Top tips for creating a Unified Communications strategy

Have a vision

Before you even get to define your business case, proactively engage with your end users to understand how they work today, find out what’s important and how the introduction of a Unified Communications solution could potentially impact their way of working.  Introducing UC solution into your business is so much more than an IT project, it’s something that can potentially redefine how your business connects and interacts within the workplace, be that in-house or with your key partners.

Consider how email has recast comms culture and protocol over the past twenty years and then understand that UC can bring about far greater changes over the next ten. Remain aware of that, ensure that change management goes hand in hand with technological development, and keep in focus the full ground-breaking potential if you get it right.

Make the business case

Just because Unified Communications is the media’s topic of the moment doesn’t mean you should just press on regardless. A decision should be subject to the same rigour that goes around any enterprise IT project, perhaps more as you are about to potentially reengineer a ‘sacred cow’ – the workers’ world of dial tone reliability and always-on connectivity. Done properly UC can greatly improve employee productivity, decision-making. If used correctly Unified Communications solutions can help improve your corporate business continuity, enable remote working and collaborative behaviours, while reducing travel time and associated costs plus a deal of operational complexity. Right up front you need to be able to clearly define the expected outcomes and the associated benefits to your business before you do anything else.

Review your communications strategy

Businesses vary quite widely in terms of where they are today from a communications point of view. There are those who have already embraced UC to good effect, others who are using 20 year old phone systems, with a broad spectrum in between.

Regardless of where your business sits on this spectrum, you need to take a step back to consider a clear strategy around where you want to get to and how you’re going to get there. It is key to:

  • making the right choices when buying new services and solutions, and not just the obvious ones like telephony and Unified Communications systems, mobile phones and Local Area Network infrastructure, but also potentially less obvious ones like the Wide Area Network, Wi-Fi systems and virtual desktop solutions
  • establishing where and how current systems can be integrated as part of the on-going strategy for change, leveraging existing investments as effectively as possible
  • helping businesses avoid making a wrong turn, and investing in technology inappropriate to their longer-term vision or operational requirements
  • identifying likely expenditure and assisting with managing budgets
  • getting buy-in and support; by being able to articulate a defined strategy across the business, you will improve your chances of gaining backing and investment from stakeholders, while promoting positive adoption amongst users

Understand why it’s unified

Many companies have tentatively deployed Unified Communications in some capacity but their experiences tend to fall well short of the ‘transformational’ type that the market is offering up now in this current UC tide. The most common failing has been the disjoint between UC and a company’s telephony system, with them frequently operating as two separate platforms without any integration. Telephony should be a core part of any Unified Communications solution in order for the end user experience to be as consistent and as functionally rich as possible. Employees’ working behaviours have changed over the past 10 years: the new generation expect to be able to work anywhere they can get connected, be that wi-fi/mobile or wired to their desk. UC needs to provide a seamless, reliable experience regardless of the user device preference. Modern smartphones and tablets can deliver users access to rich communications from practically any location; faster, more reliable mobile networks and the availability of public wi-fi are helping to drive the uptake of Unified Communications services.

Keep one eye on the road, the other on the horizon

Unified Communications will not stay static. All the time you’re working on your deployment, technologies will evolve, market dynamics will shift, needs and expectations change. So it’s vital that you future proof any strategy and avoid getting yourself locked in to either systems or vendors that may compromise UC returns down the line. So while a strategy should be sufficiently prescriptive to deliver against your core functional requirements whilst also addressing key business objectives, you should also perform regular reviews to ensure you are maintaining the company’s objectives and expectations outlined at the planning stages.  Just stay aware of factors such as the remaining lifespan of current systems, the company strategy over the short, medium and long-term, and the fluid options for integrating UC solutions with legacy systems, buying into a managed proposition or building up your own UC capability on-premise.  

Know your options

Unified Communications is a hugely exciting proposition for businesses keen to revolutionise how they communicate and collaborate. It’s hard to overstate how ground-breaking UC could be for companies of all sizes – think how much more empowered and connected you are as a consumer in this digital age and imagine taking across some of that effortless communication and messaging ability into your working life. But UC projects come at a price – on-premise deployments have the sort of capital requirements and skills need that can derail them instantly. There can also be a huge degree of complexity, not so much in the UC tools themselves, but in navigating license agreements, legacy infrastructure, integrating legacy systems and still achieving a sufficiently resilient, functional and future-proofed UC environment. Yet what to do if there is this ‘want it now’ appetite from within the business? One route forward is to take Cloud-based Unified Communications services, an option gaining ground because it avoids the risk of investing in expensive on-site infrastructure which may be superseded or become obsolete quite quickly. Cloud Unified Communications providers will also devise migration paths that can utilise existing equipment, so preserving legacy investment without compromising overall effectiveness; or alternatively negate issues around ageing but in contract telephony and comms by incorporating buy out/swap out options into a Cloud UC deployment. Given the right calibre of provider, the latter has the distinct advantage of ensuring that your whole business is always on one common platform, on a single contract, with the burden of refresh and delivering optimum solutions firmly on the shoulders of a specialist, not you.