Optimizing Unified Communications

Optimizing Unified Communications

By Blair Pleasant July 12, 2013 2 Comments
UCStrategies Experts
Optimizing Unified Communications by Blair Pleasant

In this Industry Buzz podcast, the UCStrategies team discusses Blair Pleasant's recently published article, "Introducing Optimized Communications," where she contends that we’re now entering the next phase of business communications. We define Optimized Communications as the use of a specific selection of communication and interaction tools and technologies for businesses and organizations in order to optimize organizational goal attainment while enhancing the user experience.

Blair Pleasant moderates the discussion, and is joined by Marty Parker, Art Rosenberg, Dave Michels, Roberta J. Fox, Clark Richter, Phil Edholm, and Steve Leaden.

Unified Communications Strategies

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Transcript for Optimizing Unified Communications

Blair Pleasant: Hi everybody this is Blair Pleasant and I am here with my UCStrategies colleagues, and today we are going to talk about Optimized Communications and also the next stages and opportunities for unified communications. I recently wrote a couple of articles about the next phase of UC which we are calling “Optimized Communications,” and this is a brand new concept and we are certainly open to suggestions and comments about the naming and what it should represent. But it has been obvious for a long time that the term unified communications wasn’t really working. Each vendor took the term and defined it in a way that made the most sense for their particular offerings, and the term unified communications is kind of a misnomer since things really aren’t unified. I’m sure similar things will happen with the new term whether it’s optimized communications, or something else, the vendors are going to redefine it in a way that makes the most sense for them. So we will probably be refining this and redefining it, but it’s something to start with at least.

The idea behind optimized communications is that communications should be optimized to allow workers, teams, customers to enhanced their business interactions in order to achieve their defined organizational or customer goals with their choice of endpoint devices while using the best or most convenient communication tools at any time. The goal is to optimize both the experience and the business results for both the user and the enterprise. And this goes beyond the concept of connecting with the right resource at the right time, to really using the most desirable or the most satisfactory tools in order to have the best user experience, again while achieving the desired goals. So it’s not just about the user, it’s about the user and the organization and the business. So whether it’s collaborating on a project, interacting with partners, processing a transaction or engaging customers, it’s all about having the best possible experience and getting the best possible business results.

So let’s kick this off by talking about the concept of optimized communications, what the next stage of unified communications is, how real is the idea of optimized communications, and also look at it from the perspective of what opportunities for improvement does unified communications or optimized communications represent to organizations and how do these opportunities drive technologies? And maybe by looking at it that way, we can help better define what it is we are actually talking about and what we are trying to achieve. So Marty, let’s start with you, because you always have wonderful insights into this type of thing.

Marty Parker: Well thank you Blair for that compliment, I appreciate it; and thanks for taking the leadership on looking at how the industry is talking about the value of what we are doing here. I like the optimized communication term. When we look at the way customers spend their money, our consulting clients, and how they want to spend their money, they need to justify the investment and there is only two broad ways that we find that they end up justifying it. One is where they can measure some value to their business; the second is when they are providing technologies in order to meet their employee expectations, that is, to keep up with the consumer products that the employees choose to use, their tablets, their Bring Your Own Device approach or their wireless expectations and so forth. The latter is very hard to measure but businesses still do it. They do it because that’s what’s expected, or that’s what the vendors are pushing or that is what is bundled into the price and you cannot take it out of the price. The more important thing to do, we find, and this feeds right back to the optimized communications theme, is to emphasize the specific measurable results that can be improved within a team, a department or the enterprise, and that’s usually not hard to do. As we have discussed here before, it was done big time in the late 90s and the early 2000s in call centers and contact centers.

The global growth of those technologies at very high prices, almost 10 times the cost of a telephone station, was because businesses could so clearly see that the time that was spent, not just the 800 number charge time, but the time of the agents, the labor time that was spent in serving customers, could be significantly reduced while delivering the same set of answers and information, and/or could be improved so that there was up sell and customer relationship and loyalty development and so forth. And that has been honed to a fine science. We encourage enterprises to go beyond that to the next stage. For example, we are currently working with a number of law firms and there is no doubt that if you put your work with your clients into matter-related client workspaces, your business will improve. That has nothing to do with the “communications,” although it will cut down on email and document transmission and software forth. But if you can then put your communication functions, your voice, your video, your presence, your instant messaging, actually take it in a different sequence: presence, so you know if the client is available, instant messaging, so you can chat with them instead of calling if possible, and then voice, video and document sharing as necessary, you dramatically change how your law firm works, and you cut out a major amount of waste, of missed phone calls, and lost phone calls and extra voice messages and email messages and you end up with a much faster time to completion. The ratio of billable hours to total payroll goes up significantly; the clients are more satisfied because they get their result more quickly, all sorts of good things happen just by looking at that one thing.

