Collaboration will fail if IT departments skip this step

A Gartner Inc. Webinar examines the “third wave” of unified communications and how social business tools will make their way into traditional products and services. How to prepare your workforce

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I’m surely not the first person to apply this Bruce Lee maxim to something other than punches and roundhouse kicks, but it describes a way to improve UCC in the enterprise so eloquently I just can’t resist: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”

Regardless of its provenance, that’s the message that analyst firm Gartner Inc. is sending to businesses struggling to find a UCC strategy that serves their unique needs. In a recent webinar titled ‘Unified Communications and Collaboration: Driving Business Value,’ two Gartner researchers described the latest trends in communication and collaboration and offered tips on how to develop a strategy that will help organizations channel the right technology into the right places.

The analyst firm is charting the course UCC will take over the next dozen years:  starting in the early 2000s, enterprise UCC was characterized by best of breed approaches, with IP-PBX, desktop sharing, telephony, instant messaging, email and video collaboration first existing in isolation, then gradually becoming integrated.  These represented the first two “waves”, explains David Mario Smith, a senior research analyst at Gartner.

The future, he adds, will see more social media and content tools embedded in UCC platforms. “In the third wave, adding things like social software…  social networking portals and document management—we have not seen that happen yet,” he said.  While Smith says there has been some use of social software, for example, in web conferencing applications that light up green when a certain user is online, it’s been a “surfacing presence” thus far and full integration hasn’t yet been achieved, he says.

As UCC undergoes change, says Smith, the tools of yesteryear suddenly seem unwieldy. In their heyday, comprehensive suites like SharePoint were an improvement over ECM software. But as social media redefined what collaboration meant, some companies began adding tools that allowed their employees to interact better.

Vendors began to come out with more nimble cloud-based social platforms, such as Yammer, SalesForce Chatter, SocialCast and tibbbr. “We’re seeing an evolution to ever-more lighter and lighter-weight tools” that can be deployed very quickly and with little IT help,” Smith added. This increasing flexibility of UCC platforms will make it easier for your company to find the right products and services for its particular needs, added Bern Elliot, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

Your architecture can include on-premise or cloud deployments, and you can choose between the “mega-vendors” for fully-integrated platforms, or smaller companies who support industry standards and offer more customization options, says Smith. Both have their drawbacks: vendor lock-in is a problem with all-in-one platforms, he says, while with start-ups, you may find yourself stuck dealing with technical problems on your own.  Still, while there are different paths opening up, they’ll all lead to the same destination, says Elliot.

“The persistent underlying value of unified communications and collaboration is: how do you enable your employees, your partners, your customers, to work together more effectively in terms of communicating and collaborating?”

The answer, he says, is to take a careful inventory of your company’s UCC deployments, identifying users with the most to the least complex needs, from mobile workers to contact centre employees, to staff working in different regions. The right choices to make will vary by company, he says.  For example, for consulting firms with staff frequently out of the office who have broadband connections and mobile phones, “good enough” telephony will suffice. But there will also be cases where managers want high-quality video interaction with colleagues, clients or partners.

The key, says Elliot, is to “map and match UCC functions to those particular roles and those special segments.” And it’s roles— not titles—that you should focus on, he stresses.

In short, survey your employees, find out what they do, and then determine their needs. Change doesn’t come easily to some organizations, but in the new world of UCC, what matters is what changes to make, where they need to be made, or indeed, if they need to be made at all.

Join us for our own Webinar on April 4th that goes even deeper by ‘Exploring Unified Communications as a Service,’ an in-depth look at enterprise collaboration in the cloud. 

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