In the last segment on UC strategic planning, we emphasized the importance of creating a guiding vision for how the technology would support business objectives. We also discussed that for maximum benefit, UC needed to become more of a “pull” (a qualified demand) from the business unit rather than just a “push” (a generic service offer) from IT. How do you translate that vision into a set of detailed requirements (and constraints)? How do you gain consensus on those requirements? Ultimately, how do you change the UC service strategy & design creation dynamic into one of ongoing, collaborative joint discovery? 

In our experience, the most successful strategies for any technology or set of technologies (like UC) are those that are most closely aligned with and best support the needs and objectives of the business or organization. Obtaining this alignment requires the active participation of business unit stakeholders to develop a detailed demand set that includes business, technical, operational and financial requirements. In most organizations, these stakeholders must at least support the funding for a proposed UC deployment if not provide the funding outright. These people are also the best sources for identifying opportunities and potential benefits of using such capabilities.

Often, however, the challenge isn’t that the business and IT stakeholders don’t understand how they are going to use UC for business benefit. In many of the cases we’ve seen, the stakeholders don’t have a solid understanding of what UC is, especially in the context of the organization’s unique guiding vision or its current or proposed environment. For this reason, we’ve found the most effective way of providing a common understanding of the tools and capabilities that UC provides is to deliver facilitated working sessions that incorporate cross-functional IT stakeholders and key business representatives. This cross-functional IT team should include representation from the groups responsible for overall Enterprise Architecture, Security, Engineering and Operations for any current or proposed UC service area such as:

  • Enterprise Voice / Telephony
  • Messaging (Email, Voicemail & Fax)
  • Audio, Video & Web Conferencing
  • Mobility
  • Shared Workspace / Document Management
  • Shared Services (e.g., ActiveDirectory, LAN/WAN Infrastructure, etc.)

For many of these sessions, our initial approach is to provide basic information on how vendors, businesses, service providers and others define UC as a set of communications tools usually integrated into a common user interface or embedded into critical business processes and supporting applications. It’s often helpful to discuss the types of solutions available in the market, including premise-based, hosted / managed and cloud-based offerings. Examples of UC “use cases” drawn from vendors, analysts and other enterprise organizations are extremely helpful in tangibly demonstrating how the use of these tools can:

  • Reduce the cost of collaboration and communication
  • Minimize lag time for interpersonal communication
  • Reduce cycle time / increase capacity / increase velocity for critical business processes
  • Provide totally new ways of interacting with customers and partners

In the context of a “rising tide lifts all boats,” I believe the recommendations above provide a good background and basic understanding of why organizations should consider UC and how these services can support business activities and imperatives. Equipped with this information, the next part of a facilitated working session becomes even more powerful: we separate the participants into small groups of two to four  and task them – challenge them – to identify a way to leverage just one of the UC capabilities they learned about for business benefit in their departments or daily activities. Every time we’ve used this approach it has helped to accomplish three objectives:

  • Identify both strategic and “low-hanging fruit” tactical opportunities on the benefits side of the cost-benefit analysis
  • Change the UC service planning and design dynamic from a push to a pull
  • Develop consensus on the real needs of the business and the priorities of a UC strategy

Facilitated working sessions are just one technique that can be used in this manner. Individual interviews with stakeholders are often recommended in addition to, or in place of, a broader discussion or group event. In many cases, participants in a working session have ideas or concerns that only materialize days later. Other participants may simply be more comfortable sharing their input in a smaller setting. The important thing is to ensure that input is sought from the most appropriate set of technical and non-technical stakeholders for your organization.

In the next post in this series, we’ll discuss the need and best practices for evaluating your current voice, data and applications environments.