unified.communications.image.april.2016Unified communications is as much about giving your staff the ability to access a variety of communication tools from a single interface on different devices as it is about embedding communication capabilities directly into existing, vertical business applications and business processes. This dual outlook ensures that employees can be their most productive any time any place, on the one hand, and that process automation potential is exploited to support swift workflows and eradicate common bottlenecks, on the other hand.

Improving the end user and business experience through UC requires careful planning and a number of strategic considerations. From our experience, infrastructure readiness, interoperability and user training are three of the main areas that can taint the deployment and therefore deserve special attention from the start.

Work from the user backwards

Your end users are the best indicator for which communication and collaboration tools will be the most useful to them. Look at those they are already using – even, or especially, if they are not part of your current, formal communications setup. Staff may be using particular apps and/or their own devices if they find those more appropriate to communicate with customers, suppliers and business partners.  Your findings will determine if a single vendor UC solution will be sufficient for your organisation or whether a best-of-breed UC ecosystem is the way forward to meet your staff’s communication needs.

Allow time for technology discovery and learning

Make sure to make enough time to understand your end users’ needs, how UC will benefit your user community, identify which platform matches these requirements, and how your choice UC platform operates. From my technology discovery and consultancy workshops with clients I know that this learning process can take several weeks. That’s perfectly fine because communications solutions bring with them their own challenges that IT service teams may not always be expertly familiar with. A good grasp of the different UC technologies, technical requirements and deployment options available will help to make better decisions in building a UC environment that will benefit your business in the long term.

Infrastructure readiness

With presence, messaging, conferencing, document sharing and rich media collaboration tools your network will certainly be hit with an extra load. Servers, routers and data connections all need to be able to handle increased traffic, particularly if you are planning to add more users onto the system at a future point in time. Security infrastructure, LAN/ WAN and wi-fi requirements will also need to be assessed. After all, it’s about getting the best possible performance out of your UC applications.

Multi-vendor interoperability

If you are building a UC ecosystem that uses technologies from multiple vendors, it is particularly important to ensure that all components interweave seamlessly. That includes UC servers, IP private branch exchanges and endpoint devices. Even though UC hardware and software interoperability has improved over the last few years it will often be useful to work with a systems integration specialist to mesh all components. Thorough testing at each deployment stage is key to assure the UC system’s service quality and should be built into your rollout strategy.

Business Process Integration

It is worth considering early on whether there are any business processes that could benefit from the integration of existing, process-specific systems with communications applications.

In the retail environment, for example, this could take the form of CRM and inventory stock database integration to allow customer service agents to access both customer and product information (within the store, office or the contact centre) in real-time to assist a sale and personalise customer interactions.

In the housing sector, the UC system could be connected to tenant and property databases as well as payment systems to offer self-service options to tenants, streamline communications with suppliers and field staff, and automate communications related to specific tenant transactions.

The point is that communications enabled business processes support the real-time enterprise, increase productivity and reduce human latency where tasks used to be accomplished manually or formerly required a whole series of tasks.

Tight integration between the UC environment and existing back office systems is a far cry from plug-and-play, as you can imagine, which is why you would be well served to consult with a professional services provider to identify how different UC components could improve business processes to meet company goals.

Phased deployment and user training

A phased rollout, site after site, and user group after user group, is useful as you can learn from mistakes and hiccups during the first deployment. Subsequent deployments across sites should then become a lot smoother.

Equally, many IT services teams will find it worthwhile rolling out the UC suite to power users or technically savvy users first, who can test the system and feedback on their experience before the blanket rollout.

Even if your staff is already familiar with certain UC applications, such as IM or video conferencing, user training never goes amiss to ensure that the entire user community is confident using the breadth and depth of your UC tools. The greatest productivity gains occur when all staff understand how to exploit communications and collaboration tools.

User adoption will ultimately affect ROI – where UC benefits extend beyond individuals and work groups into communications enabled business processes (and these really have the power to transform your business on the whole), the ROI will be considerably higher.

First and foremost, the key to UC success is the realisation that IT services need to extend and meet your users where they are and then carefully plan for the transition to a coherent UC environment that features applications end users will naturally want to use and simplified processes that make users’ lives easier.

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