Unified Communications

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Curtis Peterson
Curtis Peterson
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Closing The UC Gap: 4 Tips

Making the leap from unified communications to unified interaction is possible, but it involves more than just installing new software. Here's how to make a successful transition.

Unified communications software has been widely adopted in order to consolidate multiple communication channels onto a single platform. Combining phone, text, web meetings, audio conferencing, and faxing features into a single system, the software provides a centralized communications hub that makes it easier for people to stay connected on any device, from anywhere at any time.

But despite the convenience and ease-of-access of UC, significant challenges remain. In the first installment of this series, we discussed how unified software doesn’t necessarily equate to unified interaction -- the true Holy Grail. Instead, even with UC, communication threads remain siloed, data security can be an issue, and meeting the needs of both enterprises and end-users can be challenging.

So can enterprises close the gap between unified communications and unified interaction? Is it possible to achieve a truly seamless, cross-channel, platform/device-agnostic communication system that provides the security and flexibility administrators and users desire? Absolutely.

New solutions are getting us closer, with cloud-based unified-communications-as-a service (uCaaS) platforms and modern unified interaction platforms (UIPs) leading the charge. But closing the gap takes more than just installing yet another new piece of software. Here are four tips for effectively making the leap from UC to UI.

1. Incorporate all modes of communication. Most UC platforms address phone, fax, voicemail, and conference calling, and some include video conferencing. However, instant messaging/chat and SMS texting have become increasingly vital modes of communication in today’s highly mobile business environment. And, despite what IM/chat and social networking providers would have us believe, email is still very much a vital business tool that companies rely on heavily for day-to-day communication and document sharing.

Unified interaction platforms bring all modes of communication under a single application umbrella, providing users with easy access to a full-featured, multi-channel system. Truly integrated platforms also support the seamless transition of conversation threads from one medium to another -- say, from a text message to an email to online chat. In the meantime, the entire process and thread is preserved and tracked, providing archival history and the ability to reference earlier conversations as ideas and business decisions evolve.

2. Make security a priority. One of the major risks of not implementing a UIP or leaving out vital channels like text and IM is that without a company-sanctioned platform, users will inevitably turn to publicly available applications to meet their needs. That not only means that each app is device-specific (Apple’s iMessage vs. Android Messaging, for example), which makes support cumbersome, but also that those modes fall outside the company’s  control.

Data shared using device-native apps is transmitted over public networks, not to mention the risk of data breach if the device itself is lost or stolen. Or, in the case of BYOD, if the employee simply leaves the company, the data carried on his or her personal device goes with them, possibly to your competitor.

To ensure full confidence and security in your entire communication system, implement a UI solution that not only provides the broadest channel set available, but also incorporates mobile device management (MDM) capabilities. These include remote revocation of user access privileges, stringent single-sign-on security protocols, and the ability to remotely wipe company-owned data from the device.

However, understand that in today’s BYOD world, users will move away from your sanctioned platform if you don’t make it easy for them to adopt the tools you chose. Also, when you implement an MDM strategy, put your privacy policy into writing so users will know that their own devices will not be used against them.

3. Bite the support bullet. One of the key benefits of BYOD is that it alleviates IT of much of the support burden traditionally assumed with company-provided devices. However, implementing a UIP that is intended to be a business communication panacea for employees is a double-edged sword: It’s great when it works, but when it doesn’t, business comes to a screeching halt.

Because of this heavy dependence, it’s critical to provide ample support for both the application and its function on the device. Because so many device factors can influence app functionality, it’s best to just bite the bullet and help employees maintain their devices to ensure optimum performance of the UIP and any other sanctioned business-critical apps.

4. Take the free trial. There are a number of great UC and UI platforms out there, but not all will work for every company. What looks good on paper may not work the way you envisioned. Quite frankly, the only way to find out is to use it. Whenever possible, it’s always wise to take advantage of the free trial, for this or any other software.

