UC Pitfalls and Opportunities

UC Pitfalls and Opportunities

By Blair Pleasant August 1, 2013 1 Comments
UCStrategies Experts
UC Pitfalls and Opportunities by Blair Pleasant

The technology aspect of unified communications often receives most of the attention, but this week the UCStrategies Experts turn their attention to people and processes in a conversation about UC pitfalls. The discussion is moderating by Blair Pleasant, who is joined by Jon ArnoldKevin Kieller, Marty Parker, Dave Michels, Dr. Joseph WilliamsArt RosenbergMichael Finneran, Bill MacKayPhil Edholm, Roberta J. Fox, and Steve Leaden

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Transcript for UC Pitfalls and Opportunities

Blair Pleasant: Hi, everybody. Welcome to today's UCStrategies Podcast. Today we are going to talk about common pitfalls in unified communications, and how to make UC work better. I'm going to start with my two cents. I feel that so much of the focus on UC deployments is on the technology, but we really need to be thinking about it in three different areas. It’s technology, people and process. A lot of times the people aspect gets the least attention and I think it really needs to get a lot more of the attention. The focusing on the technology and not the people aspect can be one of the biggest pitfalls. UC brings a lot of change that the users need to adjust to, and they need help in making the transition. A lot of people think that UC systems are intuitive and that they don't require end-user training and that’s a really big mistake. I can't recommend strongly enough how important it is to spend more time on hands-on and online training – that’s both before and during deployment. I also think it’s important to develop end-user best practices and even etiquette guides. Etiquette guides can be (as simple as) “don't call someone before you check on IM to see if they are there.” It can be very simple, or it can be more detailed and complicated.

What happens is that UC systems have so many features and functions and most people only use a small portion of what is available. Even simple things like presence can get complicated and people need to understand what all the red and green lights showing up in Outlook mean. It happens a lot that most people don't even use the presence capabilities because they don't want people to know when they are out or if they are busy doing something. So what happens is that they set their presence status to unavailable and that really defeats the purpose of having unified communications. Again, training and best practices guidelines would really help fix this problem.

We are going to turn it over to the rest of the UCStrategies experts here. We will all be talking about the different aspects of the people/process and technology elements, and where we see some of the common pitfalls in UC and what can be done to fix that. Jon, let's start with you. I believe you want to talk about end users and setting expectations.

Jon Arnold: Thanks, Blair. When we think of UC from our perspective as analysts and consultants, we are very cognizant of what UC means as a concept and generally speaking, the folks in IT making those buying decisions understand it at this point as well. But end users, if we put ourselves in their shoes, they generally don't think in terms of UC – let alone understand what the concept actually is. And so the disconnect that I see is largely that the economic buyer and the end user are two distinct groups. That is not the norm of a lot of things, but in this case it is. You are basically investing in a platform instead of applications that really depend on end user adoption to be successful, yet they (end users) are not part of a consultive process of evaluating the needs and where the technology is of most value. So if there is an expectation that people are just going to pick up UC and run with it, that might be very misguided and that speaks to the needs of certain types of training and expectations. In a lot of ways this may not be in the skillset of the IT buyers and they may either need to expand their skillset or find ways of working with other constituents within your organizations to help roll this out in a way that is relevant and will resonate with the end users.

The other piece is that a lot of UC applications are already being used in a standalone fashion by employees. A lot of us are already using presence and IM and chat and text, but not in an integrated platform manner. You may have to convince people to do things a little bit differently than they are comfortable with, and if they don't understand why or see the benefit, it might be a little difficult for them to really leverage the possibilities of UC. Again, this is a matter of setting those expectations. I think the key piece here is that the consultation that goes into making decisions about UC don't generally involve the end users. The end users are often the last to hear about it, but they are the ones you also depend on the most for this to be successful. I think the buyers who are making these decisions, if they are driven purely by technology needs and network and IT requirements, if they miss that then their deployment is going to hit a lot of bumps along the way.  

Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Jon. You brought up a really good point about IT not necessarily being the right people or having the skillset necessary to do some of the training and some of the things necessary. That’s a really good role for some of the channel partners – it’s a really good place where the channel partners could come in and provide their expertise. I'm glad you brought that up. Kevin, I think you wanted to add to this talking about the importance of training and how companies can use training to help avoid some of the pitfalls.

Kevin Kieller: Thank you, Blair. I really do like your idea of developing best practice guides and etiquette guides in terms of how and when to use various UC features including IM, presence, etc. And I am, as you mentioned, a real fan of training. My background's technical but really, I've seen that the dollars that are invested in training provide often much greater returns than all the dollars invested in the technology and the licensing. And in fact, without investing in training, often there is no return on the technology investment.

