• 12/30/2013
    10:06 AM
  • Rating: 
    0 votes
    Vote up!
    Vote down!

Why Culture Eats UC Strategies For Lunch

Too many unified communications implementations focus on technology without considering training, adoption, and -- most importantly -- company culture.

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.


Solve the Problem

Nice post. With any technology it's important at all levels to think about what problem you are solving, and how the technology you are installing provides a solution. In some cases the end users don't care or aren't impacted, e.g. if you move from legacy telephone services to an IP-based toll bypass, then the users shouldn't see a difference, but the company will save some money; great. On the other hand if you are redesigning the user experience by pushing IP telephony to the desk (and computer desktop), then as you say, training on that is critical - but so is understanding how people use the existing system, and how your new system will replicate that function. People are, as you say, creatures of habit, and if you're going to take away their telephonic cigarettes, so to speak, it's important to explain to them that there's an alternative, and here's how the new solution provides an alternative nicotine patch. 

I think sometimes UC is not seen as being part of a user's daily workflow efficiency (beyond the things you hope will happen based on the brochureware), and how changing something so fundamental can severely impact the ability to function. At the very least if you know an old way of doing things will have to be addressed by way of an entirely new approach after a change, then prepare in advance and traing people up front so they're not left floundering after the fact. And remember that it's supposed to be about making the workflow efficient for the USER, and NOT for the convenience of the system behind the scenes.

Re: Solve the Problem

Agree. Great post. The "c" word -- culture --gets thrown around a lot, but it's especially important when it comes to deploying unified communications technology. My colleagues and I are big users of UC, if that moniker covers email, IM, wiki, videoconferencing. But before we were provisioned those work apps, no one asked us how we work. Our collaboration culture is different from those of other departments. We can't all have our own UC environments, but our input needs to be factored into the platform(s) decision.



Not every industry can easily migrate to UC
As I work in the legal field I can attest as to the shoddy roll out of UC, particularly as regards confidential info in the cloud. It isn't just about employees refusing to give up old habits as much as it is about attorney-client privilege. In other industries if your info is breached and the client finds out about it maybe a slap on the wrist is applied, but in legal, the responsible parties are disbarred and their assistants terminated. The stakes are much higher and make UC that much more of a crap shoot.
Change is always hard

I remember like it was yesterday the sad moment IT took away the Lotus Notes database that we used to collaborate on our editorial calendar. That db was a thing of beauty, honed over many years to let us slice and dice in all the ways that mattered, get a monthy or yearly overview at a glance but also dig into minute detail. Then, suddenly, it was "no longer supported." And while the dev team tried (I think) to provide something with similar functionality, the reality is, they didn't.

Same deal, often, with UC. Teams have collaboration processes & tools that work for them, that they've customized over time, and now IT is "improving their lives."

Can you tell I still miss that Notes database?


What's Also Missing From UC Planning

While I  certainly agree with the need to customize UC capabilitie3s to specific use cases and individual end users involved with those use cases, the big mistake about UC implementations is that it often ignores the greater value it has for mobile users and BYOD issues vs. desktop usage. Further, there is not enough consideration given for external end users (business partners, customers) who may need Mobile UC facilities through a service, rather any premise-based solution.

Another thing that gets ignored about UC is that it is not just person-to-person contacts, but also about contacts and interactions from automated business process apps (CEBP). That kind of planning needs both business management and IT participation, as well as end user involvement for BYOD issues.