the utility is obvious, end users feel a sense of ownership when figuring things out on their own. That’s not all – it actually gets better because these people will like embrace the Internet ethos of sharing, and without any help, they’ll try to make it go viral.

Of course, I’m describing an idyllic scenario, but I have seen a few examples recently in my research where this is exactly what happens. The conditions need to be right, and it all comes down to trust. You have to trust that your UC solution really works as advertised, and you must also know which employees you can trust to leave on their own to discover UC for themselves.

When you have both, you’ll be surprised how much you can get from doing nothing. Conversely, doing nothing with the wrong type of end users is a recipe for failure, so you have to be selective in planning this out. This approach won’t work with everyone, but I think you’ll agree that if nothing else is working with UC, you’re better off having a small clutch of self-motivated users – who could easily become evangelists for everyone else – then having everyone doing next to nothing with it. Something is always better than nothing, especially when you make it from doing nothing.

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Are you ready for the new E-rate regulations?

The FCC recently made the most sweeping changes to the E-rate program in 18 years, greatly expanding the opportunity for K-12 school districts and libraries to implement ubiquitous Wi-Fi access, with an additional $5 billion in funding for Wi-Fi projects over the next five years. And for the first time, E-rate will allow for the deployment of a managed Wi-Fi service, such as ADTRAN’s ProCloud, as a cost effective alternative to an on premise managed wireless solution. When looking at the updated changes, which are outlined in a 176 page document, there are some key considerations for school districts to consider ensuring they are fully taking advantage of this new funding. First some background on the new program:

  • The FCC is committing $2 billion to funding Wi-Fi projects over the next two years, and $5 billion over the next five years, with the flexibility to change that figure if necessary
  • Rural and urban school districts will most benefit from this new funding, as the eligibility for E-rate is based upon the percentage of students in the district eligible for the National School Lunch Program
  • For the first time, the FCC is allowing a managed Wi-Fi service as an option for schools to consider when implementing a wireless network
  • The program allocates a budget of $150 per student over five funding years, or $30 per student annually for managed Wi-Fi

And now for some tips when looking at a managed Wi-Fi solution:

  • Avoid Extra Fees: Schools must carefully consider which vendor solution most cost effectively meets their needs, and ensure they are not hit with extra licensing fees for features such as Guest Access, which are critical to a school environment
  • Complete Maintenance: Most schools suffer from limited IT staffs, so they should be careful in choosing a vendor which provides a complete maintenance solution, including 24×7 proactive network monitoring, moves/adds/changes and Help Desk support, to offload the burden from internal IT staff of dealing with end user Wi-Fi connectivity issues
  • Flexibility: For those districts who are looking for additional flexibility, they should consider a solution that will allow them to freely migrate between a Public Cloud and Private Cloud Wi-Fi option, where they could either maintain control on-site or offload that management to a service provider
  • SLA: Make sure your vendor provides a strong Service Level Agreement (“SLA”) which guarantees a certain level of uptime, such as 99.99%.
  • Security: The solution must have the proper security requirements , such as role-based access, where there is a teacher and student role each with a different set of policies and access rights

Whether your school or library is considering purchasing and managing on-premise wireless infrastructure or leaning towards a managed Wi-Fi service, it’s important to look at the solution from the perspective of the administrators, teachers and students. More importantly, it is crucial to find a solutions vendor that understands those goals and has the flexibility to meet those requirements. Together you can unleash the potential power of your wireless network and the educational resources in your community.


Jason King is the director of marketing for the Bluesocket Business Group at ADTRAN. With over 15 years’ experience in the industry, he is responsible for the overall promotion and positioning of the company’s Wi-Fi solutions. Find him on Twitter: @jjking24

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Doing Nothing When Deploying UC – This Just Might Work (Part I)

The great thing about out of the box thinking is the lack of rules. There is no right or wrong answer when taking this path, and if you’re not challenging the status quo, you’ll never know if there’s a better way. Sometimes, different is better and sometimes it’s just different.

To get good results with out of the box thinking, you really have to address root causes.  This has just as much to do with asking the right questions as with asking the questions in the right way. With UC, there is generally a large knowledge gap between the providers and the end users. Vendors, channels and IT leaders know all about UC, but often not enough about what really matters to end users.

As I have often said, UC is a fluid concept, and this is both its greatest strength and weakness. Compared to other communications applications – VoIP, video, email, fax, etc. – UC may seem abstract to end users, since it’s really the integration of everything else they’re using on a daily basis. In a sense, however, they know UC when they see it – namely effective collaboration – and they just didn’t know that everyone else has a name for it.

This is why I’ve been writing here lately about out of the box ideas. So far, conventional thinking has not produced great take-up results with UC, and I believe this is largely due to the aforementioned gap. UC providers tend to take a technology-centric view when going to market, but if the ultimate end users don’t understand it – or find it intuitive enough to embrace – there’s a big series of dots not being connected.

In that scenario, UC providers are not making the right assumptions about end user behavior, and nothing is going to change unless a different approach is used. UC is different from most communications technologies that have come before it, and UC providers haven’t recognized that and adapted sufficiently. Every situation is different, and my recent posts have provided a range of unconventional approaches you could take to make UC more end-user centric.

How about doing nothing?

Business decisions generally involve some form of action for moving things forward. To create demand, you have to advertise. To open a new office, you need to acquire a location. Once you hire new employees, you have to train them. I’ve outlined several go-forward paths you can take with UC, both conventional and unconventional. Sometimes you have to try more than one approach, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Conventional thinking says to get big results you need a big effort. If management has mandated a fast track for UC, IT may be obliged follow that path. For all kinds of reasons, this is just as likely to succeed as to fail, especially for something as amorphous as UC.

Other situations, however, will be more forgiving, where management recognizes that UC is a work in progress. For all kinds of other reasons, this path has a greater chance of success, and if that’s closer to your reality, I have another out of the box approach for you to consider.

Instead of doing something, how about doing nothing? I’m not saying this because we’ve exhausted all ideas and have conceded defeat for something that nobody understands or is too complicated. Or that we simply don’t know what to, and have given in to inertia, hoping the problem will just go away.

Doing nothing can actually be a very proactive stance and could be more effective than you think. No doubt this can be risky and requires a leap of faith, but maybe not. This really depends on how well you know and trust your employees. IT is in the best position to know their level of tech savvy, especially for adopting new technologies.

To follow through on this idea, you have to make sure this itself will not be the root cause of future problems. In other words, old-school IT thinking is still common, and that mode can quickly lose touch with what the younger generation is both willing and able to do with technology. If you impose legacy expectations on Millennials, UC will fail, no matter how clever your deployment strategy.


I’m adding this wrinkle because IT can only trust employees to the extent they truly understand them. A few years down the road we won’t be having this conversation, as Millennials will eventually permeate all layers of your organization. Today, however, there could be a real knowledge gap – and perception gap between IT and end users – and that’s a true root cause that could derail your UC plans.

This post may seem like a Seinfeld episode where I’m talking a lot about doing nothing, and in fact I’ve said practically nothing to explain myself. I have, however, kept your attention to this point, and that’s something.  Now I want to you to think about what I mean by doing nothing – and trusting your employees – and in my next post I’ll explain why this approach just might work.

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