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Unified Communications drives collaboration, cost savings (after a lot of hard work)

Brian Eastwood | Sept. 10, 2013
The consumerisation of IT is beginning to influence companies' decisions to implement unified communications

Unified communications (UC) systems offer end users the chance to broadcast the best way to contact them, avoid the embarrassment of an overstuffed voicemail and maybe, just maybe, get rid of the fax machine once and for all.

Despite the advantages, UC adoption rates - which hover between one-third and three-fifths of enterprises, depending on whom you ask - have been lower than analysts and technology vendors expected. (Those numbers may be artificially inflated; not all employees take kindly to surrendering their tried-and-true traditional telephone.)

Several sessions at the recent ITXEPO West aimed to examine what continues to impede UC adoption and what vendors and customers alike are doing to promote unified communications.

Consumer Tech in Hand, Employees Willing to Part With PBX
Not surprisingly, the consumerization of IT is beginning to influence companies' decisions to implement unified communications. This influence comes from employees, customers and, in the case of California's Mountain View-Los Altos Union School District — yes, that Mountain View — parents who are well-versed in cutting-edge technology.

In replacing its PBX system with VoIP, and in doing so all at once over the course of a July day, the district aimed to provide the "same methodology of access" for all parents to get in touch with teachers, Associate Superintendent Steve Hope says.

Teachers — they of the perpetually full voicemail — were on board, viewing UC technology as a better way to respond to parents in a timely manner, Hope says. Administrators and support staff, however, were admittedly less receptive, as traditional telephony worked well for them.

To get reluctant users of unified communications on board, Doug Sanders, director of IT for national waste management firm Republic Services, takes what he calls a use-case approach to training. Rather than show employees how to use the UC system, he says, show them why. When users see video chats being integrated with phone calls, they get excited about the new technology. Video training can subsequently cover the less-glamorous aspects of user training, Sanders says.

Adopting UC Easier Said Than Done
Showing end users the why of unified communications instead of the how may have an unfortunate side effect: Obscuring the fact that the how of UC can be quite difficult.

Here, again, consumer technology is a culprit, as employees using Skype, Facetime or Google Hangouts at home wonder why they can't use similar or identical apps at the office. While most IM and presence systems are standards-based and can talk to each other, a lack of UC federation makes it difficult for disparate UC video systems to, well, communicate.

That, combined with the ongoing power struggle between telecommunications and PC lines of business, in part explains the "initial inertia" that hinders UC deployments at an enterprise level, says Jason Moss, executive director of UC and collaboration solutions for Logitech.


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