You mentioned, Blair, that people think these tools are so easy to use that there's no training required and a lot of times those are either people in the IT group and often people in the IT group who've already been using the tools for months and months. They forget that there was that learning curve and they've already worked their way through it.

So absolutely invest in training, but beyond training it's really about driving usage and adoption. I want adoption. I want a broad base of individuals, all the appropriate individuals in my organization, to make use of the tools and to use the features that are aligned with what they're trying to do from a business perspective. And I want them to use these features on a regular basis. So, I want usage whether that's minutes or sessions or whatever the other metric. So, lots of people using the features on a regular basis. Because through driving use and adoption I'm much more likely to get the benefits that I probably put in my business case in terms of improved collaboration. So, speed to decision, the quality of decision-making, and at the end of the day, UC tools enabling groups to do things that individuals alone couldn't do.

And this is where there's a real opportunity for channel partners. Because through usage and adoption and incorporating that into your deployments, which often start as a pilot, the usage and adoption metrics are what allows you to quantitatively prove to an organization that's kicking the tires and piloting UC that there is a good rationale to expand it beyond the initial group.

So, if people are using it, if you can prove it, if they're increasingly using it; if through training you can do the training and show that now they're using it more or using a broader base of features, these are all very positive wins and I absolutely think as a channel partner you should incorporate that – the training and the usage and adoption monitoring into your pilot deployments. And just as Blair said, do not only focus on the technology aspect.

And with regards to usage and adoption, one of the new things that we're seeing is just to keep it interesting and fresh and alive and really to get the best return, we're starting to use some creative and interesting things such as gamification. So, keeping track of scores and using some on-line game show-type scenarios where people compete with their colleagues to see who gets a better score. All of this reinforcing the training information in a fun way and then awarding achievements and badges and posting this information for people who, for example, host a large on-line meeting or do a desktop sharing session.

Once again, we're trying to drive usage and adoption. But by using gamification and doing it in a fun way; we really can prove quantitatively that we're driving the positive business benefits that we all hope for, and we all talk about when we talk about unified communications.

Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Kevin. Let's talk about some of the process and technology issues a little bit. Marty, I believe you wanted to talk about setting some expectations for the decision criteria and making sure people make the right decision from the beginning. What do you have to say about that area?

Marty Parker: Thank you, Blair. In Unicomm Consulting’s opinion, based on our experience with clients, the most important thing to do is to understand the user requirements and the business processes in which the users do their work so that you can actually apply unified communications to optimize those business processes. The biggest mistake, therefore, is the concept of replacing the current PBX with a new IP PBX. It’s really, we find, a waste of time. The user sees no difference; it’s just a different kind of black telephone. And even if a soft phone is deployed as part of that, the users see no purpose to it in terms of business results, and so they continue doing what they’re doing using their smart phone with all of the clients they are used to having at their fingertips. We find that unless you really understand how you are going to change the business based on the investment, it can be a waste of time and we encourage that so you can as we say it at UCStrategies here, optimize business processes. Thanks. 

Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Marty. Dave, I know you are champing at the bit to add on to what Marty had to say.

Dave Michels: I don't consider myself a consultant, at least not primarily. So let me go ahead and say what they should say but probably won't: HIRE ONE. Hire a consultant, or use a good system integrator or something because there is a lot to UC. It’s very broad and it’s something you may not realize the potential of. I see a lot of organizations feeling that their PBX is old and obsolete and they just want to replace it. Now they hear it’s called “UC,” so they replace it, thinking it’s the same technology with a different name. If your organization is using TDM or analog phone lines or even extensions instead of direct dials; if you have T1s or PRIs or those little pink slips that say “While you were out,” you don't have a voicemail system – then you definitely are looking at a huge change in the way you do business, the way you communicate. It’s not something I think you should rely on for understanding exactly the scope or capabilities of the UC solution set.

As far as pitfalls go I would say that the biggest mistake – again, kind of a PBX mindset – is that you have say 1,000 employees so you think you need 1,000 phones. And that’s the size of a system people look at. That worked in the PBX mindset, but it doesn't really work in the UC mindset. The UC mindset is much more around devices. Any one user could have one device or five, and understanding implications around capacity of trunks, understand the capacity of Wi-Fi, understanding the capacity of the system, needs to be reconsidered.

