With every major new technology, there have been great opportunities for those with vision and a willingness to move into uncharted territory. So it is with unified communications, which is really a combination of new technology and existing technology finally merging to create something significant for customers. Unified Communications (UC) is the ultimate outcome of the path that started with Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), VoIP, Convergence and now wireless. But as my colleague, Blair Pleasant from COMMfusion says, "UC is a vision or philosophy that leads to solutions - it is not a product". UC is a journey for customers on the road to their destination.
The first step to deploying Unified Communications is to define what you are trying to accomplish from a business perspective and then relating that to the “tools” that make up unified communications solutions. Customers need to identify the core vision of business process improvement as the goal to where they are going. But reaching the end goal begins with taking small steps. For some, the immediate business “need” may translate to deploying Presence and have it integrate to your voice, voice mail and email. Others’ needs may translate to this technology goal but also extend the functionality out to wireless devices. And for some organizations, an initial deployment such as this will mark not an end, but the beginning of the journey that takes you into SOA and embedding all of these mediums within your key enterprise applications such as ERP systems.
Another key step is to evaluate what you already have, and determining whether all, some, or none of your existing products will be able to take them forward. It is important to determine which manufacturers are likely to be able to deliver the future products you will need to reach your destination. Much of the "information" heard in the marketplace today comes from a small group of giant companies seeking to persuade customers to adopt their single vendor solutions. UC is seen as the ultimate lock in by data network or enterprise software leaders seeking to extend their reach into new areas. It is not easy to separate what is best for you vs. what vendors can deliver now and on their road map.
A key role for whoever ends up leading the integration effort is the need to inventory and identify the various skill and knowledge sets that UC will require. Unlike stand alone products in the past, whose software was mostly self-contained, emerging software-driven products require a greater degree of skill to deploy since they are going into more complex environments and inter-operate with more diverse sets of software and networks. In this increasingly complex environment, relationships are key.
Without a core vision of business process improvement as the goal, you may end up with a narrow, vendor driven solution. Much of the "information" heard in the marketplace comes from a small group of giant companies seeking to persuade you to adopt their single vendor solutions. UC is seen as the ultimate lock in by data network or enterprise software leaders seeking to extend their reach into new areas.
If your organization is not concerned about any legacy equipment, using best-of breed software (some of which you may already own), network readiness, or the ability of your users to handle radical change, there should be no problem. For the rest though, deploying UC while using as much of what you already have can be devilishly difficult.
Those that rush into deploying UC are headed for disaster. The technology is young. Hidden traps abound and include operating systems that cannot handle the applications required, scaling issues, networks that are not robust enough and most importantly, applications that contain all the new bells and whistles but cannot handle the traditional features that users are used to.
Some organizations are holding off deploying UC, UM or VoIP products because they believe rather than improving productivity, they will actually lower it. There are numerous cases throughout the industry. Most companies are too embarrassed to talk about their disasters and quietly live with their problems although occasionally a well publicized case appears in print.
These cases are probably more common than anyone realizes. The fact is that the road to deploying these solutions can be enormously complex and the variables that can have an adverse effect are usually outside the control of any single party that is providing a solution. An essential item for success is the cooperation of a number of vendors, all committed to the success of the project and their willingness to accept their role in the grand scheme. This means that all participants must respect and cooperate with each other. Individuals in charge of technology for the enterprise must insist on this level of cooperation and select vendors that not only have demonstrated expertise in their given area but demonstrated ability to function as a member of a team.
The ultimate success in deploying technology is measured by the degree to which it is accepted by the user community and actually delivers the expected benefits to the enterprise and the users.
This journey needs a leader and this leader has to be that person answering directly to the user community and not a sales manager. This is your journey, not your vendors.
A similar version of the above article also appears as two article series on the UC Strategies web site.