Now you can do this in other roles within a law firm, or you can go to other vertical industries. We know that IBM makes a huge amount of money, over half their business is in services, much of which is consulting and professional services to do exactly what I just discussed. IBM for decades has been running their business on a vertical industry approach. So the opportunity here is an opportunity that may seem hard for the telecom companies or even the data networking companies who are in the unified communications business, but if they just focus some amount of their energy on to optimized communications I believe they will begin to discover these major justifications for customer investments. Yes, it may have a bigger component of professional services, but it will still be a significant growth potential for revenue which of course the incumbent vendors sorely need. So I am just passionate that there is a lot of opportunity to harvest the time in the form of labor and delay that exists in most business processes by putting optimized communication to work. Back to you then Blair, if you have any questions for me or to pass it on.

Blair Pleasant: Okay thanks Marty. No, I think you did a really good job of laying it out for how organizations can measure the benefits of whether it is UC or optimized communications. Art, I would like to turn it over to you and talk about it from a user perspective, whether it’s the end user in the organization or a customer or consumer, how do you feel this fitting in and where do you see the role of UC or optimized communications in terms of the end user?

Art Rosenberg: Yes, well the first thing to note is that when we are talking about communications, it’s not always person-to-person communications, because people do not necessarily want to talk to people, for example, to get information. They can get information directly or to perform a simple transaction with a self-service online application. So you have to look away from the old days when the only way you could get information was to talk to somebody who had the information in their file cabinet or whatever. Now the more that you can do yourself easily, the more efficient you will be, and the more satisfied you will be, and also it will remove a lot of the delays that Marty was talking about if indeed there is somebody else that you need to talk to. The question is, how soon does that have to happen? There are now many ways to communicate.

So look at it from the perspective of self services in respect to applications and things like CEBP where you get notified. In other words you are not calling a company, you are not calling a person but a process is contacting you and delivering information that is important for you. So these are the new ways of doing things, and I am glad that Marty brought up the contact center, because that is where I came from and I remember that was the big problem, and always has been – how do you satisfy a customer, the one who generates revenue in a practical and efficient way? And being online with the option for click-for-live-assistance is going to become even more important because more and more people can get access to information directly or to transactions directly.

But if they run into a problem, that’s when they need to talk to somebody and the question is, how do they do that and that is now becoming an option for the end user or the customer in this case for example, or it could be a help desk, but they can say, choose the way they want to be communicated with, whether it’s chat or email or a real time connection with voice or even video, that’s a variable, it’s not a given. And it’s something that should be controlled by the person who is initiating this.

One of the good things about Cloud implementation these days, it makes it faster, easier and cost efficient to try all these ways of doing things until you get it right. So it does not happen automatically; it takes effort and on that note I will pass it back to you.

Blair Pleasant: Okay thanks Art. This is sounding very complex and very pie in the sky to me. Dave Michels, bring it back to earth a little bit. Is this real, is this something that we can actually expect to achieve and for companies to actually move in this direction?

Dave Michels: Well, we definitely are moving in that direction. I like optimized communications. Let me rephrase that. I dislike it less than I like unified communications, would be the better way of saying that. I have never liked unified communications. I have been the one in the group that has been championing the terms “PBX,” but nobody wants to seem to agree with me on that one. But the thing about PBX was it was just for private branch, and it was never about the technology. The PBX started off as a corded technology then it became a mechanical technology, then it became a digital technology, and it didn’t matter – the term survived, but for some reason when it switched over to IP and broader than voice, the term has become obsolete and we replaced it with unified communications, and that was all about the technology. It was all about presence or video or very specific technologies. The problem with a term based on technology is that the technologies keep changing. Optimize is a bigger improvement because it’s not based on the technology, but it’s still because it is always evolving, it lends itself to the oxymoron category similar to “CIA” or something, because what is optimal is always going to be changing.

