As a consultant, I put a premium on the human experience of work -- how people interact with each other and with the policies of their workplaces. But as a consultant working exclusively in enterprise IT, I've noticed that many of our clients address the technology needs of their company in an end-user experience "vacuum." This has been particularly true of unified communications (UC) projects.
For a technology transformation that touches so many different workplace habits (phone, email, chat, collaboration, and conferencing) most project teams spend all their time researching and investing in the technologies of UC, while paying far less attention to the training or adoption.
After spending large amounts of time and treasure on a complex UC rollout, IT departments commonly find that employees simply aren't using what's been provided. Why? Because by narrowly focusing on the technology aspects of a UC strategy (what servers, routers, phones, and SaaS tools to buy, and how to get them all to integrate), companies often forget to consider employee culture and habits. In this way, they doom their unified communication plans before gaining any traction.
Conflicting ideas of success
Part of the reason so little attention is paid to the actual use of a new technology is that the goals of the concerned parties are often very different. Here are some common responses to the question "What does a successful UC implementation look like?"
- Management: Procuring a cost-sensitive solution that enhances collaboration and maximizes revenues
- IT: Launching an on-time, under budget system that incorporates new collaboration software
- Line of business: Getting access to a tool that makes their everyday jobs easier and more productive
With such different metrics for success, determining how an organization may actually use a new technology tool can be difficult. The only party that's invested in the actual use of the tool is the group that has least say in the rollout --employees in line-of-business roles. Usually, the executive team carves out a budget for the new system, and IT is charged with procurement and implementation.
Admitting our failures
I recall a recent situation that illustrates this point. A client installed a state-of-the-art UC solution that included an integrated cloud collaboration app. This client's employees had been emailing each other large files and unknowingly getting bounce-backs when the files were too large. The UC solution was meant to take some strain off the email servers to allow for simpler file sharing. Yet, once introduced to the company, employees disregarded the cloud storage tool and continued directly emailing oversized files.
Why? After digging into workers' habits, it turned out that there was a good reason those files weren't sent to the cloud. They contained proprietary information and employees didn't want to risk the security of the files in an unfamiliar application. From my perspective, this was an understandable problem with two simple solutions: training and adoption.
Why culture must guide UC
The saying "old habits die hard" couldn't be any more true than in the corporate environment. Once best or familiar practices are established, we often stick with them regardless of tech innovations, making it difficult for IT managers to evolve into service brokers. Yet, when faced with a situation like the one above, the groups charged with the technology rollout can and should look at corporate culture as a fundamental element of rollout. Here are some recommendations for IT supervisors as they move forward:
- The impetus for a technology rollout often comes from a group of managers or employees. Examine your entire company culture before diving into a transformation. Survey, panel, and chat up employees to get a handle on how and why they work. For example, if you find your organization isn't already collaborative and team-based, then UC initiatives may see little pickup.
- Establish a visionary committee to identify solutions prior to rolling out your UC plan. Informal sit downs with various departments and staff levels are simple ways to get employees on board with your unified communications strategy.
- This last one I can't stress enough: Encourage proper training. Once you launch your UC plan, educate your employees on how and why to use it. Make it clear to staff what problems and redundancies the UC plan will solve for them. Eventually, unified communications processes should become habitual and employees as well as the corporate culture should benefit.
We are experiencing the shifting role of IT firsthand, and companies and IT managers must prepare for the coming changes. By understanding how employees approach their work on a day-to-day basis and what technology will improve those habits, establishing a UC strategy that staff members can embrace will be much simpler.
Erika Van Noort leads the North American Consulting Group for Softchoice, working with clients to build understanding and alignment between lines of business and IT stakeholders around the introduction of new technologies.