While Parts of Athens Burned, Unified Communications Moved Forward in Greece

While Parts of Athens Burned, Unified Communications Moved Forward in Greece

Grace Tiscareno-Sato and Unified Communications Strategies
While Parts of Athens Burned, Unified Communications Moved Forward in Greece by Grace Tiscareno-Sato

In mid-December, I had the pleasure of spending a week in Athens, Greece.

I arrived twenty-four hours after police shot and killed a teenage boy, sparking a week of intense rioting covered prominently by CNN, which made sightseeing and shopping a bit more exciting than my typical experience.

I was there to give two keynote presentations at the Unified Communications Conference organized by Boussias Communications, publishers of Athens’ Netweek Magazine. I want to share some observations from this emerging UC market and some lessons learned from spending a week getting to understand UC market dynamics in a place far from my California home.

The conference was sponsored by Microsoft, incumbent telco provider OTE, Siemens Enterprise Communications and Solo Gateway (a Greek software company that creates a variety of open source products targeted to the nation’s small and medium-sized businesses.

The organizers flew in Dr. Carsen Sorenson from the London School of Economics to speak about WHY people collaborate. Starting with an academic (and quite humorous) approach to the history and methods humans have used to collaborate in work environments set the stage for my first talk: “Strategic Considerations: Learning from the Earliest Adopters.” I presented a series of global trends impacting an organization’s scarcest resources: people, time and money.  

The four trends I discussed are creating unique businesses challenges that unified communications can solve. This big picture view of global pain points lead directly to a discussion of three case studies. I showed the audience of two hundred IT professionals how early adopters of UC in the US and Europe have attacked these business issues, why they chose UC solutions, what they chose and why.

The audience clearly appreciated the insight into other organizations’ experiences at a time when the earliest discussions of what exactly UC is are taking place in Greece.

At one point, I asked for a show of hands to indicate how many had already completed a VoIP implementation….about 25 hands went up. How many were using unified messaging? About the same number of hands with an even split between UM integrated with Microsoft Outlook and UM on other POP3/IMAP 4-compliant systems. When I asked how many were using unified communications already, almost no hands went up. But when I asked about individual UC component capabilities, I discovered a high degree of audio and web conferencing in use in this market, not surprising for a high-contact culture such as this.

Not surprisingly, virtually no video conferencing is currently in use by medium-sized businesses here and the lack of broadband connections (around 12%) was stated to be an obvious obstacle to greater adoption. But, investment in broadband rollout is increasing sharply so this is only a short-term obstacle. Certainly the audience showed great interest in having video collaboration as part of their business UC toolkit. When I shared examples of CEBP applications that are already deployed and available, the audience was excited by this level of UC innovation that truly has the ability to accelerate and streamline business processes—the true promise of unified communications.

My second presentation, to end the day, was titled: “Unifying People and Processes: Case Studies from Three Continents.” This talk featured six case studies of Siemens and Microsoft solutions in Brazil, Argentina, the United States and the United Kingdom. I described how in all cases, the IT Managers and CIOs involved had partnered with a specific business unit to identify a specific problem, then applied the UC solution to it…in all cases achieving tremendous return on their investments, documented improved processes, and cost reductions on travel, video equipment leasing and other areas.

I was specific in naming the user groups, their functions and processes, obstacles, then talked about the comprehensive solutions deployed and the specific improvements realized. It was presentation that had heads nodding in agreement and which generated a most interesting question:  how exactly is IT supposed to identify (as in the case studies) business problems that UC can solve when IT’s function is defined as a systems procurer and manager in most organizations? Much discussion followed to answer this question, but the best answer was stated by Dr. Sorenson and is summarized below.

Observations and Opportunities for the UC Strategies community:   

  1. There is tremendous interest in unified communications and its benefits in markets like Greece, where business are still primarily served by traditional, proprietary telephony providers and equipment. High-speed broadband penetration rates are low, but growing quickly. The incumbent teleco is quite keen on growing this interest because it understands that as businesses come to understand they musts try UC, they’ll first subscribe to their broadband services to make the experience better for business users.
  2. UC suppliers like Microsoft and Siemens Enterprise Communications are already there and perceived as strong thought leaders. Their challenge will be to figure out how to work effectively together in this market and more importantly, how to work together with local software innovators like Solo Gateway so that everyone benefits. All these players were at this conference (and participated on a sometimes-contentious panel discussion titled “Beyond VoIP”, holding nothing back).  These markets will provide tremendous growth opportunities for those who choose to focus their energies here in the next five years.
  3. UC Strategies is already a well-respected resource for this market. This is one of the ways the conference organizers found me. The incumbent telco representative showed several UC Strategies slides during her talk, including Marty Parker’s slide of UC benefits. You know the one…the slide showing how productivity benefits are dwarfed by business process transformation benefits--magnitudes of order higher.
  4. The business and IT leaders in this market are eager to have a global view of UC implementations, best practices and case studies. That is precisely why they invited me. Future speaking opportunities will arise for those who have compelling implementation stories to tell. The Greek business community wants to know how to best approach this potentially complex solution set. If you’re interested in sharing your experiences with an eager audience, contact me directly. There will also be a steady need for presenters (CIOs, IT managers, IT staff, and business managers) who can talk about why they deployed the UC solution(s) they did along with the challenges, pitfalls, and benefits of having gone through the installation. If you know of an early UC adopter who’s eager to speak on his/her experience, please let me know.
  5. While there was wild agreement at the end of the day that business users and processes must be identified first in order for UC to prove its value (versus beginning by evaluating vendors and solutions), there was a noticeable lack of line of business managers and business process owners in attendance. Like too many conferences on the topic of UC, the audience was heavily composed of IT staff and other technologists, there was not much of a push to get business managers to come learn about UC solutions that could dramatically and positive impact the way they work and how they compete. By the day’s end, they saw this as a primary lesson they learned:  business leaders AND IT together need to attend these events and hear these case studies. This is the only way that UC will be targeted at the right users to accelerate the processes they execute that matter most to the company, thus providing value.

One audience question during the final Q & A session with Carsen and me was particularly insightful. “Okay, so I’m sold on the idea of unified communications as an IT manager. I’m not, however, confident in having a business discussion with a departmental executive to discover which of his users need UC and why. That’ not in my skill set. Is there another way?”

I answered that it’s imperative to find a way to get that skill set. It’s the skill set that turns IT folks into heroes—when they suggest and successfully deploy a solution to a specific set of users that results in tremendous improvement in how work is done and how the business executes. That’s exactly how the IT managers in the case studies succeeded.  I also stated that there’s another effective way to do this: bring an LOB (or two) with you to the next UC conference so they can see for themselves how organizations with UC are collaborating in a globalized knowledge-based economy more efficiently. Either way, you need this joint approach to start.

Dr. Sorensen stated emphatically that this is exactly the kind of 21st century change that is needed to transform and improve businesses requiring a higher degree of human collaboration every day. “You cannot get there by employing 20th century “traditional-role-of IT” thinking.”  The case studies I presented, where this new approach worked, were the best evidence that this indeed is the way to make UC work.

It was exactly this combination of case studies of strategic consideration, coupled with examples of targeted UC deployments to specific high-impact user groups that the audience wanted to hear. Plus, the idea that IT and business leaders must now work and think differently in a UC-enabled world was loud and clear as well. A lot of learning happened that day and I realized that this presentation model (a theoretical view of collaboration, coupled with actual case studies of today’s UC in action) will work well in venues in many UC markets.

I look forward to the next such opportunity.



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