Summer has come and gone, and my “top 10 list” theme has run its course. We’re all back to work now, and I’m going to move on to themes that are more practical, but also provocative in terms of how you should be thinking about Unified Communications.
Thinking out of the box isn’t easy for anybody, but you cannot afford to take a passive approach with UC. If you read my last two posts here, you’ll know that UC carries risk, and it can be significant without the right preparation. A big part of that preparation is about thinking outside the box, and I’m going to explore that over the next few posts.
Buying a phone system doesn’t require an active approach, but UC sure does. As you know, with an IP PBX, you’re either updating another IP PBX or replacing an end-of-life legacy PBX. This is basically swapping like-for-like, and aside from some network tweaks to support VoIP, it’s pretty transparent to your employees. This may seem moot if you believe – as I do – that we’re in a post-PBX world now, but this scenario still speaks for most businesses.
Who cares about the IP PBX?
I’m stressing this point because most of you will still be in this mindset when it comes to UC. There is no precedent for investing UC, and that’s where the risk comes from. There is no like-to-like replacement, and by default, the phone system is the closest proxy for driving your buying decisions. UC may be very different from an IP PBX, but in many cases, you’ll be assessing offerings from the same vendors. You may have had a decades-long history with your phone vendor, and that history will invariably come into play when they now try to sell you UC.
The worst thing you can do in that situation is to continue taking a passive approach, where you basically buy it, deploy it and move on to the next IT project. If you’ve been reading my posts, you’ll know that approach will be disastrous for UC. The fluid nature of UC means this is not a plug-and-play deployment, not just at the network level, but among end users as well.
Engaging end users is where you really need an active approach, and you should expect this will be harder to do than it looks. When rolling out a new phone system, end users really won’t be doing anything new or different. There is only one phone system, and everyone will use it on a regular basis. With UC, you face a much bigger challenge. While you know what UC is – and the vendors know what UC is – your employees do not.
So, right off the bat, this is different from IP telephony, and you have to go on the basis that you’re starting from scratch. The applications that comprise a UC offering may be familiar and in everyday use already, but UC itself is a vendor-driven concept. Employees don’t think about communications technology this way, and they may well be “doing” UC now but don’t realize it.
Shift your thinking
Hopefully, it’s clear by now why you have to move on from the IP PBX mindset – and your employees have to as well. This is where IT’s job gets harder, since it’s up to you to figure out ways to engage employees and get them schooled in the UC “way” of doing things. For UC to earn its stripes, employees have to move on from using communications applications in a standalone fashion – and they won’t do that unless they know how, as well as see why this is a better way to work.
You can certainly rely on the stock benefits and use cases that UC vendors provide – and even from the channels. These will lay the foundation for mainstream adoption, and that may be sufficient for however you define success. That’s a safe plan, but you don’t have to stop there. In fact, if you do, you’ll never really own UC; this is the passive approach where employees find their own way and IT doesn’t really put a stamp on it.
That’s the difference between a passive and active approach, and I’m only interested in the latter. My message is that you need to think outside the box to really make UC yours, as well as show employees the higher order benefits that can transform the business. Isn’t this where you’d rather be? If so, you’ll want to read my upcoming posts, where I’ll be examining what this kind of thinking looks like.