I did a post recently on UCStrategies called Take my Phone, Really; it was venting some frustrations around how the phone isn’t evolving enough. I don’t understand why my car is a better cell phone accessory than my desk phone. I can’t speed dial from my contacts very easily from my desk phone, etc., and so I think that there is a lot of opportunity to make optimized communications, to reinvent a lot of what we need to do and that’s a perpetual ongoing process. These two things need to be more intuitive. In that same article about my phone a couple of the vendors of the dock makers contacted me and said they have solved all the problems with the dock, but I cannot evaluate it because I don’t have an iPad, so it does not really make a lot of sense to me to solve the problem with a piece of hardware that doesn’t have any capability, but that’s just my opinion, I guess. So overall I think what I like about optimized communications is that it puts more focus on the user experience and communications and less focus on the actual technologies where we have a problem with unified communications. Those are my thoughts, Blair.

Blair Pleasant: Thanks Dave, I definitely agree. That’s part of the thinking behind the term optimized communications is that it is about user experience, and not about the technologies, and it is open enough so that when new technologies come along just like social came along in the past couple years, new technologies can be introduced and yet the term can still remain the same.

Dave Michels: I think we should call it the Optimum PBX.

Marty Parker: Alright Dave, why don’t you go ahead and start blogging on that and we’ll watch.

Blair Pleasant: Roberta Fox, you’re relatively new to our group and we welcome you. You work with end users a lot, is optimized communications something that they want or need or are they just going to look at this as too complex and it’s not anything that would ever really be reasonable for us?

Roberta J. Fox: Thanks, Blair. I like your description. The one we had used within Fox Group was Enhanced Converged Communications, or ECC, but taking your ideas I would take it maybe to “Optimized Converged Communications.” I have this little picture I have drawn for people to try to demystify, and it’s really a three-legged stool that has telephony, messaging, and collaboration applications. But what’s interesting about it is that based on three or four years of working on many projects, the justification originally was the legacy telecommunications cost reductions, but now we are looking at some pretty funky stuff where we are doing human factor analysis and efficiency and productivity. I’ll give you a very quick example.

Most of the studies and the implementations we have done, including at our own at Fox Group, is we are saving – provably saving – 20 to 25 minutes per day per staff. That works out to 73.3 hours per year. If you take $60 an hour (just in a simple number), $4,400 per year in time savings. But a funkier way to do that, tying on to what Marty said, I really prefer to take it as a return on revenue and in one situation of 9,000 people we took three and a half head count out, but we said let’s turn that into how much more they can make. This was a media company, and they were able to generate second year $12 million in new revenue, in ad revenue for the company, which was four times the cost of the project. But what was really interesting, fellow UCStrategies folks, was that we as the clients and the consultants figured that out, and not the vendors. So I think my guidance to the end users is, think about things from a return on revenue. Think about how to track and monitor productivity and effectiveness, and then I wish for the vendor, and the industry community, that they could help the clients figure out how to do this and then also how do you use the technologies effectively, because you have to be pretty comfortable whether it’s using my Lync phone on my PC. I don’t have a phone on my desk anymore, Dave, so I don’t have to worry about it. Except unfortunately I have four different small and big gadgets. But the industry – we need to help us figure out how to use it, how to cost justify it, and how to make sure we can help the people evolve to really get the benefits. So maybe it is the optimized converged communications, how’s that for a different spin?

Blair Pleasant: I think I like that. “Optimized Converged Communications” – I think I like that. So you mentioned helping the users and doing some training. I totally agree with that. I think part of the issue is that sometimes the vendors like to think that these products or solutions are really easy and intuitive so that it doesn’t really require training and that they think it should be so simple that they do not really need to do the end user training and that is such a huge mistake because one thing we find is that when companies get these tools, they’re pretty sophisticated. Even though they might be somewhat intuitive, there are a lot of features and capabilities that people don’t know how to use. So without doing the proper training, people don’t understand all the features and capabilities and benefits that they can get from this, so I am glad you mentioned user training because I just think it is very, very key.

