Ironically, the explosion of new communication tools over the past decade has made collaboration in large enterprises more difficult than it needs to be. While the number of options for communicating with colleagues, customers and partners has increased, so has the need for interaction among geographically dispersed organizations.
These groups typically use a variety of communication channels to exchange information, placing greater demands on the IT organization and making it difficult to know the best way to reach someone at a given time. Managing diverse systems—telephony, instant messaging and e-mail—has strained many IT departments that are often forced to make a range of systems in different countries work together.
Additionally, more and more people, especially younger recruits, have come to expect the same capabilities at work that they now use at home. This places extra burden on IT staff to keep up with user demands and creates new security concerns.
The challenge is both technical and strategic. Clearly, users need access to the right communications tools. However, to truly transform organizational performance, these tools and systems must be integrated within the context of the company’s strategic business objectives. Unified communications (UC) allows people to collaborate seamlessly, regardless of location or device. It accomplishes this by combining the platforms and technologies organizations use today—e-mail messaging, collaborative Web sites and conference calling—with helpful information about employee “presence”, instant messaging and software-powered voice over IP (VoIP) functions.
These key elements provide a foundation for enhanced competitiveness in the global marketplace, improved user productivity, significant cost reduction and new business value opportunities. Companies that implement unified communications also see savings from streamlining multi-vendor solutions, reducing software licensing fees, eliminating video conferencing hardware and simplifying IT management.
Taking the Plunge
Although broad collaboration across teams and regions in large enterprises is a challenging technical and strategic goal, several fundamental steps will prepare your organization for a new UC platform. People, planning and piloting should represent the majority of early-stage work of implementation. Thorough plans, clear sponsorship at the executive level, and extensive pilots will have the biggest impact on the success of your project.
First impressions can make or break adoption of new tools and technologies, and UC is particularly viral in the way it takes hold in an organization. A well-planned, positive first experience for a set of key pilot users will send the right message to the rest of the organization. For example, companies should treat the user adoption training element of UC as equal in importance to the technology implementation itself.
As a result of this approach, organizations that have made available a flexible, intuitive learning environment for their employees have a much faster and positive uptake in the use of UC within their user base. As with any new communication channel, the key success factor is in making the user comfortable with using it, by providing your users with the tools they need to be successful the transition becomes much smoother as a result.
UC is not just about deploying instant messaging or telephony, it’s about connecting people to the information and the expertise that they require in order to do their jobs more productively. By taking a few practical steps now and ensuring a positive experience at the onset, your organization will be in a position to take full advantage of unified communications in the future.
Kevin Bellinger oversees the technical and strategic direction for Avanade’s Enterprise Collaboration & Unified Communications solutions globally. Based in Oslo, Norway, Kevin initially joined Avanade when the Technology Infrastructure practice in the Nordic region commenced operations in early 2006 and has 9 years of prior experience working with Enterprise class customers across the globe.