Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Understanding Adoption Barriers to Collaboration, Part 2

This is the second post about adoption barriers, with both being part of my broader series titled Collaboration Insights. Overall, this is the fourth post in a five part series, where I’ve been examining issues and opportunities to help enterprises move forward with collaboration technologies.
No matter which way you turn, there are challenges, but vendors are doing a pretty good job of developing solutions that speak what businesses need from their teams, as well as how people are communicating with today’s technologies. There’s a lot of complexity for sure, but the biggest barriers are internal, both in terms of your culture and how you think about collaboration. The latter point is where this post picks up the thread.
Next steps – thinking boldly and differently
When you can position collaboration as an enabler for these kinds of business outcomes, it becomes very strategic.  Clearly, these are desirable outcomes for any business, but are difficult to measure, which is exactly the holdup with the collaboration concept. However, this difficulty won’t stop management from allocating resources to achieve these outcomes, and by demonstrating the strategic role that collaboration can play, the adoption barriers will become much lower. Not only that, but if IT can craft such a vision for collaboration, then IT will likely get to “own” it.
To do that, IT may have to think differently, and that’s the impetus for this series. If you believe that “owning” collaboration is the best way to drive adoption across the enterprise, then you better be able to deliver. Creating such a solution is not normally the forte of IT, so the onus then falls to the vendor community. If the path I’m advocating is new to you, then you might need to reconsider your existing vendor relationships.
Most vendors do not have organically-developed collaboration platforms; rather, they are an outgrowth from point applications they have been selling forever. Standalone applications are not the answer here, and if that’s their core DNA, you’ll need to carefully evaluate how well they understand your need for collaboration to drive business outcomes. Otherwise, to keep your business, they may try to make your needs conform to their offerings, but that’s the opposite of what your vision requires.
Another aspect of thinking differently pertains to how you would manage this. Presuming you have found the right vendor with the right solution, you may face internal operating constraints, especially for your network. If you’re accustomed to owning and managing your IT resources, you may expect the same for collaboration platforms.
Given the complexity of today’s technology – and considering the strategic benefits outlined above – you may also have to accept that your collaboration platform is better managed from the cloud, especially if your resources are being pared back. Now you start thinking in terms of the PaaS or IaaS model, where the ability to integrate various communications applications comes from offsite, but is still very much within your purview. Along with this comes a shift from Capex to Opex, which could actually make your vision easier to sell to management.
Now, this becomes a strategic IT consideration, where you leave the complexity to the vendor, and focus instead on making a tighter connection across the organization between your collaboration solution and how it can drive business outcomes. That may be a big leap from your current situation, and again, will impact the kind of vendor you’ll need to partner with.
You may think I’m asking a lot here, but the stakes are high, and the results are worth it for everyone involved. If this is what you believe collaboration can do for your business, then you have to make it strategic for management and you have to be strategic when considering the vendors.
Part 1 talked about seeing the whole as more than the sum of its parts when it comes to collaboration applications. This is not easy to do, and poses an adoption barrier for truly effective collaboration solution. As long as each application lives in its own domain, they will remain great point solutions, but not part of something bigger – something that’s strategic rather than tactical. The key take away from that post was for IT to make collaboration strategic, and doing so involves tying this to business outcomes. These are the results that management values, and their buy-in is necessary for this strategic vision.
This post builds on that by addressing the need to think differently. Status quo thinking is likely a key reason why collaboration solutions have had limited impact to date. Making communications easier is not enough to become strategic; collaboration needs to drive business outcomes and to sell that vision, IT needs to think differently. Of course this entails risk, but the upside is worth it, not just for the business but for IT’s future as well.

For clarity, please note that this Collaboration Insights series is sponsored by Cisco Canada, but the content is my own, and by design is vendor-neutral.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

GetVoIP's Top UC Experts - Me and 49 Others!

GetVoIP.com is a pretty handy resource for decision-makers looking for solutions in our space. They serve as an independent information clearinghouse of sorts, where buyers can find the right offerings and determine the best ways to compare what's out there. They rely on analysts like me for industry-based perspectives on core communications needs that all businesses need to stay current with - UC, hosted VoIP, SIP trunking, contact centers, etc.

