Riding the unified communications tidal wave

h2index has recently completed a survey of approximately 200 users taking part in a Microsoft Lync pilot for a global manufacturing company. The pilot was one element of a strategy project to develop the company’s approach to unified communications (UC), decide which suppliers (Lync, Google or CISCO) to use, build the business case and install the system.

The pilot group worked in one department and primarily in one office area. Under the terms of the pilot, users had to rely upon Lync; desk phone sets were removed with just a few normal phones left for emergencies. As with many pilots, there were some technical hiccups and some features were not made available. A few months after the Lync system was installed, the group was surveyed online: well over half of the pilot users responded, a much higher number than anticipated.

The results were overwhelmingly positive, even euphoric, to a level that surprised us. Everyone was enthusiastic. Not one person said that the system was poor or that they didn’t think it was the way forward.

Several important points were apparent about adoption and the impact on working practice:

  • Presence and instant messaging (IM): it was clear that people had already changed their working practices in ways they found beneficial.
  • Sharing desktops: people loved the ease with which they could do this, and the more effective working that resulted.
  • Home working: people appreciated the support.
  • Informal use of video improved people’s relationships with staff working in other locations.
  • Flexible offices: with no fixed telephone wiring, the department found it easier and cheaper to accommodate the constant ebb and flow of project and work groups.
  • Redefining the office: people are comfortable having their “office space” defined solely by their laptop and headset. The improved relationships enabled by UC compensate for the impersonal aspect of the technology.

Users’ enthusiasm becomes an issue in its own right: UC tends to create a tidal wave of demand right from the beginning which can be hard to manage. This is different from the introduction of most new technologies. We hear consistent reports that the adoption of UC can quickly become viral. If one community of users has UC, once they talk to other groups it becomes attractive and contagious. This rapid growth in user demand explains why companies who have committed to UC tend to roll it out as fast as they can. IT departments have to be confident that their underlying infrastructure can handle this growth in load and that they can mobilise and deliver suitable training in time.

Our client is not unusual in taking some time to consider the benefits of a UC system; to work out how it might best work for them and assess the relative merits of the different UC suppliers. Large multinationals fall in one of these stages:

  • Unaware of the profound impact that UC could have upon their working practices and of the likely reaction of their users to UC.
  • Making sense of the rich opportunities that UC presents: working out the right course of action, how UC compares with other demands for IT expenditure, and assessing user demand. Resolving the balance of these issues is complex.
  • Formalising the case for action: even with strong user demand, a business case is typically essential.
  • Full steam ahead: what is the best way to roll out the technology so that users incorporate this into their working practices? How is this encouraged and measured? If it is not planned for and managed, then it won’t happen.

For many companies UC is a compelling opportunity yet navigating a course through these stages is difficult and messy. Each company starts from a unique position, has different requirements and has to steer its own path. So far, the majority of businesses are in the preliminary stages; few have worked out the way forward. The next two or three years will see others following the pioneers, securing the benefits of UC and receiving the user acclaim we saw from the pilot described above.

h2index is using its deep understanding of large corporate IT systems and unified communications to assist clients at all stages in the process of implementing UC. If you would like to discuss your options with us, please contact us.