Once upon a time a business would set up phone lines and a wired network and, tick - that was their business communication sorted. Then came Unified Communications (UC), the rising star of workplace communication and collaboration. During this time, the expectation of organisations switching from traditional phone systems towards integrated phone (VoIP), video and email were fulfilled as they reaped the benefits of increased productivity, mobility and ‘anywhere’ communication. Little did we know, the golden era of business communication was just beginning...
UC now encompasses a much broader set of tools where the very definition of what workplace communication and collaboration is seems to change every week.
We’re seeing a shift away from traditionally siloed communication tools (think voice, chat, conferencing) in favour of more agile, flexible, cloud-based unified collaboration solutions with the communication component becoming the largely un-mentioned, yet ever-critical element. And it’s an industry that global market forecasts expect to be worth $96 billion by 20231. It’s undeniable that in the coming years the next generation of these critical solutions will become a business norm.
[Note for the sake of consistency and simplicity – from here on, we’ll be referring to them collectively as Collaboration tools, even though communication and collaboration co-exist.]
Meet the new generation of Collaboration tools
- They’re cloud-centric which allows seamless collaboration across apps, devices and geographies. This also means you can align the IT resource looking after your phone systems to something more valuable.
- User experience is the stand-out feature and key reason-to-buy – to eradicate Shadow IT, IT needs to offer solutions that the users want and will immediately connect with.
- Integration is essential as it’s time to reign in the proliferating tech stack and move towards streamlined applications that are easy to manage, secure and optimise.
- They can do anything, and smarts are built-in – from voice, to IM, video, topic-based collaboration, contextual communication, business app integration, AI and bots … there are few limits on what you can achieve.
- You can instantly scale. Have a new user? Provision in under an hour. Someone has left the business? Decommission their access within seconds.
When is the right time to change?
This is probably the most difficult question to answer for any organisation – and particularly so in industries such as education, healthcare and government where legacy solutions still exert a strong influence over people and processes, making any shift feel ten times harder than it should be.
There is also a large percentage of the workforce that still expect to have a phone on a desk regardless of what technology is being deployed behind the scenes. It’s this focus on the device, rather than the user, that results in overlooking the users’ needs, but also how they work both independently and collaboratively with colleagues across the broader organisation.
When shifting to this new world of collaboration, IT teams must also consider the underlying workplace culture, treating different groups of people and their preferences as carefully as the selection of vendors and technology.. As an example, some of our customers have set up user surveys and focus groups across the business and documented first-hand how different people and teams wanted to interact with the technology.
So, while an organisation may have the business need to shift – and can develop a compelling business case for collaboration – their staff, and culture, may not be ready. This means a robust change management plan needs to be considered alongside the technology update.
Also, with the incredible array of features these new collaboration solutions include, the per-user cost can be quite high, especially if there is still an over-attachment to physical devices such as a phone. Utilising tools such as soft phones, and carefully mapping features and capabilities to real user needs, is key to keeping the investment reasonable. Most solutions allow you to mix and match plans and features to effectively manage the needs of a diverse workforce.
So, to come back to the original question, the right time to change is just as dependent on the culture and the people as the technology and the overall cost. Your people need to be open to embracing new work methods, updating processes and learning to use new devices before you should start looking at the technology side of the equation.
Ensuring Collaboration success
GOVERNANCE – It’s top of our list for no real reason, but it does seem to be the least considered aspect of a technology decision. We’re not talking just about people, this is about aligning key business processes, organisational structure, compliance requirements, roles and responsibilities, permissions and security to the overall application deployment plan.
As noted above, Collaboration solutions have a major impact on the culture, business and technology areas of a business, each of which have their own objectives, processes and resources. Managing all these and ensuring the outcome still meets the overall company objective can be a delicate juggling act where poor governance is quickly exposed.
USER EXPECTATIONS - The second point is that in our own day-to-day lives, we have access to an incredible array of collaboration and communication tools such as WhatsApp, Messenger, FaceTime and Skype. They’re all enabled by incredible mobile networks, carefully designed user experiences and powerful devices – but the downside is that it increases our expectations of what any “work” solution should be capable of (and we’re not only talking about millennials here either).
It almost goes without saying that any solution must be seamless, and it must help staff do their job quicker and more efficiently than legacy solutions. However, the pain of change can often cloud our judgement of whether something is better, or not, despite evidence to the contrary.
QUESTIONS TO ASK - While we can’t provide the in-depth details to Collaboration success in a format such as this – especially when the success factors can be incredibly different from organisation to organisation – here are just a few questions to consider that may help you define the key success factors:
- With the huge range of vendors, features and options – how do you choose what’s right for your users and the business? A single vendor might provide a tight integration between capabilities, but individual solutions might be more cost-effective. Using matrices that map users with processes and capabilities can help provide a framework here.
- How do you incorporate company culture and business requirements, along with technology assessments, in a program of this complexity? As we stated above, robust governance can really help here.
- Who do you take along on the decision-making journey, and how early do you engage them? Ensuring equal representation from different stakeholder groups is part of the answer to ensure the program isn’t perceived to be IT-driven.
- Given how quickly mobile and cloud technology is evolving in the Collaboration space, what capabilities do you need now, versus later? Can you easily upgrade your solution to take advantage of new capabilities without breaking newly established business processes?
- What about your network? The discussion so far has focused on everything outside of the technology space, but it would be remiss of us to not mention the network. Collaboration solutions put increased demands on networking infrastructure due to the real-time, low latency requirements of voice and video so addressing any weak points in your network as part of the evaluation is obviously a critical success factor.
As is often the case with complex projects (or programs) such as this, the right advisor is critical. While you can do a lot of work yourself, the experience across industries and the relationships with vendors that Matrix CNI have can prevent a lot of missteps and save you money along the way.
To find out how we can guide your Collaboration modernisation journey, reach out to our team.
1 Global Market Insights (2016), Unified Communications Market size worth $96 Billion by 2023 [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2016/05/17/840632/0/en/Unified-Communications-Market-size-worth-96-Billion-by-2023-Global-Market-Insights-Inc.html