UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS

  • 07/30/2014
    7:00 AM
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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.

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