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Unified communication and collaboration in 7 steps

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

With the right unified communication and collaboration strategy, you can create order in the chaos of poorly integrated collaboration tools, PBXs and video conferencing systems.

  • Why a management sponsor, a user group accompanying the project and a precise analysis of working behaviour are important

  • Those who want to introduce UCC should carefully consider the Key Performance Indicators.

  • A proof of concept provides valuable indications as to whether the planned implementation is technically possible

The forms of digital communication and collaboration are diverse, highly flexible and global - from instant messaging to internet telephony to video communication from the cloud via tablet, smartphone, desktop or whiteboard. As the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic shows, unified communication and collaboration (UCC) leads to fast internal processes, more innovation and productivity of knowledge workers, lower costs and happier employees.

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In the wake of the Corona crisis, many companies equipped themselves with modern solutions and systems to maintain communication in and between teams despite social distancing and home offices. However, there was often not enough time and know-how for a complete integration. Therefore, communication and IT landscapes are often characterised by isolated solutions from different providers - often used stand-alone or only rudimentarily interlinked. The result is that the applications are not used as they could be. Maintenance costs increase with each new system or application and the hoped-for increase in productivity fails to materialise. The bottom line is that the investments do not pay off.

The greatest potential can be realised if all communication services are integrated in a uniform application environment - and in a consistent manner. This idea of standardising communication and cooperation in the sense of "unified" is currently occupying many companies. The following seven steps will help you achieve a unified, integrated communication and collaboration environment in your company.

1. designate management sponsor and power user

Always keep in mind: It is about unifying communication and collaboration. This affects all divisions, all locations, all subsidiaries, all employees - and all functions in the organisation. With such a cross-company project, the top management must be convinced of the project first and foremost.

Appoint a management sponsor and make the project a top priority. Also consider the timely involvement of data protection officers and staff representatives. Projects can be delayed if, for example, concerns arise about possible "employee surveillance". Sit down together at the table: UCC solutions offer sufficient possibilities to meet even high security requirements.

2. stocktaking and as-is analysis

This point is all about the current status quo regarding technology and the use of tools for communication and collaboration. Regarding technology, for example, questions need to be clarified such as:

  • Which chat and IM system is in use? Which versions? Which roles are there? For which user group? With which functions? At what level of integration?

  • What tools are used for audio and video conferencing?

  • Which e-mail service do you use?

  • Which telephone system is in use? Which service provider?

  • Which systems are used for video conferencing? For which user group? At what level of integration?

  • How are locations technically integrated?

For example, it is necessary to clarify the use:

  • How satisfied are the users?

  • How are the different communication channels used? In what depth and frequency?

  • What are the reasons why some applications and systems are not used willingly or frequently?

  • What would users like to see in order to be able to communicate or collaborate better and faster? Are there any suggestions?

  • What are the costs of use today?

In terms of utilisation, it is important to put employees at the centre of considerations. They are ultimately the ones who ensure productivity increases - by working together more easily, quickly and efficiently later on. The degree of use and the depth of use can be found out, for example, through surveys. Listen carefully to what the employees tell you! A project that is only oriented towards technical criteria will fail.

Special software and the evaluation of usage data can help to perfect this analysis. For example, how often and for how long are video conferencing systems used? What is the utilisation of the PBX and are its functions being exhausted? At the end of your inventory, carry out an evaluation of the current situation, including a weighing of advantages and disadvantages as well as a consideration and assessment of costs.

3. setting goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)

After the stocktaking and a detailed analysis of the actual situation, the goals of the project must be defined for the implementation phase as well as for periods after six, twelve and 24 months. They are oriented towards the corporate goals. These can be, for example:

  • Increasing productivity (of the employees),

  • improved business processes,

  • faster decisions,

  • shortened time-to-market for new products,

  • Reduce telecommunication, web conferencing, teleconferencing and travel costs,

  • better work-life balance for the employees or

  • better environmental balance of the company

With the evaluation and analysis of the dimensions of technology and use, a sound data basis is available to set clearly measurable sub-goals for the project. Define what expectations are placed on the technology and use and which measured values (KPIs) will be used to control and achieve the goals.