Marty Parker: Blair, if I could jump in on that point of training – the thing that we encourage our clients to do is to train on the new work flows or the new methodologies that enable the kinds of benefits which Roberta so brilliantly described, that’s what to train on. The same thing is true in contact centers. They spend more time training them on how to help customers and nurture the relationship than they spend on teaching them about the latest screen pops. So it’s about the process as much as if not more than the technology.

Blair Pleasant: I would agree that it is definitely about the process, but I think the technology comes into play too. I know of a lot of companies, in fact I was talking to some resellers and I asked them about the mobile capabilities in the products that they were selling, and the resellers themselves did not even really know about the mobile capabilities. So obviously they were not able to explain it to the end users because they didn’t know about them themselves.

Marty Parker: Once again we are both right. Thank you.

Roberta J. Fox: Just going to say to add on to what Marty just said, the other parts, the horizontal legs of the stool...we have the three legs being telephony, messaging and collaboration. The horizontal legs that hold them up sitting on the seat successfully is training, performance management, and monitoring of your infrastructure, and then it’s the monitoring of the vendors. So you need those horizontal pieces of the optimized communications or the enhanced communications, which tie into Marty’s comments about processes.

Blair Pleasant: Absolutely. Another new member to the UCStrategies team is Clark Richter. Clark, welcome to the podcast. What are your thoughts on optimized communications, what companies need to do to get to where they are trying to go as far as improving end user communications, business processes, and everything that we are trying to do in the world of unified communications, how’s that for you?

Clark Richter: Thanks, Blair. I appreciate it and I welcome the opportunity to work and contribute with you guys. I come at it from a little bit different perspective. I am pretty much channel focused, so my contribution would be a channel perspective on all this. First of all, I like the term. I like the focus on the end user and the benefits to the end user. I think a lot of technology marketing kind of loses sight of the end user in many cases and they try to create new categories and so forth to try to market their products. The channel a lot of times just sits back and shrugs based on some of these new buzz words and what have you. But at the end of the day they oftentimes have had very long term relationships with these customers and move them and transition them from one technology to another. And as this industry continues to evolve they’re poised to be one of the key benefactors to all this because at the end of the day they make their money off the changes, right? Putting some other technology in place to replace another or maintaining the technology.

So they obviously have a great opportunity on an ongoing basis to filter the information that you get from vendors and how they are marketing themselves and kind of buffering that for their clients. The smart ones tend to focus I think, I cannot remember if it was Marty or Dave pointed out that the vertical focus, if you could start to understand a specific vertical like a law firm for example, you find that most of those clients have the same requirements and needs and the channel partners that are focused on vertical around these technologies tend to excel and do quite well.

There is also the trend of the cloud software-as-a-service/infrastructure-as-a-service, and a lot of these existing technologies coming available or already available as monthly types of billing models. So as this continues to progress and especially in the SMB space, it’s a huge opportunity for these channel partners to move up the food chain, so to speak. What’s happening a lot is the emergence of shadow IT as these technologies are very easy to purchase and consume, the line of business managers can purchase their own technologies rather than relying on IT department or telecom department to provide that infrastructure for them. So these channel partners that are kind of moving with that trend more into sort of a Cloud brokerage model and very much focused on services and their own billable services rather than just reselling for product margin, tend to be the most successful that we see out there kind of growing in the space. It is sort of a channel perspective in terms of what we see. From an optimized communications standpoint, yes, I think channel partners would definitely want to embrace that and bring that type of conversation to their customers, educate them on the technologies in order to help them achieve that end game.

Blair Pleasant: Yes, I would assume that there is a big opportunity for channel partners in this and that it is bringing together a lot of different technologies that either they’re currently selling or that they can add to their portfolio, and it would give them a lot more opportunity for professional services and for integration and also for education.

Clark Richter: Exactly, I think they are poised really to benefit whichever direction customers go, but at the end of the day they need to provide the best solution for the customers and they are also replacing the vendors in some cases with this infrastructure and hosted solutions. A lot of times the customer doesn’t understand what the underlying technology is; they just have a service and they have a channel partner that provides that service to them.

Blair Pleasant: Okay well thank you. Phil, let’s hear from you about where you see the next stage of unified communications. Is it optimized communications or optimized converged communications, which I think we are going to change the term to because I really like that... thank you, Roberta. Phil, where do you see things going?

