Creating a Sensible Unified Communications Strategy

Considerations to Ensure Your Rollout Goes Smoothly

Tim Allen

A growing number of enterprises are eager to leverage unified communications (UC) to transform their organizations. The UC trend supports the convergence of multiple modes of communication and data sharing – including voice, video, mobile devices, and the Internet – around a single IP-based infrastructure.

Unified communications enables employees, customers, and partners to share information or participate in audio or video conferences through one platform, regardless of their location or device. The right UC solution can make communications, collaboration, data retrieval, and group training far easier than a set of disparate tools that lack consistent accessibility, interoperability, or reliability, and are difficult for IT to manage. Further, UC can integrate communications with an organization’s processes, increasing efficiency across the enterprise.

While the initial capital outlay for a UC solution can be steep, the benefits and long-term savings derived can more than justify the up-front costs. There’s a caveat here, though: For organizations to choose the UC solution that works best for them, it is imperative that they first develop a unified communications strategy that spells out their goals and needs. “Ready, aim, buy” works a lot better than “ready, buy, aim.”

What considerations should go into determining an enterprise’s UC strategy? The most important thing is that the conversion goes as smoothly as possible. Disruption is the polar opposite impact a UC rollout should have on the organization.

Thus, a smart first step is to assess your current network. Will your infrastructure be able to support UC? Upgrades to your LAN/WAN may be necessary to support traffic coming from both phones and digital data sources, or you may have to expand your storage area network to accommodate voice messages and emails. These types of infrastructure changes must be accounted for when pricing and assessing a UC platform.

Once you’ve assessed your infrastructure for UC readiness, it’s time to assess the needs of the people who will be most impacted by a UC adoption: Your employees. IT professionals have heard this message plenty in recent years, but it bears repeating: Everything must begin with the user. The whole point of UC is to make people more productive and processes more efficient.

That means talking to workers about how they use communications technology to do their jobs. Who’s reliant on mobile devices? Who only uses text and email? Who is unfamiliar with collaboration applications? These are your customers, and any smart organization will assess the impact of a major change on their customers before making a commitment.

Even after deciding on a UC platform, enterprises must still take measured, strategic steps to implement it. First, choose which organization unit is the most logical candidate for a limited rollout. A new UC platform should never be introduced unilaterally across the enterprise. Let a small group work out the bugs to streamline experience the benefits. Do everything you can to make sure it’s a positive experience for these first adopters. Those employees will be important down the road when it comes time to get buy-in from other departments.

Secondly, integrate training into your UC rollout strategy. People are often afraid of new technology because they fear they won’t understand it and that it will negatively impact their job performance. Walking them through the unfamiliar processes – and exposing them to the positive experiences of the UC test group – can help resistant employees overcome their anxiety.

There are a number of factors to consider – technological, organizational, and even emotional – when devising a UC strategy. Organizations that methodically address these concerns as they build their UC roadmap will see their efforts pay off in the long run.