Deploy a beta test group, perhaps within your own IT department first, to fully evaluate the features and make sure the technology works the way you do. It should not only be intuitive and easy from a user perspective, but also integrate and work well with other technology in your current stack. Regardless of how functional and fantastic a new UI platform could be, it may not be worth it if it requires a complete upheaval across the entire IT infrastructure.

Embarking on any new technical implementation can be a major undertaking, especially one that impacts such a vitally important business function: the ability to connect with your customers. But making the transition to a UI-driven platform can dramatically enhance connectivity, improve efficiency, and bolster data security, all while reducing both direct cost and administrative overhead.

The key is to find a solution that works the way your end-users do, rather than forcing them to adjust their communication habits to conform to a platform. Make it simple, natural, and intuitive, and UI will resolve problems and save you money.

Curtis Peterson has more than 20 years of experience managing information technology and carrier-scale data and packet voice communication networks. At companies ranging in size from startups to Fortune 500 firms, Curtis has managed teams responsible for engineering, project ... View Full Bio
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MarciaNWC
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MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Strategist
8/1/2014 | 6:42:06 PM
Re: privacy policy
Thanks for those details. Are many companies providing this sort of privacy policy, or is it often overlooked?
clpeterson
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clpeterson,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2014 | 5:56:23 PM
Re: privacy policy
So in the case where the user is supplying their own device, and that device is containing both a private "personal" set of apps, and a set of business apps including for example a UC client - it is very important to end users that you the company draw as distinct of a line between what you "manage" and can see, as the employee is being asked to do by using seperate "personas".  My favorite example are comapnies that use MDM to manage mobile devices including "find a lost device".  I want to know for sure that nobody in the company can access a long history of my location data and that it is not part of the scope of control.  Just like I would not want the company snooping my private persona's dialing logs.
clpeterson
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clpeterson,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2014 | 5:52:12 PM
Re: privacy policy and How do you spell UC
I agree, and buyer beware on what you are receiving as a product.  What's most important is that whatever UC you pursue, make sure it has the items important to YOUR company.  A long list of features is meaningless if you dont plan to use them.  Not having a KEY feature can cause long term issues.  Even thoough we have been using the terms UC for almost 2 decades, it still is an emerging product definition.  Kind of like "Cloud".  Remember ASP's?
clpeterson
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clpeterson,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2014 | 5:48:39 PM
Re: privacy policy
It is highly unlikely that a big legal dispute will not include both the personal accounts and business accounts from any witness (just look at the IRS investigations).  However, from a POLICY perspective, you can set a clear policy that all work (and some personal, if your company allows) should be done through the business UC apps, and personal can reside in the native apps / other lists.  You can then use your policy for regulations, some defensive positioning on discovery (at least you can make a big argument for compensation), and your own internal corporate needs (retaining records, contacts of customers, etc.).  Is it a legal proof firewall - probably not.  But it's way better than starting with everyting on the table.
MarciaNWC
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MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Strategist
8/1/2014 | 11:15:34 AM
Re: privacy policy
Right @AbeG, the legal issues are untested with regards to this mix of personal information and corporate data on mobile devices. There are MDM technologies that claim to make the differentiation when applying policies, such as wiping data. It still seems like a fine line to tread.
AbeG
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AbeG,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 11:04:49 PM
Re: privacy policy
Ditto on what Marcia said.  Also, I'd like to add that aside from a privacy policy, there is the relatively uncharted land of how things might hold up in potential court situations.  An end-user could potentially have his/her personal information tangled up in whatever court proceeding a given company might be involved with.
Jeff Jerome
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Jeff Jerome,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/31/2014 | 10:57:26 PM
Re: privacy policy and How do you spell UC
It is interesting to me to see the term how many different organizatins like to use the term UC and how varied its meaning can be.  Not saying that any are right or wrong just amazing.
MarciaNWC
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MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Strategist
7/30/2014 | 11:54:40 AM
privacy policy
Curtis, can you elaborate on your advice about putting the privacy policy in writing "so users know that their own devices won't be used against them?" 
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