The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Unified Communications

There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: Those who are confused about Unified Communications, and the people who have the job of implementing a UC solution.

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After months of belt tightening and putting projects on hold due to the global recession, IT departments will be looking to implement enterprise wide projects once again. One such project is the deployment of Unified Communications.

Unified Communications, as a term, is possibly one of the most ambiguous in the technology industry. Technology vendors have their own spin on what Unified Communications means and they focus their messaging around the strengths and uniqueness of their products in order to differentiate themselves. This creates confusion to say the least and searching for unbiased and objective information is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Also, senior executives and IT departments can’t get swayed by that new shiny gadget taking the tech world by storm….something you might call the “iPhone effect”.

This confusion around Unified Communications (UC) and the “iPhone” effect combined with IT successes and failures in UC inspired the title of this post. The intention is to share what I’ve read, seen and learned firsthand that may help IT departments be better prepared before embarking on a UC project.

The Good

The best way of illustrating the benefit of Unified Communications is business continuity. Business continuity is sometimes used in the same sentence as disaster recovery. While true, business continuity means more than recovering from an incident such as a server blowing up, or a 1-800 customer service number not working. Business Continuity is about guaranteeing seamless consistent connection and communication with people regardless of where they are and what device they are using. I know I’m oversimplifying, but using business continuity as a pretext helps you strategically think about what UC can and should do for your company.

The Bad

The problem facing some IT departments and companies is when a UC project is not viewed as strategic in nature. This tends to relegate direction setting and decision making to the departmental level with little to no involvement of senior management and line of  business managers and their teams. Decisions tend to focus on minimizing cost and making do with legacy technologies. In some cases companies will cut corners in assessing business needs, confirming interoperability, training and ensuring there is a proper technology foundation in place.

The Ugly

The most ugly situations attributable to UC are voice outages that must be avoided. In fact, if designed, implemented and managed properly voice outages should pretty much never happen. Avoidable voice outages are caused, more often than not, when a UC network is not fully understood and properly managed by a company. There are various reasons why this happens but the most prominent reasons are political, organizational and competency related. In some companies the voice team is separate from the IT team leading to turf wars and politics. These organizational and political barriers need to  be eliminated because a unified team is needed to unify communications. And, IT departments accustomed to rebooting email and file servers with little repercussions for their actions cannot apply the same mindset to rebooting routers and switches used for UC and business continuity.

Unified Communications makes it possible for you and your company to seamlessly connect, communicate and collaborate at anytime on any device using various engagement options. The key is to approach unified communications from a strategic point of view, to establish a unified vision and team and use it to re-define business continuity for your customers, employees, partners and suppliers. In future posts I’ll provide real world examples where Unified Communications is being used to impact growth, profit, productivity and innovation in Canadian businesses.

Special thanks to John Riley, an independent strategic consultant, who provided me with some insights and ideas for this post.

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