Poll Indicates Implementation of Unified Communications Ongoing Despite Weak Economy.While once viewed as a “nice-to-have” for large organizations with even larger information technology (IT) budgets, unified communications (UC) solutions have firmly advanced into the realm of possibility for organizations of many sizes, with many small- and medium-sized businesses already reaping the benefits of implementing.
The recent CDW Unified Communications Tracking Poll noted that 53 percent of businesses, government agencies, and healthcare and educational institutions surveyed are either actively implementing or planning to implement UC solutions. In addition, 70 percent of organizations currently in the UC planning and implementation phases expect to complete their adoption within two years, despite the weak economy.
Why? IT professionals understand that UC solutions can increase their organizations’ productivity and reduce operating costs significantly and quickly. Additionally, UC promises more reliable communication, improved cross-functional communication and enhanced sense of belonging and affinity amongst remote or mobile workers. However, transitioning to a UC platform takes careful thought and planning in order to realize.
Unified communications solutions vary, can be built-to-suit
Definitions of UC vary greatly and, at times, there have been almost as many definitions as there are technologies that comprise the solution. While there’s no “one size fits all” approach to UC, there are several approaches to unifying communications on a single platform.
Most organizations we surveyed are pursuing either rich media or telephony-centric approaches to implementation, while many others focus on e-mail- or instant messaging-centric approaches, with presence strategies gaining momentum. Admittedly, the array of available technologies, combined with company-wide implications, make selecting a UC solution a complex undertaking. What’s right for your company depends in large part upon the nature of your organization’s work as well as its physical structure.
Though the lack of industry-standard UC approaches leads some organizations to delay decisions on implementation, the range of solutions and strategies available enables tailored solutions that best fit an individual organization’s needs.
Most of the challenges that we see in UC implementations arise from at least one of the following:
Rushed discovery phase – this phase should carefully assess all potential applications and systems that link to the communications platform or may be affected by the change in traffic. It’s easier to identify and address challenges prior to implementation than having to adjust mid-course
Assumption that all equipment and applications can be transferred “as is” from existing systems – perhaps they can, but be sure before you invest
Lack of business/operational stakeholder involvement in discovery, planning or implementation. Unifying communications is not an IT-only decision, and you’ll only capture the maximum benefit if you secure the users’ input along the way
Failure to establish a determined goal and adhere to it. This is where UC solutions can become needlessly complicated, leading to unanticipated costs
Failure to understand the contract and procurement process. At the very least, this can cost you time during implementation
Choosing to “clean things up” after the migration rather than before. This is a sure way to breed dissatisfaction among your users, so it’s better to be sure that the platform and applications work right from Day One of your implementation
Kill two birds with one stone
Many organizations contain the cost of UC implementation by planning it in conjunction with other organizational changes involving facilities or the communications network. Our tracking poll found that almost all of the organizations planning and executing UC solutions are also doing at least one of the following:
Replacing obsolete or inadequate existing networks
Opening a new facility or building
Establishing a new call center or expanding an old one
Integrating two or more existing organizations’ networks (e.g., a business merger/acquisition or a reorganization)
Integrating branches of distributed operations (e.g., retail store locations, bank branches and field offices)
Expanding or deploying a telecommuting program for a significant percentage of the organization’s workforce
Implementing a business continuity/disaster recovery plan and supporting capabilities
When thinking about UC, look for these kinds of business-driven changes in your organization and talk with management about how improvements in the communications systems can make them even more effective.
Implement a solution that meets your end goal, and don’t shortcut the training
Remember that UC only functions as well as the infrastructure it is built upon, so if your network is not robust enough to handle the increased traffic from unified communications, your organization will not realize the full benefit of this solution. Review your current business and network environments, assess current and future needs and incorporate them into a scope of work for design and implementation. For most companies, unifying communications is a highly technical and phased process leading to an end goal that meets business/organizational communication goals. Develop a network and implement a solution set that remains running when the weakest link is at or near maximum capacity.
Finally, remember that training is vital – for administrators and end users alike – on maintenance and use of the UC components. Begin preparing your colleagues for implementation during the installation and configuration phases. After all, UC solutions are designed to increase productivity of end users and the only way to accomplish that goal is to ensure they are properly trained.
Implementation can be easier than you think
It will not be easy selling your superiors on the idea of a companywide communications system enhancement during the toughest economy since the 1930s. But once they understand the benefits, you may find it’s just the kind of enhancement they’re looking for.
No worries – you’re not alone. Many others in your position are encouraging their company to consider an investment in unified communications. The good news is that the apprehensions mostly dissipate as implementation swings into gear.
According to CDW’s Unified Communications Tracking Poll, the most common concerns among organizations planning for UC implementation are how it will affect network security (45 percent of responders), what it requires in equipment and capital costs (44 percent) and where it will drive operating costs (42 percent),. However, respondents indicated that with careful planning, many of those apprehensions ease once implementation begins: Organizations that have completed or begun their implementations report substantially lower levels of concern with those same issues (27 percent, 28 percent and 31 percent, respectively).
While unified communications is a complicated field with many potential challenges, it can undoubtedly help transform an organization and produce attractive operating efficiencies. The facts speak for themselves, that UC is not only a wave of the future but an innovative way to change how your company does business.