Just one final thought: I think people tend to underestimate the importance of headsets. You select a solution, you deploy it, then you decide as an afterthought that you need to go buy a bunch of headsets. I would strongly encourage putting the headset very early in the conversation. There are all kinds. People don't realize how many kinds there are. There are Bluetooth, there are DECT, there are corded; the corded kinds come in USB with different connectors for every phone type and EHS, electronic hook switch connectors. They come in one speaker, two speaker; they come in noise cancellation. All kinds of opportunities to look at headsets and that should be early, upfront, and understanding (to Jon's point) what the users need, how they work, and not necessarily how they work today, but how they will work with the new solution.

Blair Pleasant: It’s interesting that you brought up headsets. That’s something that came up in the channel study that Orrin (Orrin Broberg) and I did. We found that a lot of times companies didn't have money left for headsets because they spent all the money on the big technology purchase, and when it came time for the headsets they just didn't have the funds necessary to buy the right types of headsets for the right types of users. It really is important to be thinking about that early on. I'm glad you mentioned that.

Joseph, let's hear from you and what you see as some of the pitfalls and what companies can do to avoid them.

Joseph Williams: One of the more interesting problems is that when companies are deploying unified communications solutions, and these are feature-rich solutions that do many, many different things, they are actually putting them in place and then their employees use them exactly the way they used the previous system. So if the employees were using a desktop phone – they are going to use the UC system more or less as a desktop phone. Maybe they added a little bit of instant messaging, but they were doing that before... What they are not doing is extending or changing the way in which the staff is actually doing any kind of work. UC is really a primary enabler for collaboration, and if the enterprise is deploying a UC solution and they are not trying to change or grow the culture to accommodate better collaboration or closer collaboration, then they are not going to take advantage of all of the technology and all of the features that are in place with UC and they are going to end up disappointed with the outcome.

If effectively I deploy something like a Cisco or Microsoft solution and I don't change the way in which I work, this is not a good outcome for the company. One of the biggest misses we see in UC planning is not involving people who do real estate and facilities, not involving the HR people, not involving the people who do organizational design and structure in the conversation for what the goal is for actually deploying UC and what the positive outcomes are.

There are all kinds of different dimensions on this. Are we changing the way in which our offices are designed? Are we changing the way in which people can work remotely? Are we enabling people to work from home? Are we trying to collaborate with vendors and customers in a different kind of way? If this isn't planned out and thought out, it’s going to end up being really just an exercise in cost reduction. That’s really not the outcome that anybody is looking for here.

Blair Pleasant: Those are great points. Art, I know you wanted to talk about starting with the business process. I think if companies do that they can avoid some of the pitfalls that Joseph is talking about.

Art Rosenberg: UC is not like a blank check where you let everybody fill it out themselves. From a business perspective you have to look at the business processes that could benefit from the flexibility of unified communications, which is now being emphasized especially with mobility and device independence and BYOD and so forth. So if you start from that perspective of which business process do we have a problem with, (for example) it’s inefficient, it’s not working well, whatever, and see where UC flexibility would fit in, this would be the starting point because from that business process that you identify a “hot spot,” as Marty might call it, you can then identify which specific end users are involved. And make sure that those are the people who get educated and brought into the picture so that their needs of how they will use UC come into play. It will get very focused, rather than generalized like the old telephone system. Everyone has a phone – you use it the way you want. Now it has to be a capability that is fine tuned to work with the people, but not just the people. It is not just person-to-person context. Because now we have CEBP kinds of things where a business process that is monitoring something let's say in healthcare, is going to notify an end user through the benefits of mobility and UC. It’s the combination of those two that will make things most cost efficient and productive. So starting with the business process applications, and there are a bunch of them, prioritizing which ones are important, which ones have the problem of contact with people and then you have a starting point for implementation planning.

Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Art. Michael, let's hear from you. What do you see as one of the biggest pitfalls and how can people fix it?

Michael Finneran: Thank you, Blair. I was going to build on a point that Jon Arnold made at the outset, but take it a little further. I think the problem is not just training. We really have to do marketing for UC. As has been pointed out, the end user awareness of this stuff is about zero. And we see it. Earlier this year I did the Information Week survey on the state of UC and found that in the 18 months since we had previously surveyed, users reported deployments had only moved from 36 to 38 percent. Basically dead in the water. And with those, 50 percent of the installs were serving 25 percent or fewer of the users. I think if we are going to move the uptake on this, it really is going to take a real marketing drive that is focused and is critical in the option of something as complex and involved as UC as any of the technical stuff we are dealing with. Unfortunately, IT departments always look to the technical stuff. But building the awareness, demonstrating the benefits, and also it’s a matter of building anticipation. The greatest technology in the world is useless somebody uses it.

