Unified communications doesn't mean putting all your eggs in one basket. And your rollout will be as unique as your company.
"Right now, companies are purchasing their communications from many difference sources and they all have evolution ahead," says Bern Elliot, a Gartner vice president. "Each channel is expanding and growing, but at the same time there is consolidation. CIOs will start using this to rein in and get control over the wide variety of communications techniques."
This does not mean, though, that you can get all your communications needs met by one vendor, even if the major players in this market are touting their ability to do it all. But it does mean you can begin to substantially pare the number of vendors you deal with. Eventually, experts say, you may be able to count your vendors on one hand instead of two.
Most of the big vendors in this arena partner with each other, and there have been many acquisitions, which can complicate matters for customers. Earlier this year, Cisco acquired the videoconferencing company WebEx for $3.2 billion, while Microsoft paid a reported $800 million for Tellme Networks, which does voice-enabled mobile search. Siemens bought the wireless LAN startup Chantry Networks and integrated it into its HiPath products.
So all the big vendors will want to talk to you, and that's great. But in the end, you have to go where your business needs to go, not necessarily where the vendor goes.
Take this test to see if you are traveling in the same general direction: Ask your instant messaging provider if it offers an application programming interface (API), which allows the exchange of data between two applications and lets you create what Avaya calls "communications-enabled business processes."
Avaya's Doc2Doc, for example, being developed in partnership with consultancy Computer Resources, will let doctors immediately reach colleagues to speed patient care decisions by linking up with systems tracking doctors' schedules.
And spend money where it makes the most sense. Instead of investing in an expensive desktop visual display phone, for example, CIOs should put their money toward softphone software that lets users place calls from their computers over the Internet, says Gartner's Elliot.
Unified communications rollout strategies vary based on company needs, budget and timeframe.
If you have time for a phased rollout, follow a simple strategy of early adopters first, others later. Or target first salespeople and others who place a high value on staying in constant communication, regardless of location or device, for instance. Another group to consider prioritizing: People who do all their work on PCs and would benefit from communicating in a more varied way through that device, too.
Lieff Cabraser didn't have the luxury of time. After an intensive test phase, the firm had to cut everybody in its main office over to its new VoIP system in a single night, amid a move to a larger space. It added its other two offices to the VoIP system several months later.
It's key to keep an open mind when it comes to the rollout. Shimano American deployed unified communications to its salespeople first for their work with customers, but quickly found the salespeople needed it to connect with people in the company's home offices at least as much.
"The major thing is the flexibility," Shimano American's Crane says. "It's going to be different for each organization. If we'd had a hard design on what we did, we wouldn't have achieved what we did. We were continually surprised. And once you start to use it, it's often the people who were the most resistant who come up with the best suggestions."
Ask your compliance officer:
How would a unified repository of all voice and data communications improve our record-keeping?
Ask your CEO:
What does increased productivity add to the bottom line?
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