Purchasing UC systems is easy. The tough part for IT is selling UC to corporate management, and again to the employees who will use it.
Network communications is constantly evolving, with unified communications (UC) the latest incarnation. In some ways UC is entirely predictable, and in others it's a frustrating work in progress. These days, IT faces major challenges, and while the prospects of deploying UC appear exciting, the realities of moving it forward with a do-more-with-less budget are daunting.
Management demands greater accountability, and IT no longer has carte blanche for introducing new technologies. UC is particularly problematic, because it may not solve a specific problem that is costing the business money or creating pain points. Rather, UC provides a platform that integrates a set of communications applications to support a wide range of business processes. That's a pretty generic value proposition, requiring a creative ROI analysis that management may or may not buy into.
How do you get the green light from corporate management for your UC project? You need others in the organization to share in your vision for UC. That may lead you to call on new skills that may be outside your comfort zone. Aside from having a firm grasp on the underlying technology, you'll need to wear the hats of both buyer and seller.
Being the buyer is actually the easy part, although this still requires a lot of preparation. Every telecom vendor has a UC product suite, but that's just the beginning. When you broaden the pool to include both premises-based and cloud-based offerings, non-telecom vendors will come into your orbit, and beyond that will be vendors from outside the communications industry entirely. You won't be able to consider all of these, but you have a professional obligation to scan the field and make decisions that are in the best interests of both your IT environment and the overall business.
Now switch hats and consider a role you probably didn't sign up for. Once you've determined which vendor (or vendors) you want to buy from, UC must also be sold -- by you. As I mentioned, the value proposition might be difficult to articulate, and it doesn't help that UC offerings vary widely by vendor. Management is your ultimate customer, because they control the budgets. And depending on the deployment model, UC can be a capex or opex decision, so you need to be aligned with executive thinking on those terms -- unless you are convinced otherwise, in which case you have a bigger sales job on your hands.
As challenging as all this negotiation may be, there's a final hurdle to truly succeeding with UC. While management may be the economic buyer, the executives only make up a few of your core end-users. Other employees may have no economic stake in UC, but without their buy-in your deployment will fail. UC's value increases with scale. The more users and the more applications that are tied to an integrated platform, the greater its impact on the business. IT needs to be more proactive with UC, helping employees learn new behaviors that will make the most of their system.
All three of these hats are critical for UC, and while each warrants further analysis, my purpose here is to tie them together into a total package of needs that IT must address. Making good buying decisions with vendors is just the starting point, and from there you've got to sell UC to management, and then again -- in entirely different ways -- to employees.
If this seems like a tall order, just think about the upside, especially if IT is losing stature in your organization. By doing a good job on all of these fronts, you will effectively own UC and show how IT can make a difference. UC is an opportunity to reinvent IT and bring your function closer to the center of decision making for the business as a whole. Isn't that where you want to be, and isn't that worth fighting for?
Jon Arnold is Principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and strategy consultancy based in Toronto.
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