Over the last several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with numerous enterprises about their communications and collaboration plans. While there is a growing interest in unified communications, and enterprises increasingly see the benefits of real-time collaboration, organizational issues remain the primary hindrance to adoption.
Unified communications offer significant opportunities to improve communications, both internally and externally, streamlining business processes, improving customer response, and shortening sales cycles, but they force enterprises to radically rethink how they manage communications within their organization. Most enterprises are still struggling to integrate voice and data teams, and often groups responsible for communications and collaboration applications such as instant messaging, web conferencing and shared workspaces remain independent entities, operating on their own, without coordination among other related groups.
In a recent conversation with one enterprise, I was surprised to hear that while the voice and data teams worked on plans for migration to VoIP and unified messaging, they had not consulted with the IM group -- which had its own plans to deploy an enterprise IM application which offered integrated voice and video. This failure to communicate could have led to redundant, non-integrated systems, resulting in higher costs and a management nightmare. (Think of the scenario when the help desk gets a call that the voice chat capabilities in Microsoft Live Communication Server 2005 aren’t working, only to call the voice group and be told that the voice managers have no idea what the user is talking about.)
The trend toward “communications as a web service” where application developers have the capability to integrate real-time communications functions such as call control, web conferencing, and instant messaging into business process applications offers potential for further confusion, especially with regard to responsibility for educating application developers of the opportunities presented by the increasingly open interfaces of real-time communications platforms. (Witness IBM Lotus’s recent announcement of integration of the open-source Eclipse framework into SameTime 7.5 and numerous VoIP vendors adding support for web services interfaces into their call control platforms.)
Enterprises need to walk, not run, to unified communications and real-time collaboration. They should start by creating “tiger” teams of individuals from across various communications and collaboration management teams. They should, at a minimum, coordinate plans and understand the impact that system purchases in one functional area will have on the others. Beyond basic regular communication, they should develop relationships with line-of-business managers to determine specific business scenarios where unified communications and collaboration strategies can offer real benefit, such as demonstrable ROI based on process improvements. Finally, enterprises should work to a long-term goal of creating a communications and collaboration function within IT, charged with coordinating and planning enterprise-wide adoption of unified communication and collaboration applications.
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