Phil Edholm: We talked a number of years ago as a group about the concept of unified communications for individuals for knowledge workers, for collaboration for their personal business process, and we are beginning to see that really emerge and we are at the same time beginning to see the business side emerge. But I would argue that the UC for business processes, I would argue I think we are actually beginning to reach what I would think of as a divergent path in how we move forward.  

Obviously with the adoption we are seeing in the Lync world, in the Jabber world and one of the things that I think is very strong there is the business case as Marty and Art commented earlier is in almost all cases an overwhelmingly good business case for the knowledge workers. One of the things that Blair and I have been working on is a UCStrategies UC Benefits and ROI Tool, which is a tool actually for the channel to allow them to very simply sit down with a client and a customer and go through exactly what the impact of a UC system would be, and have essentially an ROI. You could literally in about half an hour to 45 minutes develop an ROI and a complete business case for your customer for UC adoption.

What you find is that when you look at typical organizations, the payback for UC is well under 12 months based on again predominantly knowledge workers, some business process integration.

When you look at technologies like WebRTC, what they are doing is moving communications from being done through a common interface that I control, to an open interface of where I go. It’s very user-focused communication because the user experience now can be defined not by a service provider, but rather by the party that’s actually hosting and driving the value of the communication. So I think it is an exciting time and one of the things I would encourage everyone who is a channel that sells communication products, UC products, look for the announcements around the UCStrategies UC Benefit and ROI tool. It is going to be very cost effective. Thanks Blair, and I will throw it back to you.

Blair Pleasant: Okay thanks Phil, and one of the reasons I am so excited about WebRTC, as you mentioned, is because it does again put things more in the user’s hands. So if they are on someone’s website and they want to chat with somebody or get more information, they can do it the way that’s most convenient for them. So again, that goes back to the whole idea of optimized communications. Is there anyone else who wants to add their two cents about optimized communications or optimized converged communications and what do you think of this term or where you see things headed?

Steve Leaden: This is Steve—thanks, Blair. This is a very interesting topic. It's been gaining ground for some time and we've been actually doing a needs assessment for a client very recently, and the focus has been on unified communications and a lot less so on Voice over IP, even though they need to do an entire replacement of their telephony environment. We've been defining for the end user community, and again, we have heard this time and again, communications integrated to optimize business processes. And we further stressed it or shared with the groups the fact that is commonly integrates voice calls, IM chats, presence, cell phones, ad hoc audio conferencing, ad hoc video conferencing, whiteboarding, document sharing, unified messaging, and integration with contact center functionality. And the key here is that it provides a consistent user interface that’s unified and the unified user experience across multiple devices and multiple types.

So, it also kind of takes on the fact that it integrates now other components such as mobility where you've got your one number reach, and mobile workers, where you can work from anywhere anytime, corporate directory functions, etc. That being said, I was very intrigued to read and review Blair's article on optimized communications and really, with the major effect here of using unified communications to help change the labor content and other components of your organization. So, in my opinion this really means fully taking advantage of what UC has to offer to help transform your organization. It really requires a separate strategic effort and holistic view of the organization’s culture and processes and how you can leverage UC to make significant changes in favor of a better, more efficient organization, really without radically changing your culture.

So, this requires, obviously, an effort from senior management and senior management leadership and really will be worth the effort. I've seen it really transform other organizations. The interesting thing is that we've already seen this taking place in small ways already in our culture, in many organizations. For example, we use web conferencing. We use mobility now to reach various workers, and in the consumer space we're using Skype and FaceTime as a form of ad hoc video conferencing. We're using texting with families, friends, and that’s a form of IM Chat so, the learning curve, per se, doesn't necessarily have to be steep but strategically leveraging these tools to transform the organization is really at the heart of it. Okay. Back to you, Blair. Thanks.

Roberta J. Fox: Blair, Roberta here, I would add a counterpoint to Phil’s good ideas. I think some of the big quick hits that we’ve see and have actually been in some of the laggard industries jumping over the knowledge workers that are actually finding some use of these mobile tools particularly, and that could be construction workers and supervisors, train yard engineers, truck drivers – a lot of people that are out in the field who struggle to communicate with the brick-and-mortar and their customers. Some of these new tools and applications allow them to have amazing big wins in a matter of a paper napkin kind of business case, in a matter of days and weeks so it’s really been stretching my mind that people that I didn’t think that would be good customers and end users are really actually surprising us. So I will just throw that out there to broaden people’s thinking about, it is no longer just about knowledge workers now as well, so I thought that might be interesting for the listeners to think about.

