Because “unified communications” (UC) technology is still slowly evolving, its definitions are also slowly becoming sharpened. What is becoming most obvious about UC is that it is taking voice telephony into the domain of open, multimodal communications and information delivery between people and automated business processes. What are still contributing to the confusion in the marketplace are the two enterprise perspectives for justifying technology change. One is the IT perspective, which is mainly concerned with implementation costs and ease of maintenance and support (including security and reliability), the other is the operational, end user perspective that looks for value and ease of use in adopting the functionality that UC capabilities will offer. Enterprise management at the top must obviously be interested in both perspectives, but which must come first in UC migration planning?
The “Why’s” vs. the “How To’s”
End users could care less about what IT worries about, as long as they get what they need or want from the technology to do their jobs more easily and efficiently. On the other hand, IT management is charged with delivering the technology that end users need and want. Because there is so much “business process” that can now be automated and improved by computer software, IT management is being admonished to “align” themselves with “business units” in order to understand what those end users need and want. My question is, exactly how are they really doing that?
In reading all the hype about “productivity” that technology providers cite to enterprise IT technology buyers, I get the feeling that the provider industry is pushing the “cart before the horse,” as far what end user application needs are. In the case of IP telephony and UC, one would expect that future enterprise user needs would be identified and perhaps even quantified before implementation decisions can be made. As highlighted by my colleague, Marty Parker, in his blog “Are We Flying Blind?,” there is really more homework to be done by individual enterprise organizations, not only to plan their technology migration priorities more accurately (“How to’s”), but also to validate the “Why’s” for moving to UC.
Looking Forward, Not Backward!
In a recent article in BCR magazine on the subject of UC migrations, I cited some recent research on business communications, published this year in the Communications of the ACM, the journal of the oldest, independent computer association in the U.S., the Association for Computing Machinery. The research was conducted by two university professors, one from the University of Texas, and one from the University of Arkansas. The research was prompted by the impact of the 9/11 attacks on business travel and face-to-face business meetings.
The study examined the value of all forms business contact in making business interactions in distributed relationships “richer” and more effective. These included face-to-face meetings, videoconferencing, telephone conferencing, email, snail mail, and fax. As highlighted in the ACM article, face-to-face meetings were rated as the richest form of business contact, followed by videoconferencing. However, what was most surprising was that asynchronous email was rated almost identically as high as phone calls for maintaining business contacts. One factor that could have influenced the richness value of email was the ability to include contextual information as attachments or links, something that traditional phone calls can’t do. The article concluded that these findings might signal that frequent messaging interactions, including instant messaging and voice/unified messaging, will blur the perceived need for traditional telephone calls to people.
What’s More Important “Costs” or “Needs”?
As enterprise personnel increasingly become more mobile and/or remote teleworkers, efficient and effective distributed business contacts will become more important. This in turn will change the metrics of business process workflows and their dependency on contacting people in a timely manner. So, the ROI benefits of UC will include:
- The costs of communication equipment and services,
- The costs of IT technology administration and support,
- The individual end user time-savings in more easily making successful communication contacts (“micro-productivity”),
- The operational benefits of maintaining coordinated business activities and speeding up priority task completions between end-users in a distributed environment (“macro-productivity”).
Looking at this list, which factors should really be investigated and identified first in planning a UC migration?
My view has always been to first look at new technology as if it were all free and didn’t require any effort to implement. The value of using such new capability would need to be identified before anyone would bother to use it. Right? So, now that there are costs involved and implementation options, why don’t enterprise organizations do their operational homework first, before looking at costs and configuration requirements?
Doing the Enterprise Operational Homework for UC Migrations
It should be clear that the evolution from traditional telephony to IP telephony in the context of UC must consider all forms of messaging activity that can now generate call traffic, and vice versa. With wireless mobility and “instant conferencing,” traditional two party phone calls can quickly escalate to multi-party connections. Even from the perspective of configuration planning, there will be a convergence of communication traffic that will not be the same as before.
More importantly, the flexibility of contacting people more efficiently will pay off at both the “micro” and “macro-productivity” level. That is where the operational and business ROIs need to be identified and estimated as a first step in migration planning. Don’t look for “hard” numbers there, because until user experience is realized, it will only be a guess. Even looking quantitatively at the experience of other organizations in the form of so-called “best practices” can be misleading, because every organization is going to be somewhat different in how they do things and the value of communication efficiency will vary.
Good Old Needs Analysis and Pilot Testing!
A traditional first step for communication technology procurement planning has been an objective “needs analysis” based on the job requirements for all the end users in the organization. It’s pretty easy to do when it is familiar old technology that is involved and users can tell you exactly what they need. With the new options of UC and the flexibility of personalized, multimodal and transmodal communication usage, the needs analyses have to be more “predictive” of future usage. (It is also a good opportunity for preparing end users for change!)
Another practical and complementary approach to surveying end user needs is doing “pilot” studies, where a small group of users trial UC functional capabilities, and their usage activity data are compared “before” and “after,” along with constructive feedback on the “experience.” Such trials should not simply use legacy communication devices (i.e., desktop telephones, desktop PCs), but also be based upon mobile and multimodal devices that UC can fully exploit. IP-based communications lend themselves. “Pilot” testing is also a good way for enterprise IT to become familiar with the new world of IP communications and UC capabilities and enable a more intelligent decisions for selecting managed, hosted, or traditional CPE implementations of UC.
Doing this type of operational homework first will be far more important for UC migration planning, than worrying about which technology to buy first and from whom. However, it will be a challenge for the busy enterprise, with limited internal expertise, to do all this by themselves. For this reason, the flexibility of IP communications that facilitates managed and hosted solutions will also enable objective, third-party consulting expertise to help manage doing the UC migration homework right.
What Do You Think?
When should the enterprise start its UC needs analyses? How objective should third-party consulting for such analyses be? Who in the enterprise should be responsible for the operational needs analysis? Should “Customer UC” be treated separately? How can IT help? Will end users know what UC technology they need to do their jobs better? Is it worth it to “pilot” UC capabilities including trialing various endpoint devices? What role will usage parameters, e.g., “multimodal minutes” (Jeff Pulver’s IP “purple minutes”) play in quantifying the benefits of UC?
Let us know your opinion by sending us an email at [email protected]
, or by commenting to our new blog. (http://unified-view.blogspot.com/)
Read our articles on UC for Customer Contact applications
The Math of Customer UC: blog. (http://unified-view.blogspot.com/)
Customer Voice Contacts: Smarter Call Center IP Telephony Routing
Stop Guessing! The Five Real Reasons For Migrating Your Call Center to IP