There are lots of reasons why industry buzz words change, just as there are lots of reasons why much-touted products fail to achieve immediate success.

Sometimes the problems are much-tougher than a “simple” technology substitution might imply. And that should raise immediate questions–and suggest obvious answers–for service providers selling unified communications, IP telephony and collaboration services to end users.

So here’s your test: ask yourself whether you could still get your job done if you did not have access to an IP phone, unified messaging, find-me/follow-me, visual voice mail, desktop conferencing or even the ability to launch communications from inside your organization’s key business processes and software? I suspect our answers would be the same. It might take longer to get things done, but they would get done.

But ask whether you could get your job done without any Internet access at all, without a mobile phone, without a phone of any type. Somewhere in here, many of us would begin to say “no, we can’t get our jobs done.”

So that’s the issue with unified communications and collaboration: how much is “nice to have” and how much is “need to have”? And since “wants” become “needs” over time, how do you position a “needed” service rather than a “wanted” feature.

In fact, the difference between wants and needs probably is why lots of organizations have deployed some elements, but not a complete unified communications or collaboration capability.

That insight should be applied to the packaging and marketing of your IP-based services and applications. Instead of promising “the solution to all your problems,” identify discrete problems and pitch a solution to those specific issues. “You can call me now” is a better way to describe the benefits of “presence,” for example. “Check all your messages in one mailbox” is a better way to describe unified messaging.

And the smaller the organization, the more likely it is that solutions are “nice to have” rather than “got to have.” That suggests point deployment of UC and collaboration always makes more sense than trying to sell a grand vision.

That likely is good advice even for large enterprises, though. The problem with grand information technology visions is how expensive they are, how difficult they are to implement and how often they fail. IT architects likely are justifiably cautious about grand visions for this reason. For observers who would argue that unified communications has been something of a tough sell, that might be one reason for slower than expected adoption.

“To realize the full benefits of UCC requires a major change management effort spanning not only technology but people and processes,” says Jim Mortleman, writer. “In addition, a confusing array of technologies, approaches and vendors, as well as a current lack of standards, leads many to conclude it’s better to wait until the market settles down before placing their bets.”

“Most CIOs I know are considering projects rather than doing them,” says Nick Kirkland, CIO Connect CEO.

That isn’t to deny the logic. Knitting together disparate communications and collaboration tools like mobile phones, audio and video conferencing, instant messaging and social networking and “availability” to communicate has perhaps-obvious potential to improve organizational speed and efficiency, not to mention potentially cost-saving or revenue-enhancing changes in the way a firm does business.

Still, many would say that human behavior plays some significant role in shaping or slowing deployments as well. To the extent that UC changes the way people can communicate, it may also require change of the way people do communicate. It isn’t simply the technological means, but the broader potential shift within an organization of relations between people.

I suspect it remains true that some organizations are more trusting than others. Some have greater confidence in flatter, more open organizational styles. Some organizations talk about “empowering people,” but don’t act that way. Others do. I suspect any grand vision for collaoboration and UC will provide greatest leverage only within organizations that can leverage new capabilities because they have the human abilities.

“It’s not a matter of tools, it’s a matter of working processes, the way individuals communicate, the way they’re managed, how the organization is structured, the mechanics of workflow and so on,” says Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca.. “All of these things have to be understood first.”

If those are key prerequisites, it should be obvious why collaboration and UC visions have been adopted more slowly than one might have projected.

Ultimately, most companies aren’t going to reengineer their processes just to accommodate some new technology, one might argue. And if that is the case, incrementalism and point solutions will be easier to adopt than a whole new UC or collaboration archtiecture. That is especially true for smaller organizations, which in fact have no grand vision and are going to be eminently practical about tools they can use now without requiring lots of training or disrupting the way they do things. “Faster,” “easier,” “better” or “cheaper” are likely to be the winning approaches to establishing value.

If travel expenses are the problem, then videoconferencing could be the solution. No grand change is required, just a simple adoption of a new tool to replace another.

Even there, though, some users report there are human issues beyond use of desktop conferencing technology, for example. The mechanics of scheduling meetings and social etiquette around meetings can become issues.

Many of the same issues likely occur when introducing other UC and collaboration tools as well. So the upshot is that if one is committed to a grand move to enterprisewide UC and collaboration, one had better also have absolute top-level commitment to push through all of the human changes that will be required, and also already possess a business culture that is open, participatory, flexible and amenable to change. Failing that, the vision will fail outright, or simply provide some incremental benefits whose cost far outweighs the gains.

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