Blair Pleasant: I think that is a great point and it does come down to mobility as you mentioned, people are out in the field and they are using different devices and it may not be a smart phone, it might be something that’s specific for their industry. It is really interesting that people want to be able to communicate on their terms and I think that’s part of what this new optimized communications is all about.

Phil Edholm: Blair, Roberta just had an absolutely great comment, one of the factors that are actually built into the benefit and ROI Tool is a whole section on mobility. They really are not necessarily knowledge workers in what we think of as the construct but often they are people who still manage their own time; they are not driven necessarily by a pure business process and need to interact with folks.

Blair Pleasant: Well thank you, Phil. I think we’re making some headway with where we are going with the future of UC, whether it is optimized communications or optimized converged communications, and obviously mobility is at the forefront of all of this. It is all about the user getting the experience that they want, while getting the business benefits for the organization. So it is not sacrificing one for the other, but it’s actually enhancing the user experience so that the business can get the most benefit and value and that’s really the goal of what we are trying to achieve here.

So thank you everybody for this, and for those of you listening to this, we would love your feedback and input about the terminology and what we are trying to do and as UCStrategies, we are trying to get people to think about the industry and how we can better help the vendors, the customers, the channel, really help the market to grow. So if you have input into whether it’s the terminology or how we are approaching it please let us know because we love your input. So thank you everybody and we will talk to you next week.


2 Responses to "Optimizing Unified Communications" - Add Yours

Hyoun Park 7/12/2013 7:19:59 AM

Great discussion! I think one of the fundamental branding issues in "UC" has been taking a unified/converged approach vs. an optimized/personalized approach vs. an integrated/embedded approach. The first is about aggregating technologies, the second is about providing an individualized or business-oriented portfolio of services on a role or user-specific basis, and the third is about ubiquity and parity of services through multiple form factors.

I think that first set of functionalities is now just table stakes; we all realize that Voice+ is now a basic paradigm and the smartphone revolution has really shown what it can look like to bring multiple functionalities on one device. But having unified or converged communications sounds a bit like putting 8 different types of Play-doh together. If you mash them all up, you have "Unified Play-doh" but nobody really knows what to do with it or how to look at the constituent pieces.

The second set of optimized/personalized communications gets directly to the end-user need for productivity and enhanced collaboration. We can quibble on the exact right word, but I fundamentally agree with Blair that this should be the future. There's still a good amount of work to be done in the analyst and consultant spaces to see what types of technologies should be table stakes for productivity compared to what is actually delivered.

The third set of integrated/embedded technologies is just starting to come into play with functionalities like click-to-call in CRM. But there's no real reason for "UC" to be disconnected from other work environments. If I look in ERP and see that "JX1234" made an odd accounting entry, I should be able to call or message JX1234 right then and there to ask what the problem is. I love what Esnatech is doing in this area, but think there's a lot more room for negotiation.
Art Rosenberg 7/12/2013 12:09:21 PM

I want to add a couple of observations to the very useful discussion above.

When it comes to end user "productivity," we do have separate the benefits to an individual end user from the business process performance benefits. For the end user, ease of use and increased flexibility will be the payoff. For the business process that an end user is involved with, there will be a payoff from greater and faster ACCESSIBILITY and RESPONSIVENESS for ALL end users involved in the process. (If you want to call that "collaboration," be my guest!)

I found an old article I wrote back in 2006, that describes the individual end user benefits (UC-U) as "micro-productivity," while looking at the total benefit for ALL end users involved in a business process would be "Macro-productivity." (UC-B?) However, as I mentioned during the podcast, we have to stop thinking that business communications are only about person-to-person contacts, but must include process-person contacts and interactions that mobility and BYOD, and, of course, WebRTC, will greatly facilitate.

So, it's no surprise to me that Microsoft has just announced its shift to focus on endpoint devices and services. That's where the end users are to be found and that's where mobile UC flexibility is most needed!

To see my old vision of UC for business productivity, go to:


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