How will we adapt to Unified Communications

According to wikipedia, Unified Communications (UC) is a commonly used term for the integration of disparate communications systems, media, devices and applications.

This potentially includes the integration of fixed and mobile voice, e-mail, instant messaging, desktop and advanced business applications, Internet Protocol (IP)-PBX, voice over IP (VoIP), presence, voice-mail, fax, audio video and web conferencing, unified messaging, unified voice-mail, and whiteboarding into a single environment offering the user a more complete but simpler and more effective experience.

During the past few months, we have been researching and investigating working with next generation technologies such as UC within Fox Group for our own company use.

We have also been working with multiple clients who have either already migrated their TDM environments to VoIP and now want to evolve to UC, or who have not migrated but believe that VoIP is ready for prime time, and they want to move to VoIP and UC.

Here are two of our versions of the UC definition.

From a business user perspective – It is the ability to create, send and receive information to and from people disregarding location, format, device, application, technology or relationship. In addition, the various technologies can be linked, triggered or activated by pre-defined business rules and supporting processes or event.

From a technical perspective – A communications system which integrates disparate communications such as text, video, email and voice into a common platform which is aware of the users’ location and relative availability and delivers the communication in a form that best suits the user at that moment in time.

An example of UC in daily life could be as follows:

You have your email read to you on your cell phone or PDA while waiting at the airport, and then you verbally instruct the UC ‘system’ to make reservation changes for your return ticket, modify your outlook calendar schedule and advise the rest of your team and your clients of the changes to the upcoming event via email.

Having used VoIP and early versions of embedded voice mail in email since 1998, we believe that the convergence of IT/voice and data information will be able to finally deliver some of the previously promised benefits that we, as IT/telecom professionals have proposed.

We know from our own research and testing within our Human Factor test labs that UC can and will work, depending on the skills, voice and data technology infrastructure, corporate systems applications and various end-user desktop environments.

What are some of the potential UC benefits?

Some of the possible benefits of unified communications are:Creation and delivery of information to and from the media of choice of the humans, whether desk phone, cell phone, PDA, laptop, voice mail, video etc.

Ability to have communications information linked and triggered to respond or act based on pre-determined business rules or exception.

Possible increased individual productivity by not having to manage and maintain information in multiple devices and places.

Ability to streamline or reduce the number of devices required with supporting capital, IT and various operating costs.

Ability to send and receive information from multiple locations, whether corporate office, client office, mobile, teleworking from home office or other alternate locations.

What are potential UC pitfalls and challenges?

What we are worried about is the ability for senior leaders, managers, supervisors and staff to be able to evolve and adapt how they all work together in this potentially ‘Always on and accessible’ environment.

What do we mean by this? Within our own organization, we are a distributed virtual team that uses eleven different technology solutions to be able to work with our clients, disregarding our location. The technology part has been relatively straight forward to get in place, but the required changes in human behaviour has been a real challenge for some of the people.

Management practices need to evolve.

What has been more challenging is our ability to manage by objective, rather than ‘bums in seats and within eyesight’. None of us work within close proximity of each other. We are either working at client sites, working from our remote, distributed home offices, visiting or working from vendor sites, and very infrequently, coming together face-to-face as the total project consulting team.

The senior leadership team, myself included, has had to learn to not only manage by pre-determined defined objectives but, ( just as important), learn how to communicate via multiple media, sometimes concurrently. As many of my team can attest, sometimes my enthusiasm for responding quickly via email has caused a misunderstanding of my intent and attitude.

Individual employee practices, mindsets and capabilities need to evolve.

Many of our clients are worried that the ‘always on’ perspective of UC will lead to employee problems. We believe that the opposite will be true. We strongly believe that employees will be able to evolve to the UC environment easier than management will. If objectives are clearly defined and communicated, most information workers will use the appropriate technology tools and processes to meet the objectives. They, like us, will find out the benefits that ‘being connected’ will bring.

Example of ‘always on’.

Let’s provide a simple example below to help illustrate the benefits of ‘always on’.

I have the ability to have voice mail notification forwarded to our PDAs to alert us that we have an important voice message. In a full UC environment, this would be converted to email, sent to my Blackberry, and I would be able to read the message, respond via email, translated to voice mail and my reply returned to the sender, whether I was at my desk, out gardening for a quick afternoon break or quick break fishing on the lake next door.

I could then come back into the office after my short break and continue my work, disregarding the time of day. I would have taken advantage of the gap of free time, good weather, etc. for my personal time, and most importantly felt good about the fact that I had the break. When I came back to my desk to work, I would be clear headed, focused and raring to go.

Summary

We are not saying that UC solutions are for every company, person or job at this time. We do believe that for knowledge workers who are measured by objectives and output, Unified Communications technology should be considered as a way to recruit and retain top talent, increase productivity and improve work life balance.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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