Companies Go for Unified Communication Solutions in Different Ways
Unified communication (UC) is easy to describe from a vendor’s perspective, but an open approach in defining and building a unified is bound to be more successful than a one-size fits all offering. The combined telephony and IT department must identify the internal and external communication patterns to identify what services will increase efficiency and productivity.
In an episode of Mad Men when the news of the assassination of President Kennedy is heard, the main character Donald Draper walks into the main office while all phones are ringing insanely. Before he finds out what is going all, suddenly the phones all go quiet and a secretary tries to get a signal again. Later in the episode we get the explanation that “…the system was completely overloaded.” This is just one dramatic example where the ever-working phone stops functioning which must mean that there is a very serious situation. Think of the number of dramatic scenes you have seen where the victim rushes to a phone, but not getting a dial tone. Exciting, isn’t it?
Implementing a technology is no guarantee that the workforce will become more efficient. It really is not up to each supplier to promise efficiency. They can only offer tools that might be used to increase that illusive and very, from a quantitative perspective, difficult point to prove.
Instead each organization should approach Unified Communication features from a user’s perspective.
1) Identify who the users are
For a contact center, the users are not only the agents and management staff, they are also partners and customers who want to communicate with them. For Unified Communications solutions, the users are most regularly in the office, but there are external users as well.
2) Identify communication volumes
By knowing the DNA of the organizations’ communication needs it is easier to identify what tools will help them to be more efficient.
3) Identify what means of communication (features) will benefit these communication patterns.
UC is a very different solution depending on organization. For one company, UC will focus on video-based collaborations, in another it will be instant messaging and presence, and in a third it will circle around allowing collaboration between the contact center and back-office staff.
In a recent publication, research house IDC predicts an increase in unified communication sales, chiefly in the small and medium enterprises. I believe that this is because for these smaller companies, communication is more streamlined and there is less legacy equipment to consider. However, the success of the industry lies in the adoption of models that allow larger organizations the flexibility to combine applications to create their UC solution. Still, the IT departments of larger organizations struggle with what features will be the killer features so that their finite budgets are used for the right thing.
In most companies, telecom and IT departments have merged, but without changing the way they work. A joint effort is absolutely necessary for UC to be implemented successfully. To give you an example, let’s say the IT department wants to implement a UC client with a built-in soft phone. This means that the telecom group responsible must test this client (SIP maybe) and in many cases this will involve upgrading the telecom system. Or turn it around. The telecom group upgrades the old voicemail system to a unified messaging solution and wants messages to be stored in the email server. If the telecom and IT department do not communicate (which is a conundrum, seeing that they both work with communication,) the implementation of UC is going to fail.
Now to tie the knot in this article. I began with a descriptive situation from the TV series Mad Men. For unified communication as a concept to succeed, it is not possible to view voice as a by-product or necessary evil, but as a very important product-feature (VIP) which will make or break UC. I have read so many blogs, heard so many presentations from pundits who dismiss voice as the old way of communicating, i.e. their focus is on new ways of communicating.
Let me give you a number of reasons why this is bound to fail:
- In the Nordic countries mobile devices are taking over hard phones on desks. What about conference rooms, you wonder and, yes, even they are equipped with Bluetooth-enabled systems or carry a universal cable to connect the mobile phone.
- Smartphones are replacing desk phones – this is very much a reality in Scandinavia.
- UC features focus on the desktop computer. Mobile UC is a different challenge all together. Mobile users are currently “forced” to look at the consumer space for solutions. IT departments must catch up to these users, but this can only happen if they change their bottom-up approach (technology focus) to implementing UC with a top-down model where they define UC from a user’s perspective and deliver it based on those demands.
- In many countries in Europe, the attendant still has a key role, which is very much forgotten in the US-dominated UC market. This function must also be tied into the UC portfolio.
- We must not forget the business critical contact centers. Many vendors are now offering solutions that allow their contact center agent desktop to share information such as presence, IM and documents between front and back office. (I will deal with this topic in later articles). But what organization will change out that mission critical system for a UC implementation because it is not open enough to share this information between the systems?
- This now poses a different question - what information (presence, calendars, line state from mobile phones or hard-phones) and activities do we want to show between organizations? Presence federation and presence presentation is going to be the Achilles-heal for UC vendors that don’t see the whole pictures. Especially for larger organizations. (I will deal with this topic also in later articles).
One solution fits all, is not an answer, it is a cop-out. If current vendors do not open themselves up to cooperate with application vendors, open source or community-developed solutions will become powerful competitors if serious systems integrators take the support responsibility and release management needed to create trust.
Organizations still depend on voice communication as the premier quality communication service. When it doesn’t work, we know. IT departments and vendors must consider this when implementing and developing products with a higher failure rate than what we are used to from a voice system.
We can live without email for a while; we don’t have to IM or share a document. But if we can’t make a call, something is seriously wrong… Right?