Why Can’t We All Just Get Along; Unifying Communications
It’s time to change your approach to unified communication & collaboration
When the telephone first became widely available to the general population of the world in the 1930s it sparked something of a revolution. As one can see in the fascinating historical film Far Speaking, People were amazed that their ability to communicate was now global and instant.
Figure 1: Images from 1935 film Far Speaking
For the first time in the history of the world families, business associates and even nations could communicate in real time and whenever they wished. To the people of the day it was awe-inspiring and empowering.
There have been many advances in communication technology since then – far too many for me to list in complete detail here – but in a simplified overview one would have to include:
Development of a standard global dial-plan
Wireless / mobile telephony
Real-time data sharing
Large screen display of data
Real-time, wireless digital communications
Each step in the evolution of communications technology added a new element that could be leveraged to enhance the quality of personal and business communications. A standard dial-plan enabled calling to anywhere without the need for an operator. Mobile phones enabled voice communication from wherever we happened to be. Videoconferencing enabled the addition of body language to our remote conversations – to convey the 55% of communications that noted scholar Albert Mehrabian documented explained comes non-verbally. Combining documents and presentations with our videoconferencing - and being able to share it with large groups - allowed distant individuals to participate in discussions and debates as if they were all in the same room. And our current age of real-time wireless data anywhere allows us to access our voice, video and data communications from wherever we happen to be.
The interesting thing about these and many other related developments in technology was that they often occurred in silos – especially in the corporate enterprise. Telephony wasn’t absorbed into IT organizations until the 1990s. Room videoconferencing systems were almost always rolled-out by different organizational departments than desktop collaboration systems – with network and wireless teams often in a third and fourth group. Large format displays and room designs were often managed by a non-technology facilities team – true in many cases even to this day.
When I give presentations on the topic of Unified Communications I often call it the only technology in the modern history of mankind that has been “launching” for 17 years. One has to include this silo-based management of enterprise technology high up on the list of reasons for the long delay. Enterprise managers generally have no desire to give up their organizational kingdoms for the greater good.
In the last couple of years however we’ve achieved a tipping point, with user exuberance similar to that of the 1930s telephony revolution. Consumerization – and its role in Shadow IT – have shown the enterprise end-user that many more things are possible than their typical, siloed IT departments allow for. People are using their personal PCs, tablets and smart phones to do whatever they want and from wherever they are. This includes things like making video calls to their family, sharing music, photos and data in the cloud, and conducting their personal business with video, voice and text. The genie is now out of the bottle. When these individuals contact their organization’s IT department and are told “we can’t do that” they know it to be a lie – because they already do it in their personal lives. This reality has the potential of having a very detrimental effect on an organization, causing everything from employee attrition to the security risks associated with lack of compliance.
The only way for enterprises to deal with this exuberance and the corresponding risks is to finally bite the bullet and unify the unified communications – to look at and manage it from a holistic stance. We all have to put aside our tendency to become bogged-down in the technology and features and instead focus on our people and their desired organizational outcomes. This bottom-up approach differs from technology “provide and pray” in that it establishes a specific blend of needs that is unique to every organization. The blend is then applied across the organization with the understanding that the way things have been done up to that point has no inherent relevance – because people collaborate differently today than they did even a few years ago.
Figure 2: People collaborate differently today
In the past, internal teams, business partners and clients were mostly regional. The people one worked with were typically within their building – or within driving distance. Most meetings were conducted face-to-face. Users leveraged large rooms for group meetings. These were typically deemed to be the “important” meetings, and as such organizations wanted the ability to bring in remote participants in via video conferencing when necessary. With that, most organizations only enabled their “boardroom” or select similar large rooms, and invested a lot of money in big room systems to ensure there was a quality user experience. Today’s world is virtual. Remote working has become the norm. Users’ internal teams, business partners and clients might not even be in the same country much less within driving distance. This has caused us all to change the way we meet. Instead of face-to-face in the boardroom we meet via available technology – typically with no more than 3-5 people in any one location.
In order to meet these needs, organizations need to take a comprehensive approach that acknowledges that each aspect is interrelated. For just one example, every meeting room needs to be designed with collaboration technology – not just a select few. These rooms need to be simple, smaller and enabled for self-service with no ‘training” needed. They need to be part of an ecosystem that facilitates collaboration with other rooms just as easily as with desktop or mobile users. This ecosystem needs to facilitate collaboration with people internal to the organization just as easily as it does with external partners, providers and clients. It needs to be managed with a governance that has the authority over everything from room design to network design. And it needs to enable a next generation security and compliance strategy that factors-in the intelligence of the applications and the users, and minimizes “protection by prevention.”
This may seem like an obvious direction, but believe me – based upon my experience with organizations – it’s far from it. A recent client of mine was disappointed with the suggested UC roadmap that came out of a very comprehensive analysis because the first five steps in a twenty step plan required change in their organizational structure and governance. They were exasperated that they couldn’t achieve their desired outcomes by writing a PO to someone. “Where’s the bill of materials?” they kept asking.
The reality of this comprehensive approach to unified communication and collaboration is that once an organization successfully implements a people and outcome focused model, the organization is not only better than its competition – it often permanently redefines the marketplace. We know this because all the processes and technologies that are needed to achieve a unified unified communications model are available today. Many organizations are beginning or have already begun the transformational journey. The key is a willingness amongst their leadership to accept the required changes in approach and organization. Many organizations also identify expert partners to help guide them – ones that don’t have a vested interest in just selling one brand or one application, but rather have the experience to begin the process by identifying the needed outcomes and then mapping them to the correct blend of solutions, mixing-in comprehensive implementation and adoption strategies.
The genie of any collaboration from anywhere is out of the bottle. Will your organization make the needed changes or be left behind?
By David Danto, Principal Consultant, AV, Multimedia, Telepresence, UC, Video, Dimension Data Enterprise Services
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