The Road to Unified Communications Is not Always Smooth

A business may want unified communications—may even need UC to boost efficiency and keep costs down.

Yet many businesses just are not ready for UC.

That’s the conclusion of Jim Koniecki, integrated collaboration solutions manager at Dimension Data, a South African IT services and solutions provider with North American headquarters in New York City. Too often, he said, different business units within an organization are pursuing different agendas, making it hard to put the “unified” into their UC ambitions.

Dimension Data helps organizations assess their UC readiness, mapping current stages of communications technology against present and future business needs. Companies that undertake this analysis often discover they are unprepared for the demands of UC.

“Many business still are in silos,” Koniecki said. “In the telecom area, for example, people might be looking at Cicso, Avaya, Nortel solutions, while on the data side they may be a Microsoft shop or a Novell shop, or they may have plans to do Linux or a little bit of Apple.”

It’s not just that these competing platforms represent a potential technology clash. Rather, it is the lack of information flow between divisions that makes it hard for an organization to move toward UC.

“A lot of times you can’t get the right people to the table. You may have a layer of management, but they are not the decision makers,” Koniecki said. “You don’t have the right people in the right room to talk about it.”

Without productive conversation between the relevant business units, “it can set the organization back quite a few years, depending on how they have chosen to adopt technology. It can really prevent them from being in the place they want to be, in the time they want to be there.”

This in turn has a ripple effect throughout the telecom world, as vendors spin their wheels waiting for potential customers to get their processes in order. “For the reseller this means an increasingly long sales cycle,” Koniecki said.

Often enterprise users will address their “silo” issues by outsourcing UC efforts to third parties. In an August 2007 survey of 390 IT managers and 524 end-users across 13 countries, Dimension Data found that 34 percent of the sample had their voice/data networks managed onsite or fully managed.

That can be a risky work-around, Koniecki said.

“A lot of organizations don’t have the ability to take on UC, but in outsourcing it they don’t always get what they want,” he said.

“You get too many cooks in the kitchen, in a lot of different ways. It can be as simple as my terminology not mapping with your terminology. There are a lot of definitions, a lot of acronyms when it comes to UC,” Koniecki said. If the language within the enterprise doesn’t synch with the vocabulary of third-party suppliers, effective implementation can be difficult to achieve.

This doesn’t mean an organization should automatically turn to in-house management, however. If the company’s infrastructure is not geared up to support unified communications, a move to manage UC internally could foster complications no less severe than those encountered with a third-party manager.

“In some cases they have outsourced a service in the past, something like conferencing, and when something went wrong they would call their services provider. Now if you bring that in house, who do you call?

“If you don’t have that service provider any more, you will need some degree of in-house staff to support that. You have to be ready to bring in additional staff responsibility along with that attempt to save money.”

This potential issue here is compounded when one moves beyond conferencing to embrace all the moving parts of unified messaging.

To achieve an appropriate level of readiness, one returns to the starting point: Unit leaders will need to get out of their silos and find common ground in the effort to pair technologies against emerging business needs.

“You have to talk, and you have to involve every person who is responsible in the business,” Koniecki said. “The whole purpose is to get everyone in the room, to get consensus among the business units.”

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