Earlier in this “top 10” series, I outlined 10 clues that you might need Unified Communications. After all, UC is hard to define, and sometimes you have to look carefully for the positive signs. In the spirit of fairness, I’m going to flip the script now, and focus on clues that lead to the opposite conclusion.
Now, I’m playing UC the other way – since it is hard to define, there are plenty of indicators that this might not be worth the trouble. Don’t get me wrong – I’m definitely a fan of UC – but it’s not for everyone, at least right now, so you need to see both sides of the coin.
1. Business is good or even booming
The worst of the 2011 recession is behind us, and the U.S. economy is recovering. Some sectors are booming and profitability has returned. Other sectors, however, are being seriously disrupted by technology, and unless they catch up to things like UC, will struggle to remain viable. However, if your business is on the right side of the growth curve, and current technology is doing the job, you’ll be hard-pressed to see a reason to inject something new into a well-oiled machine. Maybe later, but not right now.
2. No idea what UC is
Ignorance can be bliss, and building on the above scenario, if things are going well, why would you pursue something you’ve never heard of? UC may be first nature for vendors, but many businesses – especially SMBs – are still taking baby steps with VoIP. Aside from being difficult to define, UC is still new, and if businesses have managed without it so far, they’re not really missing anything. Of course, the converse is what makes UC so exciting, but getting to that point of discovery is another story and merits a separate series of posts.
3. Vendors can’t explain it
This is related to the above challenge, but falls squarely on the vendor’s shoulders. Telecom vendors have no problem explaining the virtues of an IP PBX; it’s a self-contained point solution that has barely evolved in decades. UC is much more abstract, even for vendors, and this is a big reason why market adoption has been middling. Even if you’re open to hearing about UC, vendors struggle to get the messaging right, and if that raises more questions than answers, you may well conclude that if it’s this complicated, you don’t need it.
4. No clear ROI or economic benefit
Many businesses still have a legacy mindset, and will view UC the same way. For them, phone systems are assets that have practical utility, and are purchased based on having a clear ROI. UC has a different value proposition and does not conform to that business model. Being a service, UC is better viewed as a TCO decision, but that can be a difficult shift for people to make. For businesses that insist on seeing a tangible economic benefit as the first consideration, UC’s business case will be difficult to establish.
5. Status quo working well
Even if a business is just doing okay, there may be a tight comfort zone when it comes to adopting new technology. There are many reasons for this, but basically when change is viewed as risky, inertia takes over. Businesses in mature industries are slow to adopt new things, and their realities are very different from growth industries where staying on the leading edge of technology is not an option. For these businesses, the promise of UC is not reason enough to make a change.
6. Telephony-centric culture
A big part of what defines the above status quo is having a telephony-centric culture. This is a byproduct of legacy thinking, and it’s still prevalent among SMBs. In cases where the business is performing well and the phone system is doing its job, the merits of UC will be difficult to see. Employees may well be using their PCs and mobile devices increasingly for everyday communication, but if the culture remains phone-centric, the time probably isn’t right for UC. Down the road, this will change, but not today.
7. Been burned before by disruptive offerings
When disruption makes things better, we call it innovation, but there will be losers too, and for them it’s a disaster. Technology has always had a patchy track record, and no vendor is immune. Every business experiences both outcomes over time, and that mix will determine how you view UC. Sometimes this is solely dependent on the vendors, but having limited IT resources, SMBs are often the problem. UC is not without risk, and businesses should expect deployment challenges, so there can be good reason to pass on this basis.
8. Business is highly centralized
This is a structural factor, and may carry the day even if you’re willing and able to consider UC. There are many drivers for UC adoption, but generally the more decentralized the business, the stronger the case will be. Businesses with a single site or just a few local branches can get some benefit from UC, but the impact is much greater the further dispersed your workforce. Some businesses simply work best with a centralized model, and for them, UC will hold limited appeal.
9. Management only cares about cost reduction
In top-down organizations, management’s wishes can trump even the best ideas for improving the business. This can be the most frustrating obstacle of all, as short-term priorities often come at the expense of ensuring long-term viability. Technology changes constantly, and the further behind a company falls, operational costs will only rise, not fall. In cases where management thinks that reducing costs now is all that matters, UC will not be the answer.
10. Productivity claims hard to believe
This factor arises from a positive beginning, where your business is in fact receptive to the UC concept. However, the deeper you dig to understand what form these productivity gains will take, the more fuzzy the vendor’s claims seem to be. For many businesses, this is the key selling point, as productivity has become a competitive differentiator. However, it’s difficult to achieve, especially from UC vendors who are generally not native to the world of workplace productivity. Their forte is communications technologies, but linking that to business processes requires another layer of expertise, and if that’s your criteria for buying, you may conclude that UC isn’t quite ready for your needs – at least from the vendors that are on your radar.