The most glaring example I can think of from this is a Lync deployment we did about a year and a half ago where I was trying to emphasize the importance of this marketing stuff , which message never seemed to get through. One of the big benefits we were looking for was cutting the bill in the outside conferencing service which was running about $14,000 a month. Well, along went the installation and about 12 months later we went back for a second look and the conferencing bill was... $14,000 a month. Apparently, nobody got around to telling the users that was one of the big benefits that they could get out of something like Lync. Yes, think of the human attributes but think in terms of marketing, not just training. Training will be part of it at the end but unless you sold them the idea that this is going to make their life better, the training is not going to be sufficient to do the job.

Blair Pleasant: Great, thanks Michael. Bill, I know you are out there talking to customers all the time. What do you see as some of the biggest issues?

Bill MacKay: Thanks, Blair. A couple of things and I'm actually building on some points that have been made earlier as well. Unfortunately some of the UC decisions can be made in silos. And unfortunately, it’s also the IT department that gets the blame on it. If there have been issues with previous projects, sometimes the implementations may not be as smooth as possible. It’s really important to get the key stakeholders involved from the very beginning.

Some of the benefits of moving to UC may not be articulated very well. The reason for the implementation, for example, might be to improve business process or it might be to improve productivity. But the internal message that gets delivered is perhaps cost savings. So they are missing a little bit on the delivery.

Planning is always an issue – poor planning, particularly when it comes to an implementation plan. I said earlier, include the key stakeholders from the very beginning. That includes user buy-in. If you do not have user buy-in of the tools that they are going to be using then the technology that gets delivered is going to fall flat. Dave mentioned headsets and in a former life I was involved in the sale and marketing of headsets. There were three really key questions: can I be heard clearly, can I hear clearly, and is the headset comfortable? If you are able to answer those and have your stakeholders involved in the end supporting a buying decision, you are going to get a project that is going to get landed.  

Blair Pleasant: Thanks, great. All really good points. Phil, I know you always have a lot to add to these podcasts, so let's hear from you.

Phil Edholm: I just don't think there are any barriers whatsoever to UC adoption...

Just two comments; I think this area we’ve hit on which is, this is not a technology positioning to your user base. Training about how to use something doesn't change behaviors and doesn't get you the benefits. I think you have to have two things. One is in addition to training you have to look for essentially your advocates, your folks that begin to use this and other people see using it. Generally, that drives adoption.

The point has been made earlier when you get executive buy in - executive buy-in is not about making the purchase decision. Executive buy-in is about supporting the cultural changes that in fact drive the things that are important. I will make the argument for example, this is not necessarily purely UC, but if we had a three-minute bell in our business that in every conference room and every conference phone system three minutes before the hour the bell rang and that gave everyone the right to leave the meeting without any further discussion. Which essentially means that everybody gets to the next meeting on time. The first thing that happens is the executive that comes to a meeting five minutes late and says “oh, I'm sorry I'm late, I had a really important call” – that basically gives all of the managers in that meeting the right to say that when they come to their next meeting. It becomes endemic in the organization. I think if you look at a lot of the benefits of UC which are around productivity savings and lost time, you can't get those without getting the cultural change. I think this point has been made but it’s not just about the technology. It’s about the cultural changes and the impacts it will have on the organization.

I think the other side that is something that really needs to be considered is that UC is a solution. It is a system that needs to be maintained. It needs to be operated. The users are going to have challenges and you have to budget, you have to plan for that. You have to plan for people in your organization who are going to support it, who are going to work for users, who are going to be able to help users when that headset will not connect to their system because they can't figure out the Bluetooth and explain how to use them. The challenge is every one of those instances when you don't solve problems becomes a reason not to use it and a challenge. We had back in the early days of VoIP, I remember a user getting up and saying, I’m going to do voice over IP because I have two people who support moves, adds, and changes in my company and I can lay both of them off, because I won't need to do that anymore because users can move their own devices. And that works very well until somebody moves the device, plugs it in and it doesn't work. So I think one of the pitfalls here is, don't plan on savings that are pennywise and pound foolish, so to speak. Saving in cutting support, at least initially, you are going to need probably more support to get that adoption curve because there are two sides to adoption; there is the value of using it and the belief oh, I used it and it made my life better. But there is the other side of eliminating the frustration that we know happens when people try to use new technology, new capabilities, that are, in fact, complex. I think both of those are things you need to think about as you look at UC. A lot of it drives back again to the adoption and support of the technology. Thanks, Blair. Back to you.

Blair Pleasant: All good points as always. Roberta, what suggestions do you have on how to make UC work and how people can avoid some of the pitfalls?

