Arguably, there are three certainties in life -- death, taxes and unfulfilled unified communications projects.
The third doesn't have to turn out that way, representatives of four UC vendors told conference for telecom managers this week in Toronto. But it will take determination, planning and not making basic mistakes.
The first mistake is relying too much on making plans for new software and hardware, according to Ian Wineberg, associate director of marketing for network solutions at Bell Canada, the country's biggest carrier.
"We see too much emphasis on technology," he told the group. Having a roadmap for the organization's communications should come first, he said, and unfortunately few have one. There will be a roadmap for voice, for data, maybe for collaboration tools, but not one for how they all should work together.
As part of that roadmap, the organization needs to categorize staff by how they communicate into what he called the "personas" -- a fancy word for groups -- which will have different communications needs. They will likely have different needs, although these might be satisfied by the same software as others get but with a little customization. By and large, he said, most organizations will have no more than six groups.
You also need to factor in the needs of new young hires, who are likely more experienced with the latest technology, he added, and will leave the company abruptly if they can't use it.
Then the organization has to measure the productivity of staff with key performance indicators so the improvements with UC can be measured.
After all that, he said, you're ready to make technology decisions.
Making the business case for UC around information technology cost saving won't be enough, Wineberg warned. You can build infrastructure, but you still need to build (communications) apps on top of that. "IT cost saving is only going to get you the big boxes, It's not going to get you the rest of the work you need to do."
Perhaps surprisingly, he urged the group to find those who are unfriendly to new technology to conduct pilot tests. "Create addicts out of luddites," he said. Give a useful tool to an executive and you won't be able to pry it out of his hands.
Wineberg was one of several speakers at the conference, organzied by the International Telecommunications Professionals Exchange, who acknowledged that the promise of unified communications hasn't been seen by many organizations for a variety of reasons.
An August report by Forrester Research notes that in most organizations around the world are deploying components of UC, but it is impeded by a perception that it isn't delivering value, partly caused by poor staff training.
That was a point made at the conference by Tracy Fleming, a member of the office of the chief technology officer at UC equipment maker Avaya Inc. who specializes in emerging technologies.
"If users aren't happy with this stuff they will derail a project faster than you can think," he said. They'll go to their managers and insist the effort was a failure. So making sure end uses adopt new technology -- even if it's incremental change --is vital. In other words, don't try to do too much too fast.
"One of the worst things you can do is force a people to change they way they work," he said. Forcing people to change the way they access voice mail just because you can isn't a great use of technology.
Michelle Ippel, business development manager for IT communications at Microsoft Canada, said having an executive sponsor with a company-wide vision for the UC project is important. Many times she's seen UC applications requested by a department killed by a telecom or network team -- or vice versa, she added.
She also urged the group not to start off on their UC journey by standardizing on the applications before the framework is set. "That's never going to work," she said.
A vital tool for teleworking, UC can have inadvertent side effects, Bell's Wineberg pointed out. The issue isn't will staff work, but is the organization's performance management system able to cope.
For example, the phone company discovered one day that a top performing Bell staffer had been working for 18 months from India. He hadn't told the company of his move and thanks to the very efficient communications system, no one noticed.
It did raise the question of how important a staffer's location is, Wineberg said.
But the staffer still lost his job.