Unified communications (UC) once seemed like just a pipe dream but it is now a reality. A recent Plantronics survey found that only two percent of Fortune 1000 companies were not already in active UC pilot/deployment or considering one. I think it’s safe to say that’s a critical mass.
It’s no wonder that UC has reached this point of adoption. According to the survey, participants’ workplaces were made up of 34 percent road warriors and 29 percent telecommuters (working mostly from home). Of those who work on-site, 73 percent sat in open areas such as bullpens, cubicles or hoteling stations.
We’ve come a long way from the days of working in the silos of private offices and, as a result, today’s workers have specialized and varying needs. It is about time that technology kept pace with the changing requirements of the modern workforce to help them stay connected and engaged no matter their physical location.
While many consider voice to be the central element of UC (69 percent of companies surveyed plan to roll out voice-related UC applications within the next 12 months), desktop video and mobile applications are also driving factors. In the survey, 66 percent and 64 percent of respondents plan to deploy each within the next two years, respectively.
Though UC deployments can seem urgent and daunting to many IT departments, especially when a multitude of applications are involved, a lot of the concerns are unfounded. The survey uncovered some valuable points that can assist IT decision makers considering or in the midst of deployment.
Anticipation vs. Reality
Anticipation versus reality
One of the major hurdles to successful UC deployment isn’t actually a hurdle at all. The anxiety over potential problems can often paralyze plans for UC implementation. But, according to the survey, there is a disparity between anticipated problems and actual problems.
One area where this chasm was most pronounced was user training time. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed (who were considering a UC deployment within two years) cited this as an area of concern, whereas only 35 percent of the companies in operational deployment noted that user training presented problems within their organization.
Another area of disparity related to user preferences. While 43 percent expected that accommodating the unique style and comfort preferences of the workforce would be a problem, only 34 percent of those in operational deployment cited it as such.
Finally, the drain on internal help desk service and support was anticipated to be an issue by 47 percent of those considering UC deployment. In actuality, 34 percent of those in actual deployment experienced problems.
Overall, the lesson learned here was that companies that have been through a UC deployment have experienced minimal issues related to implementation; a lot of fears surrounding potential deployment were unfounded.
One survey respondent, an IT decision maker at a company in the industrial sector, noted that “during the deployment, the call volume and amount of trouble tickets weren’t any more than normal for telecom, surprisingly enough. Actually, both were less because the users have much more capability to manage their phone with the online interface. We are always looking for ways to get the user more involved in solving their own problems.”
Key Factors for Unified Communications Success
Key factors for unified communications success
Some common themes emerged from the survey, as those individuals who had achieved successful deployment at their organization offered their thoughts on what factors contributed to the achievement.
While training was not as big a headache as anticipated, it was still critical for successful deployments. Training was necessary to help users understand basic endpoint device functionality and to enable them to customize options and solve basic issues on their own.
Similarly, IT staffs needed to be trained so that they could quickly resolve problems that were escalating. Those surveyed cited IT staff and user training as the most common issues related to UC deployment (48 percent and 45 percent, respectively).
To meet the varied needs of users across the enterprise such as road warriors, telecommuters and cubicle workers, those surveyed found that it was necessary to do hands-on evaluation of a broad range of endpoint devices in the planning stages.
Acceptance of the endpoint device was critical in successful deployments, as it was the piece that connected users to the UC infrastructure. The IT workers surveyed found that if employees couldn’t easily and comfortably use their endpoint device, they did not adopt the UC technology as a whole.
An IT decision maker at a company in the entertainment industry noted, “At the time (of UC endpoint device selection), we thought the devices would just work and there would be no need to spend time comparing the differences. We saw them as a commodity. We no longer think this way.”
Setting Realistic User Expectations
Setting realistic user expectations
Another common theme in successful deployments was setting realistic expectations with users-especially when it came to range and connection issues. Many employees were accustomed to using traditional corded phones and had high expectations for the new UC technology.
An IT decision maker surveyed at an employee union organization said it best: “Some (users) think they can walk away with a headset as far as a hundred feet and get the same voice quality. But that’s not the case. You have to be considering cubicles and walls in offices. A lot of that can interfere with the quality, so we have to explain that to them. It’s not a perfect technology at this time.”
Though not perfect, UC is now a mainstream solution for today’s changing workforce. IT departments across industries and organizations of all sizes are currently considering deployments. As we discovered with our survey, with some thorough planning and realistic expectations, companies will be able to implement UC applications such as voice, video and mobile, and experience the benefits in a short amount of time.
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, which resulted 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].