Roberta J. Fox: In addition to what some of my fellow UC experts said, great tips on training and best practices, what we found in UC projects with Fox Group clients is a lack of business analysis across all the business units to develop the future technology profiles, quantities and features – because not everybody needs to have all the same devices and the same applications. By doing the profiles, it helps the organization understand the quantities to give to the vendors to effectively design the future environment and give accurate pricing. Once they figure out which vendor they are going to go with I think the other thing that is very important that is a common pitfall is to not have organizations develop a pilot group with having both technology advocates and people that are not really pro-technology to enable this first phase of the implementation to have IT and vendors develop implementation training and end user support across many devices per person because we all know that many of us don't just use one device. By having a pilot group they work through some of the bugs before they roll it out. Then I think, lastly, which is very, very often underestimated, the time and effort, is to really identify the end user technology support, network performance, systems management and measures in order once you get with this environment in order to how are you going to manage it and maintain it whether it is onsite, hosted, hybrid or a combination. So really it is more and more important with the UC applications to have a well managed computing and network infrastructure. Thanks.  

Blair Pleasant: Okay. Thanks, Roberta. Steve, last but not least, I know you want to talk about UC as a strategy and how to implement it, so let's wrap this up with some of your insights.

Steve Leaden: Thanks, Blair. In our particular space where we do a lot in the voice over IP and UC space, where most users in the enterprise are purchasing unified communications as part of the voice over IP implementation, we are finding that the ones that are highly successful are the ones that actually treat unified communications as its own project separate and distinct from voice over IP. We highly encourage all of our users to ensure that they create two separate projects, and focus for the first phase for lack of a better word on voice over IP and replacing telephony as is. Really, a little learning curve, starting to introduce some unified communications aspects ie. unified messaging maybe some active directory integration into telephony so people start to get aware of some of the new features and functionalities that are out there. Starting to implement unified communications on a very limited basis for a test bed of folks. And starting to introduce some of the culture changes that also go with unified communications, for example, remote workers. A lot of clients we walk into don't necessarily have a policy around remote workers or times of day or how many hours per week or what are the rules for working from home, etc. That is obviously one of the areas that can be very valuable to most organizations.

It really comes down to unified communications in the last 30 months has really become embedded into most telephony at little to no additional cost. It has gone from an option now to really a basic requirement in most systems. So you get all of these unified communications features but in the end if you are not really willing to take the time and create a separate entity, a separate project out of it, then it is really going to stall.

The most significant upside of it though is that it is game changing for your organization. Literally, once you have taken the time to strategically look at unified communications in a way that can really impact your organization from an anytime, anywhere point of view, presence lists, web conferencing and document sharing, which by the way we are doing all of that today even without unified communications virtually with other tools such as WebEx, for example. It’s very, very interesting to see how it can change the face of the organization, help right size the organization and really make some major, major contributions.

It really comes down to creating policies and procedures around your organization in a new world. It also really requires one to really take a fundamental look at how the organization really is operating and how unified communications really can make a major impact, a significant bottom line impact, to the organization for delivering product faster, for communicating amongst the staff in a much more effective way. But again, that requires an entire strategic approach to unified communications and I apologize if I haven't said that enough today. Thanks.

Blair Pleasant: Okay. Thanks, Steve. It looks like it’s all about people, process and technology, and some of the key points we heard today were getting user buy in and that includes doing some internal marketing, setting proper expectations, training people, taking an integrated approach not a siloed approach, and proper planning and setting the decision criteria from the beginning.

It sounds like a lot of this is things that companies need to do before the decision even takes place, before the deployment happens and doing homework and doing a lot of the legwork beforehand so that a lot of these issues and pitfalls can be avoided. This is an area where end user organizations and resellers really need to be thinking about how to avoid some of the issues and think about setting expectations and doing things right the first time so you don't have to fix it later on. Thank you everybody for participating, I think we have some really good insights today that will help organizations going forward. Thank you for your time, and we will talk to you next week.  


1 Responses to "UC Pitfalls and Opportunities" - Add Yours

Christopher May 8/1/2013 5:24:05 PM

I am surprised that on a topic that is focused on processes and people, rather than the underlying technology, that UC Management didn't get more coverage?

Roberta's comment on the need for management was I believe the only mention. She rightly points out that service management is key, as users fit into a range of profiles and these trigger what devices, applications, settings, class of service, etc. that the users will receive.

End-user self-care portals and real time moves, adds and changes are an important part of today's UC processes and pitfalls. The same goes for how companies migrate to UC. There are so many pitfalls in how companies implement UC from the perspective of migrating from a TDM environment, without impacting users.

Maybe this can be a topic for your next podcast?

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