IT Focus Area: strategy
May 13, 2014
Transforming Business Through Unified Communications Collaboration
Setting up an office communications system used to be straightforward. A phone on every desk and you were done.
But gone are the days of one device per employee.
Thanks to the consumerization of IT, most employees want access to the corporate network with all of their mobile devices: personal laptops, smartphones, tablets, and (coming soon) smart watches. A distributed workforce makes it vital for organizations to provide a robust suite of collaboration solutions to support business agility.
There are a lot of benefits to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) mindset. Few employees are tied to a fixed environment. Working at anytime from anywhere and on any device increases productivity, employee flexibility and job satisfaction. Employees also expect organizations to provide collaboration experiences that mirror applications they use in their personal lives. All of this further blurs the line between work and personal lives.
Yet the task of integrating unified communications (UC) into your information technology (IT) infrastructure can seem overwhelming. Understanding current and future business and end-user collaboration requirements (internally and externally); how a mobile strategy impacts collaboration application delivery; changing workforce demographics; network readiness; and delivering a seamless user experience are all key aspects in building a scalable and agile UC solution.
Living in a BYOD World
During the past few years, the scope of UC has changed as it becomes an even more critical part of an organization. Today, a collaboration system provides real-time video collaboration for internal and external stakeholders. It integrates into an enterprise social platform. It embeds collaboration applications into business processes. And finally, it drives customer loyalty and increases employee productivity.
More Millennials are entering the workforce. According to a study by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Young Entrepreneurs Council, Millennials will make up 46 percent of the workforce by 2020. This generation expects a higher degree of immediate collaboration when they join an organization. If companies don’t meet these new expectations, they can run the risk of losing talented employees and may be branded as “behind the times.”
Today, more employees are looking for real-time communications and an instant feedback loop. More and more employees are looking for answers right away and don’t want to wait for an email or voice mail response. As a result, instant messaging and social layer integration on the device of their choosing, is gaining momentum. For example, if an employee is working on a document, they want to be able to “ping” a co-worker and get their input immediately or start jointly editing it over the web in real-time collaboration.
Increased collaboration, coupled with device independency and re-engineered business processes, can have a transformative effect on the business. Time to market will improve dramatically, client needs are met quickly, and employee productivity increases. As a result, customer loyalty and satisfaction is improved.
Best of Solution vs. Best of Breed
Selecting a "best of breed" collaboration solution can be challenging given the sheer volume of vendors and solutions (not all of which interact together seamlessly) in the market. The key factors are to first understand your business focus, then to develop a collaboration vision, and finally to define a strategy that supports the vision.
Brand loyalty used to make implementing new systems simple. Companies that liked a brand’s word processing program, for example, would also install its email service and instant messaging client. In fact, all of the solutions usually came bundled together in one easy-to-install package.
However, just because a suite of programs is bundled for quick installation doesn’t mean it is the best overall solution for your business. Instead of implementing a best-of-breed approach with pre-packaged systems, many organizations now opt for best solution for the business, which may mean working with different vendors to meet the needs of the organization.
Cutting through the noise to determine the best fit for your needs is no easy task. It seems that overnight, new companies are popping up, claiming to have the latest and greatest shiny object that will immediately ease all of your company’s pain points.
We also find that many products which were taken to market some years ago have changed in how they are now positioned. Not too long ago, video was sold as a way to reduce travel expenses between corporate locations. With advances in technology lessening the capital requirements and making it a more natural experience, video has now moved to a more pervasive model. The benefit of video is about creating a pervasive experience for collaboration inside and outside the enterprise firewall, with the objective of driving a personalized meeting experience. Video is also being used in the recruiting process and to differentiate the customer engagement experience with the organization. The value of video now is as a tool for more natural experience in collaboration. It’s easier to share and express when you have a live visual environment available.
In addition, we see a more vertical based focus on video. For example, hospitals are deploying TeleHealth initiatives where doctors with scarce skillsets can consult with patients in remote, hard to reach areas via videoconferencing. Financial services companies offer secure video collaboration with high net worth clients to offer them a differentiated level of service. Retail companies are streaming customer-specific product information to store video screens to increase in-store sales.
Optimizing the Applications
Once a vision has been established for UC, it is time to assess how to integrate it into your infrastructure. Though it is a complex task, it may not necessitate a “rip and replace” strategy for existing technology. It is, however, a matter of ensuring interoperability of the new technology with the existing applications and ensuring an optimized end user experience to drive adoption and utilization by your employees.
Technology partners can help create a strategy for UC that will cut through vendor hype, address application interoperability concerns, and help develop a mobility strategy that aligns with the collaboration vision.
A partner can also help you place your applications in the environment where it will work the best, whether that is a public cloud, a private cloud, a hybrid cloud, or an on-premise environment. The value proposition and hype around the cloud can be confusing for the uninitiated. Some organizations may have questions about security, so it is essential to ensure that a successful cloud strategy begins and ends with security.
The Changing Metrics
It is important to note that as the communication system changes, so too do the metrics for measuring success. Traditional return-on-investment (ROI) calculations are of diminishing importance as organizations look to the total cost of ownership, with a focus on improving performance.
Both hard and soft metrics come into play.
For example, video conferencing can eliminate the cost of airfare that an employee would normally incur for traveling to a meeting with an important client (a hard metric). More importantly, it can give that same employee an extra 12 hours of potentially productive time that he didn’t have to spend on the road (a soft metric that’s hard to quantify).
UC is increasingly viewed as table stakes in an enterprise. A UC strategy enables a set of valuable capabilities that can transform your business.
Peering into the UC Crystal Ball
We are already starting to get a glimpse of what lies ahead for UC. It is about connecting and collaborating in every conceivable way that people choose to communicate with one another. And though many organizations have experienced mixed results with legacy video, it is still a growing area as they figure out how to effectively integrate it into their business process.
Several companies have attempted to disrupt the UC landscape, but so far no one has emerged as the clear leader. The real transformation will take place once a solution enters the market that enables collaboration in the workplace in the same way that Facebook redefined information sharing between friends: by molding it into their preferred method of interacting, so it becomes ingrained into their everyday lives.
Aggregation platforms will allow companies to integrate years of different technologies so they work together under one dashboard. A single portal for instant messaging, video, voice and other collaborative technologies will change the way employees come together in the workplace. The lines between specific technologies will continue to blur as user experience trumps specific technologies.
At each step of the way, organizations should consider the impact of new technologies on their end-users. A large retailer, for example, recently invested $40 million in a new ERP system to help drive increases in the productivity of their workforce. Surprisingly, revenues dropped 40 percent after the implementation of the system.
The reason their company’s revenue dropped?
They forgot to think about the end user experience while accessing their databases.
Employees found the new system “too hard to work with,” and spent most of their time trying to enter information into and obtain information from the system, instead of in the field with their clients.
If companies make significant changes to programs and forget about how they directly impact usability, brands are going to suffer.
What You Give Is Usually What You Get Back
It all comes back to a simple concept: What you give your employees is what you get from them. A robust collaboration solution can attract a talented pool of potential employees while driving greater engagement and corresponding business performance. Conversely, an antiquated communication system can frustrate talented employees and ultimately drive them away.
Inevitably, our work lives intersect with our personal lives. Globalization drives cross border collaboration. Employees want to create, innovate, and interact in teams and with each other while retaining the flexibility of working from anywhere, anytime and on any device. A collaboration solution that provides an optimal end user experience while driving organizational value becomes a competitive differentiator to the business.
And that’s where UC collaboration is worth its weight in gold.