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11/5/2009
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VoiceCon 2009: Avoid Unified Communications Hype

Implementing unified communications and collaboration tools doesn't have to lead to a Wild West scenario, according to a panel of experts at VoiceCon 2009.

During a panel discussion Thursday at VoiceCon San Francisco 2009, experts said there definitely is a bit of a hype cycle with integrating collaboration and Web 2.0 features into business communication networks, but it can lead to measurable productivity gains if implemented correctly.

Bringing collaboration and unified communications into enterprises is basically trying to extend that small office feeling to a large distributed workforce, said Dan York, Voxeo's director of conversations. Teams that meet in a close geographic location on a day-to-day basis learn their co-workers tendencies, strengths, availability, and a bit of personal background. This "ambient intimacy" can be spread throughout geographically dispersed workers with collaboration technology, and it can boost morale, as well as speed up business processes.

"There's an immense amount of knowledge we gather and know from the people we work with on a daily basis," said York.

This type of distributed knowledge can have a measurable impact on a company's bottom line, said Irwin Lazer, VP of communications research at Nemertes Research. Applying real-time communications and rich presence to a contact center, for instance, can assist workers in reaching the correct sources of information more rapidly, and this can then lead to a higher amount of inquiries handled per day. This type of quantifiable productivity gain is crucial when trying to convince management of the value of collaboration and UC tools, Lazer said.

There are challenges of course, as businesses need to be careful about not jumping onto what's hot at the moment. For instance, companies who made big bets on Second Life, Jaiku, or Orkut as business enablers probably did not get much return on investment. The panelists suggested waiting until the hype cycle subsides before implementing some services, or going to vendors and asking them to implement popular Web services into enterprise-ready equipment and services. Siemens said it will be soon implementing Twitter into its OpenScape Unified Collaboration software, Microsoft's SharePoint 2010 can be used as a customer-facing Web front end, and companies like Yammer offer Twitter-like services for businesses with administrative controls.

Scott Mark, enterprise application architect for Medtronic, said many of management's concerns aren't necessarily with the collaboration technology itself, but the potential for data leakage that these tools enable. Mark said it is entirely possible for large corporations in highly regulated industries to introduce a variety of collaboration tools without having it be the "Wild West." Mark said the collaboration tools that have been implemented in Medtronic provide employees with a different model of user interaction, but many of these are within closed groups, and administrators can tighten these down as needed.

"A lot of what we had to do is remind people of existing policies in place that they have to observe, not only with inside tools, but on public places like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn," said Mark.


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