How to Adopt Unified Communications and Collaboration: Three Phases

Posted 2008-04-10

How to Adopt Unified Communications and Collaboration: Three Phases

By: Bob Hersch

The companion to this article ("Launch a Plan for Unified Communications and Collaboration in Three Steps") suggests taking stock of network readiness, migration approach, and choice of vendors before pursuing a detailed plan and implementation.

With this foundation in place, your organization must decide when the time is right to embrace unified communications and collaboration.

Early adopters are likely to be those with the strongest imperative to outperform competitors. These enterprises will have any combination of communication-intensive and time-critical business processes, mobile team members with constantly shifting preferred communications channels, work forces that are specialized or distributed, and flexible business-continuity options.

A word of caution: The benefits of unified communications and collaboration are terrifically appealing, which means that amidst all the buzz there's a tendency to want to run and plug it in. Move too hastily, however, and your organization may fail to secure enough return on investment and even expose itself to unnecessary risk. The idea is to spend only on the infrastructure and functions that bring value.

Unified communications and collaboration solutions therefore should have a tag that reads, "Don't plug this in until you know what's on the other end."

With the help of trusted partners, you can gain an understanding of exactly how to transform the existing infrastructure to be more cost-effective, scalable, flexible, secure, and reliable. By thinking through the business benefits clearly-before heading out the gate-your organization will eliminate any potential for waste.

A phased approach to creating a blueprint and executing the plan-combined with sound advice from solutions providers-will bring the best results. The whole implementation process should take anywhere from 15 to 22 months, depending on your network readiness, extent of projects and planning expertise.

Phase 1 â?? Discovery and Strategy (2-4 weeks):  Validate that unified communications and collaboration is the correct strategy by completing a value proposition along with a timeline, preliminary business case, and strategy alternatives. Focus on simplifying, standardizing and consolidating the current server environment and on a clear and compelling business case with hard benefits. The benefits organizations are starting to realize can be applied to your context:

  • Streamlined business processes: Locate the right people on the appropriate communications channels and switch those channels seamlessly. Delivery and response times speed up as business processes are routed more effectively.
  • Cost reduction: Accelerate "collaboration in context" so it occurs seamlessly, virtually and instantly for team members, partners and suppliers. Integrate telephony to enable remote support. Achieve greater efficiency and revenue growth through incremental sales.
  • Leaner supply chain: Business partners, suppliers and customers form an expanding communications network with deeper efficiencies.
  • Enhanced business continuity: In the event of disruption, the communications network contacts key personnel, according to the business continuity strategy.
  • Tightened security: The same technologies used for unified communications and collaboration also mitigate risk, with unified logging across all channels (for compliance) and a connectionless environment resilient to component faults.
  • Greener workplace: Support your organization's green initiatives (such as work from home, and travel and office-space reduction) by making the best use of technologies like highly interactive videoconferencing on PCs.

Plan and Analyze, Implementation and Rollout

Phase 2 Plan and Analyze (2-3 months): Produce a detailed feasibility analysis and business case, including a migration plan. View all communications technologies, including the telephone, as enterprise applications. The aim is to form a single, integrated network of these enterprise applications.

Unified communications and collaboration is not an off-the-shelf product, but rather a convergence of existing technologies and processes to yield new capabilities and greater speed. The migration plan therefore may require consolidation of network infrastructures to transport voice, data, and video communications, and a seamless merger of end-user network devices and protocols, collaboration technologies, presence and location services, and communications interfaces embedded in business applications (enabled by service-oriented architecture).

In further developing the business case, define the end state in quantifiable business terms. Focus on enabling critical business processes, not just technology-based productivity. Develop various scenarios that will apply to your organization.

For example, sales teams can shorten the time span between learning of and responding to new opportunities.  Jim, a salesman, was traveling when he received an e-mail about a new sales prospect. Normally he would have spent three days tracking down available people with the required expertise. But with unified communications and collaboration tools, Jim was able to pinpoint the right collaborators within the hour. After a few conference calls, the assembled team was able to build a proposal. The saved time in these types of situations drastically raised the company's win rate.

Another example might be a European global carrier enabling its merger-integration activities by using unified communications and collaboration high-definition video conferencing. The carrier's recent merger resulted in multiple geographically distributed corporate centers and significant demand for high-quality and real-time communications.  Telepresence video conferencing will be used to enable accelerated executive decision-making and to coordinate merger integration activities.

From the above scenarios, one can extrapolate real cost savings, supply chain efficiencies, and customer satisfaction benefits.

From a bird's-eye perspective, Phase 2 is part of planning for the "next-generation workplace," which will place employees wherever they need or want to work, from any device, anywhere, any time, through low- or zero-touch deployment of end-user devices and transformation solutions.

Phase 3 -- Implementation and rollout (1 year-18 months): This phase includes all the life cycle activities involved in transforming the network and business processes.

During this phase, your organization is managing change in how people communicate and share data, not just in the use of technology.  This process therefore is a simultaneous integration of business-process change and technological change.

Phase 3 itself may be broken down into further phases for transforming the infrastructure and finally tying all of the desktop, messaging and network transformation components together into a seamless communications capability.

Successful implementation of unified communications and collaboration likely will require the help of a long-term technology partner (as opposed to project-based vendors). The wise choice of such partners, and of the right level of services, will play a big role in your success.  Such advisors will aid in clarifying the business value you can realize, and help you turn the glitter of unified communications and collaboration into gold.

For more detail about the key projects an organization might expect in implementing unified communications, see:

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