The evolution of mobile unified collaboration (UC) is putting increasing pressure on IT organizations to align their UC, collaboration and mobility strategies immediately to take advantage of the connected enterprise. According to The August, 2011 report by Forrester Research, Inc. entitled” The Forrester Wave™: Mobile Collaboration Q3 2011,” we are now living in a “work anywhere” world; however, the most productive employees currently use up to four different devices to get work done.

The legacy dilemma

Companies are finding that legacy systems are not agile or responsive enough to meet the demands of their global enterprise. The costs of supporting outdated, non-integrated technologies rob scarce resources from strategic initiatives. To address this situation, enterprise organizations must start from the point where many of them are today: loosely integrated or completely disparate systems, legacy technologies for wireless and wireline services, and an inconsistent user experience. These challenges require a new approach based on mobile unified communications and collaboration where an architecture of native apps on smart mobile devices is linked to cloud-based services to provide a content- and context-rich user experience anytime, anywhere. (According to The August, 2011 report by Forrester Research, Inc. entitled” The Forrester Wave™: Mobile Collaboration Q3 2011.”)

Businesses today have more tools and technologies at their disposal to help them stay connected than ever before.  Voice and telephony; voicemail; email; instant messaging; text messaging; audio, video, and Web conferencing, and other capabilities offer users increased productivity. Integrating these tools with critical business processes and the applications that support them holds the promise of enterprise benefits including increased cost savings, more satisfied customers and more efficient processes. When the tools work independently of one another, however, exactly the opposite effects occur. Missed phone calls, more voicemails, email inboxes out of control, frustrated and less productive employees and, ultimately, dissatisfied customers result from having multiple non-integrated UC and collaboration environments.

Enter the mobile knowledge worker

These impacts are even more pronounced in a mobile workforce. In 2012, The IDG Enterprise: Unified Communications and Collaboration survey reported that three-quarters (74%) of enterprise organizations and 62 percent of small and medium-sized organizations are accelerating their UC and collaboration plans because of the influx of consumer devices like smartphones and tablets. Without a comprehensive approach, IT budgets can be impacted as time and resources are spent supporting operations, administration, and maintenance on a patchwork array of communications, collaboration tools, and a variety of infrastructures.

According to Gartner’s Top 10 Predictions for 2009, by EOY 2013, 40 percent of enterprise knowledge workers will have given up their desk phones. While it may not seem to be the case prima facie, transitioning a large contingent of knowledge workers to softphones, mobile clients, and headsets can represent a significant change to the way they are working today. Job function, geography, and even culture can have a significant impact on how ready users are to completely “cut the cord” and move from a desk phone to a soft or mobile UC client. Enterprises need to focus at least as much on the user experience for UC and collaboration as they do in architecture and operations in order to support effective demand management and acceptable user adoption.

The potential challenges for an organization that does not align their communications, collaboration, and mobile strategies are not limited to internal users only.  Customers (and therefore revenue) can be negatively impacted by a poorly planned, designed, implemented or run UC solution. If, for example, one of your primary drivers for UC is to increase first call resolution for a key customer contact center, inconsistent or unavailable instant messaging (IM) services can prevent agents from reaching key Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) needed to resolve a problem. If UC and collaboration services are intended to support a highly mobile sales force but the user experience is poor, adoption will suffer.

Integrating voice, UC, and mobility

Developing a comprehensive, integrated plan that addresses Voice, UC, and Mobility is crucial for addressing the potential challenges and risks outlined above. At minimum, you should focus on the following key areas:

  • Requirements and service catalog

Define which specific benefits are expected and which business problems you are trying to solve. Will UC be used to make money, save money, or differentiate your business from the competition? Are you expecting UC to provide benefits at the personal, workgroup, or enterprise level? How will different types of users interact with the new system? Which services will you be providing to whom, where and when?

  • Service delivery architecture

Develop the future state solution architecture as clearly as possible. Which vendors, devices and platforms make up the current voice, UC and Mobility estates? Which ones will in the future state solution? How will they be integrated?

  • Service operations model

Determine if you are planning to host & manage the entire solution or if you will be outsourcing all or part of these services to a provider. What expectations do you have around service levels? Will Service Level Agreements (SLAs) address availability of the solution only or is the quality of the user experience also guaranteed? Who takes the first call for user issues? Can you (or the provider) deliver the same service catalog in all regions?

  • Transformation plan

Develop a stepwise approach to move from the current state to the desired future state. Are you abandoning your existing investments and moving to a completely new platform? By when do you need to be complete? What funding and other resources will you need to execute the plan? Can you do everything in-house or would you potentially need to work with a partner?

These and many other questions need to be answered for an effective and seamless transformation of enterprise communications, collaboration, and mobility services. The potential challenges are not trivial, but the potential rewards can be a game-changer for forward-looking enterprise organizations. The key is to tightly align your technical, operational, and financial decisions with critical business imperatives without losing sight of both the human aspects and the reality on the ground.

What are your company’s plans to align voice UC and mobility strategies? What are your concerns? And how do think it can positively impact your business?