A simple definition of unified communications (UC) is a system that lets employees work anytime from anywhere on any device. It must allow for common real-time communications channels utilized on a single platform (voice, video, instant messaging, presence, and content collaboration), integrated with non-real-time interactions, like email and faxing.
Each day in our professional and personal lives, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of interactions across various devices, including smartphones, tablets, and PCs. Our experiences shape how we prefer to communicate, but our jobs dictate how we must communicate.
When evaluating UC for their companies, IT leaders need to sit and observe how users interact with coworkers and customers. They should take the time to interview team members and department leaders, asking them questions and engaging in meaningful conversations. Customers are another important source of information. Call key clients and ask what their overall impression is, or act like a mystery shopper and call in with an order. You must understand how employees are interacting on a personal and detailed level throughout their day.
Work to discover what's working, what's broken, and what could help. The goal is to map how communications affect your company. I use the following three-step process.
1. Talk to and engage with employees
Sit with them for a few minutes during a busy day, and watch how they handle their tasks. During onsite assessments, I try to touch every business unit from the bottom up. Start with receptionists and primary call takers, then work your way around the company.
Below are some common requests I hear during an onsite assessment, which can be translated to UC requirements.
- Receptionist: "I have problems tracking down person X."
- Sales: "I need to always be connected and reachable."
- Marketing: "How can we expand our reach?"
- Customer service: "I need to talk to customers across multiple media types."
- Call center leaders: "We need better reporting, more visibility, and business application integration."
- Managers: "I want to see the availability of my staff, reports, and KPIs."
- Executives: "It has to be easy to use."
- Power users: "Will it work with the latest device?"
- Key vendors/partners: "How can we communicate better?"
- IT: "How the heck am I going to support this, in addition to everything else?"
- CFO: "What is the ROI, the TCO, and will this help the company make more money?"
2. Match each requirement with a feature or solution
Try to stay vendor neutral during this process. For example, your list could look like this.
- Presence could quickly help the receptionist route calls to appropriate people based on their status.
- Single number reach (SNR) or find me/follow me keeps sales staff in contact with clients, both in the office and on the road. As an added benefit, it puts voicemail in a single location, rather than spread over work, home, and cellphones.
- A standardized instant messenger solution with video helps keep managers connected to teams, whether in the same building or across the country.
- A single integrated solution helps simplify IT support for all users.
- An easy-to-use solution helps with executive adoption without lots of handholding.
3. Quantify the benefits for specific team members
Evaluate the difference a specific solution would make in your bottom line.
- What is presence (the ability to find someone quickly, see that person's status, and initiate an appropriate interaction) worth to team members?
- Will SNR help a sales person sell more widgets or talk to more prospects or clients?
- Does a collaboration package help people communicate and work better across diverse teams?
- Will a single solution that allows for multiple interaction types help your customer service center engage with more clients?
Use the resulting data to leverage your current solutions, increase user adoption, and help identify opportunities for improvement. You may have justification for completely new products or services. Be sure to think about the long-term goals of the company, and include those in your evaluation.
Do you have experience assessing your company's UC readiness? What's worked for you? Please share your comments below.