How to Launch a Plan for Unified Communications and Collaboration in Three Steps

Most managers at most companies know that unified communications is a Good Thing that they would implement if only they had some idea of how to go about it. Accenture's Bob Hersch explains that all it takes is a few first steps.

By: Bob Hersch


Despite the wealth of gadgetry at our disposal-phone, e-mail, instant messaging, videoconferencing and diverse software-too often we hit communications gridlock.

Colleague X learns of a new sales opportunity with a key client and needs to quickly review a pitch presentation with Colleague Y in New York and Colleague Z in London. This type of intelligence has a quick expiration date. Unfortunately, both Colleague Y and Z are unreachable via mobile phone, and Colleague X does not have any other way of contacting them. A time-sensitive deal falls through.

Such disconnects, especially for global enterprises, can kill efficiency. They also have a negative ripple effect on revenue and customer satisfaction. Global competition calls for fluid connections among people, partners and customers. Seamless collaboration across time zones, locations and devices is key.

That's why companies and government organizations are turning to a promising new strategy, dubbed "unified communications and collaboration."

Unified communications and collaboration are not new technologies. Rather, they are ways to get more bang out of existing communications and data channels-to squeeze more value out of everyday interactions among people. Applied properly, it promises to make information sharing more secure and operationally efficient, to improve productivity and business value.

Computer servers can instantly choose a communications channel based on who's available where. A technician's IM system blinks "unavailable," for instance, and the server automatically creates a voice version of the trouble ticket, delivering it to the technician's mobile phone.

Unified communications and collaboration is an undeniable trend, and it's building momentum. IDC estimated a $19.3 billion market in 2006; Faulkner Research predicts $40 billion in a few years. By starting to plan now, organizations can reap the benefits just as this trend turns into a competency we can't do without.

It's important to think strategically about unified communications and collaboration technologies, however, and not simply rush to implement them. Dazzling as its promises are, the lights will dim quickly if it's not adequately integrated into the business. Superior technology may be available to all, but superior results are reserved for those who make the best use of what they have.

Here are three important first steps to ensuring that you actually realize the promise of unified communications and collaboration:

1. Determine Network Readiness

Much of the groundwork for unified communications and collaboration may already be done. That's because these technologies are simply the next logical step in a technology convergence we're already witnessing within many enterprises. The IP has established itself as the bedrock technology for all data and voice communication. It's only prudent now to integrate all communications into a single channel with one interface.

So the first step is to ask, "Just how ready is our network?" Assess your topology and information flows, and the robustness of your network intelligence and data center. At minimum an organization needs end-to-end, MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) technology and VOIP (voice over IP) to be able to converge all traffic onto a single network.