As more and more companies adopt unified communications due to its collaboration and cost benefits, it’s critical to remember that user adoption will ultimately determine if UC deployments are successful. Users can be hesitant to accept new applications, even if they’re simpler and more effective in the long run (much to the chagrin of IT managers).
Despite efforts to standardize on innovative communication tools, some users refuse adoption, instead sticking with their old standbys. For example, many an IT staff has been plagued with help desk requests involving Yahoo Messenger and AOL Instant Messenger, regardless of the fact that the company has standardized on Microsoft Office Communicator or IBM Lotus Sametime. Why are employees hesitant toward many of IT’s efforts to standardize? The answer is simple: They are unfamiliar and unsatisfied with the experience.
When rolling out UC deployment plans, many organizations fail to consider the endpoint. If they do, they typically leave very little budget allotted for solutions that will truly meet the needs of the user. This can be hazardous to UC adoption, as most employees are characteristically reluctant to change and will not use an interface that is complicated or unfamiliar.
In many UC environments, where the PC is the main platform for voice and audio, the traditional tactile experience of picking up a phone and dialing to connect with someone is dramatically altered. This could cause some users to forgo the new UC system completely. The IT team should provide employees with endpoint options, including headsets, speakerphones or handsets that require little or no training and are just as easy to use as a desk phone.
Complexity becomes an issue in hybrid UC telephony environments. Professionals might get a call on a desk phone or mobile phone, need to conference in someone via softphone, and later join a Webinar or listen to music through the PC. Depending on the endpoint configuration, complexity could cause frustration for the user and wasted resources for the organization.
Offer Solutions to Meet Employee Needs
Offer solutions to meet employee needs
The most important thing to consider when outlining endpoint options in a UC deployment plan is flexibility. Instead of fighting to force employees into a specific solution, IT teams should offer options to meet varying user needs and preferences. For example, take users who frequently use the desk phone and PC in tandem to collaborate on presentations. These users would benefit from a telephone headset that allows them to talk and type simultaneously and mixes audio between the phone and PC.
Mobile professionals who use PC calling might prefer a headset that allows them to take calls from both a PC and a mobile phone. Stationary workers might prefer a simple-to-use, plug-and-play corded headset. For professionals who aren’t comfortable using a headset, explore traditional phone handsets and speakerphones that plug into a computer via USB.
When selecting UC endpoints, high-quality audio for transmitting and receiving is critical. The built-in mic and speaker on most PCs are inadequate at best, which can aggravate users, customers, partners or other company constituents to which the user is talking. In addition, communicating over a computer network is subject to data traffic that can affect sound quality. Acoustic echo, audio latency and distortion can significantly impact sound quality.
Also important is a noise-canceling microphone, especially for employees working in noisy cubicle environments or working from home who need to block out background noise. Fundamentally, if the IT organization is asking users to use the PC as a voice communication device, they have to ensure the quality and performance standards of the traditional telephone.
Another must-have is plug-and-play capability. IT teams do not need to add the burden of installing and adjusting the settings of equipment for everyone in the company. Users should be able to easily set up and use the endpoint with only a small amount of guidance (if even that). Along the same lines, products should be reliable so they require little support once they are in use.
Design is another element that can impact how readily employees embrace their UC endpoint. The growth in consumer electronic devices such as iPods and stylized mobile phones has elevated the desire for personal technology devices to be both functional and fashionable. If a headset is visually appealing, comfortable to wear and customizable, employees will be more likely to jump on the UC bandwagon.
Clearly, providing employees with endpoint solutions that meet their unique needs is vital to the success of a UC deployment. It seems impractical to derail the investment put into UC adoption by making the endpoint an afterthought. Being flexible and offering endpoint options is necessary in order to see the ROI of standardizing on a UC platform (which includes reduced phone bills, conference call minutes, travel expenses, and so on). It can also help in reducing support issue headaches by first eliminating some common adoption hurdles.
Gunjan Bhow is vice president and general manager for Unified Communications at Plantronics. In this role, Gunjan is responsible for overall strategy and management of initiatives that enable enterprises to take full benefit of software-based communications. Gunjan brings close to 20 years of experience in rich media software and IP-based communications, covering both consumer and enterprise markets, as well as software and hardware.
Prior to joining Plantronics, Gunjan was vice president of marketing at Actiontec Electronics, where he launched a business that extended the usage of Skype to traditional phones, mobiles and enterprises-being the first-of-kind products in each category. Prior to Actiontec, Gunjan was director of platform product strategy at Microsoft Corporation. In this role, Gunjan led product strategy and business planning for Microsoft’s digital TV software, resulting in millions of deployments. Prior to Microsoft, Gunjan led venture capital investments for Telesystem. His focus was working on emerging mobile data solutions with wireless operators. Gunjan has spoken at conferences worldwide on digital media.
Gunjan holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He can be reached at [email protected].