Targets/KPIs can be:

  • Reducing the volume of e-mails,

  • less dependence on physical meetings,

  • higher satisfaction with the meetings,

  • more video meetings,

  • improved user satisfaction.

4. conception and selection of the technical platform

The unified communications concept should consider all integration aspects in as much depth as possible. Especially when many technical trades (PBXs, existing UCC solutions, infrastructures, networks, external WAN providers, etc.) have to be interlocked, overlooked details can delay the implementation. Think of it like an orchestra that is newly assembled and has to take the stage at a predefined time.

Especially when there are distributed heterogeneous system landscapes, for example in the form of several PBXs, as well as diverse video conferencing systems from different manufacturers and versions, it is important to select the appropriate technical unified communications platform. Companies should also intensively weigh up in advance which operating model is suitable for them. One hundred percent cloud solutions offer an attractive price-performance ratio, but it is also necessary to check whether all data protection and compliance requirements are met. An on-premises solution can better map customer-specific security and configuration requirements, but it requires more IT resources.

An on-premises solution that is operated externally in a highly secure data centre (private cloud) is also conceivable. Have your service provider draw up a communication and collaboration architecture for you. Check your service provider for their know-how in technical implementation and also whether they can accompany your project every step of the way. 5.

5. Implementation and proof of concept

If steps 1 to 4 have been properly implemented, this is a good starting point for a successful roll-out. Now it is up to the system programmers and engineers to implement the concept technically. Attention should always be paid to the details: Are all systems and applications mapped? Are the interfaces cleanly programmed? Have the desired functions and roles been taken into account or mapped?

The proof of concept (PoC) is a proven method for carrying out a kind of general check after implementation and before roll-out. It provides clues as to whether implementation as planned is technically possible. The feasibility analysis not only provides clarity and security, but also offers the possibility to adapt a concept before it is fully rolled out.

A PoC is particularly urgent when several heterogeneous systems have to be integrated. This is the case, for example, when replacing PBXs with the simultaneous introduction of a UCC solution for all employees at distributed locations. It is advisable to involve the user groups named in the first step for the PoC and to test all functions together with them. This can usually be done in so-called showrooms, where the individual applications are presented and tested in a user- and process-oriented manner. 6.

6. The roll-out

Once the PoC has been successfully accepted, the roll-out to the entire organisation can begin in previously defined phases. A step-by-step roll-out has proven to be effective - usually country or region-related. Areas that work closely and intensively together should be implemented first.

At each stage of the roll-out, the milestones should be carefully checked. This ensures that errors and problems are detected early on and avoided in future project phases as part of the continuous improvement process. The project managers have a great responsibility here. The more intensively you report on the roll-out progress and train the users, the better. Word spreads quickly if employees are satisfied with the new platform and applications, but even faster if they are not. Use the positive feedback from early adopters to inspire the user groups that have not yet been converted.

In some cases, it makes sense to split the training into classic short training sessions (also video-based), on-the-job training or coaching sessions. The role of the previously selected and trained power users is particularly important here; experience shows that users accept their advice more easily.

7. Continuous optimisation

You have set clearly measurable goals in step 3. It is now important to continuously measure their achievement. If you notice deviations, start the analysis. Here, too, it is helpful to survey the user group accompanying the project. Sometimes it is only small details why applications are not used as desired.

Users are forgetful, especially when it comes to activities that are not carried out on a daily basis. Train your staff regularly. There are functions that are time-saving and helpful but have been forgotten or are not known. Often a short training session is enough to refresh knowledge. As a rule of thumb, if 80 to 90 per cent of all users are using the new unified communications platform regularly, the lights are green that the KPIs are being achieved. Supportive Usage & Adoption services can help to measure, optimise and adapt adoption to new situations.

The number of helpful UCC tools and applications is growing, and will continue to do so for some time. Make sure that your service provider can accompany the operation and further development of your UCC solution with the appropriate know-how and services. (CW)

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