The buzz around enterprise unified communications is loud, and getting more so as IT spending loosens. The problem is, in our experience and confirmed by our InformationWeek Analytics 2010 Unified Communications Survey of 406 business technology professionals, enterprise-wide UC programs that have a truly transformative impact on business processes are all too rare.
For example, videoconferencing has lately hogged the spotlight. But too often we see IT groups set up expensive video systems and walk away, with nary an hour of training or any plan to track whether employees even use the tool. From the CFO's perspective, consumer-class applications, such as Skype and Yahoo Messenger, seem to provide much the same benefit as enterprise-class systems, without all the hassle and expense. No wonder we're faced with frustration, misunderstandings, and elusive ROI.
Trust us: Your users know what's out there, and they know when their IT departments are hunkering down or worse, dismissing their needs. One wary survey respondent says of UC: "While this would cut down on wasteful e-mails, I suspect it would ramp up the number of distractions an employee has in any given day, and that it would consume a lot of the employee's time with little return."
When you start confusing collaboration with wasting time, you're seriously missing the point.
There's still time to turn this ship around. The market forecasters think it will happen, with Infonetics Research predicting the enterprise UC segment will grow from $256 million in 2010 to $398 million by 2014 in North America, according to a May study.
But it will take a few key commitments on IT's part, some easier to accomplish than others. First, build training into the budget--and we don't mean allowing for a help desk staffer to spend an hour lecturing employees. Then, leverage business intelligence principles to help drive UC adoption and speed ROI. Make very sure your network is ready for the load, and plan ahead for interoperability by keeping an eye on standards.
And finally, cede control to the business units. That one might be the toughest, but it's also the most important. As we discuss in depth in our InformationWeek Analytics UC report, available to subscribers, technical glitches are generally seen as the major cause of disappointing UC implementations. In reality, IT often brings problems on itself by ignoring the end-user experience and failing to have business leaders set the strategic direction for the project.
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IT groups must understand where they are now so they can figure out how to get where they want to be. The "now" isn't exactly impressive for most companies, based on our survey. "We have done a casual evaluation and don't see enough benefit compared to the cost," says one. More than half of those not deploying UC see it as a lower priority compared with other projects, and 34% say they see no definitive business value. Ouch. Just 10% of those with UC plans have a non-IT C-level executive playing a key role in developing a strategic vision. Only 14% rate integrating UC with enterprise applications as a very important priority. The No. 1 and No. 2 keys to success? Voice over IP and unified messaging.
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