3 unified communications gurus give their top tips for CIOs

Even the best minds in UC know IT leaders aren’t fully convinced of the benefits. A recent podcast offers some food for thought

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Avaya Inc. made some noise at the end of last year by rebranding its unified communication and collaboration (UC&C) strategy around engagement, user experience and business value.

But a recent interview with its CEO Kevin Kennedy might have left some readers speechless.

“Unified communications has been the promise that has never been delivered on for over a decade,” Kennedy told Information Age.

Basically, one of the world’s largest UC vendors acknowledged that UC hasn’t really been adopted the way most of the telecom sector envisioned. He also said the term unified communications might not be relevant to enterprise today.

“Unified sends the notion that everything is the same. I think we know from communities of people that they like what they like. So I think a future of communications is this open, integrative reality,” Kennedy said. “Unified is something that has been around for a long time but hasn’t delivered yet.”

Maybe he’s really talking about a disconnect (no pun intended) between the technology of UC – what it can do – and the business case for UC – what customers want and need it to do.

That theme kept popping up during a recent podcast hosted by UCStrategies, an online portal for all things UC. It featured eight telecom veterans offering UC-related advice for CIOs, vendors, carriers and startups. Like Kennedy, many of them suggested approaching UC from a place that’s business driven vs. technology driven.

Phil Edholm had this UC advice for CIOs during the podcast.

“Don’t think about communications just as a telephone system or even UC but how you can begin to integrate communications across your business for strategic differentiation …whether it’s how you interact with your customers or how you build communities, how your employees work,” Edholm said.

Then Don Van Doren weighed in with his suggestions for CIOs.

“Reach out to the business leaders in your companies,” Van Doren said. “Those guys are the ones who really understand where the bottlenecks and barriers are…It’s all about how do you get out and get more engaged with your business people.”

Here are Kevin Kieller’s words of UC wisdom for CIOs.

“Don’t assume that all of your (IT staff) understand what drives your business. Because I’ve seen time and time again (that) the people in the trenches debating and making some of the technical decisions and choosing the UC platform aren’t always connected with what are the key success criteria for the business.”

Even Van Doren’s advice for UC startups had a heavy business angle.

“Pick some vertical or horizontal business market that you’re very familiar with and (where) you understand intimately what the intricacies of that market are. Then figure out how do you embed communication and collaboration capabilities into the way that market is going to work.”

What they’re all saying, from Kennedy on down to Van Doren, is that today’s CIOs have to let business goals and outcomes (which are increasingly customer-centric) drive IT adoption. Those CIOs simply won’t buy into UC if they don’t see the business value of it.

That’s backed up by InformationWeek’s 2014 State of the UC survey. When organizations were asked why they haven’t deployed UC yet, the number two reason cited was the fact that they see “no definitive business value in it.” They might change their minds if they looked at another part of the survey. In that section, 77 per cent of organizations that have already adopted UC said it met or exceeded their ROI target.

It’s clearly not enough to tell CIOs, “Here’s what UC can do.” They need to be shown, “Here’s what UC can do for you specifically.”

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