I've written for them occasionally, and one way they support the buyers is to profile the top thought leaders. Everyone has an opinion on the Web - but in most cases, nobody is asking for it (which doesn't seem to deter most people) - with the result being an impossible ocean of viewpoints that decision makers could draw upon for guidance. To make that a bit more manageable, GetVoIP puts out their top lists from time to time, with the most recent being for UC.

In case you haven't come across this yet on social media, I'm blogging about it here. I'm happy to report that I'm in their "Top 50" list, and if you had the time to peruse the whole group, you'll probably end up making some really good decisions. And if you play your cards right, it won't cost you a penny.

Of course, analysts like me are always available for hire if you need more strategic expertise, and I'm just an email or phone call away from taking your business to the next level. For now, though, my one piece of free advice is to check out the list, and keep regular tabs on GetVoIP.

Monday, April 20, 2015

State of the Mid-Market with UC

The stars haven't lined up for me lately to get on a UCStrategies podcast, but they did last week, where the topic was the mid-market opportunity for UC. We certainly spend a lot of time on both sides of that space, with smaller scale SMBs being price-driven, and larger scale enterprises dealing with complex network environments.

The mid-market is really neither of these, and once you understand their needs, there's a distinct opportunity for UC vendors and channels. Avaya has been focusing there lately, Lync has a strong play, and vendors like Mitel, ShoreTel and NEC are right at home serving these customers.

We covered the ground during out podcast session, which was led by Phil Edholm. All told, 10 of us weighed in with our views, and my comments start at the 24:29 mark. The replay has now been posted to the UCS portal, including start times for each speaker if you just want to catch what specific UC Experts had to say.

Friday, April 17, 2015

My Next Webinar - Why the Time is Now for Hosted VoIP - April 21

Another shout-out here for my next Ziff Davis B2B webinar. They've been keeping me busy lately, and this time around, I'll be addressing the hosted VoIP opportunity for SMBs. Their webinars are always well-attended, and am expecting more of the same next Tuesday.

Start time is 2pm EST, and for more info, here's the registration page. Hope you can join us.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mitel's Crystal Ball - Business Communications in 2025

Well, sort of. Everyone needs to put thought leadership out there to enhance their brand, and few things grab attention more than looking into the future. It's always fun to speculate, but at the rate things keep changing, I'd be happy predicting accurately six months out.

Anyhow, this is one of the ways analysts stay busy, and Mitel recently polled a bunch of us for our thoughts. As you know, Mitel recently went through some serious re-branding, and it's still early to say where/how it's paying off. Well, they've pulled all this together, and the results have just been published in an e-book format.

I'm in there, along with several others you likely follow, so this provides a nice cross-section of views, including off-the-floor predictions from Enterprise Connect 2015 attendees. That's a lot of free advice, and the price you pay is viewing some promotion at the end showing case studies of how Mitel customers are solving problems using all the wonderful technology we've been crystal balling about.

Fair enough, but overall, it's a good read, and of course, a great way for analysts like me to share our views on where technology is going. You can download the e-book here, and if you want to chat further, drop me a line any time.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Understanding Adoption Barriers to Collaboration, Part 1

This is the third post in my Collaboration Insights series, and since effective collaboration eludes so many companies, I wanted to examine the barriers to adoption. Despite the widespread availability of so many applications that enable collaboration, the results often fall short. While it’s easy to blame this on the technology being complex and/or costly, or limitations on the network/IT side, there are other factors at play. One such factor is tying collaboration to business outcomes, something you might not have considered.
Generally speaking, the easier something is to use, the more often people will use it. The same is also true when the benefit is clearly understood. Think about the telephone – everyone knows how to use it, and the benefits are clear. The same can be said for most communications applications, such as email, messaging, many forms of conferencing and even fax. They’re all easy to use, and each has a distinct benefit – or use case – that drives their usage.
With today’s technologies, there’s no reason why collaboration can’t be the same. Vendors understand the importance of making these platforms easy to use, although some do it better than others. The bigger challenge, however, lies in the benefit, as collaboration results are hard to measure. After all, collaboration is the collective result of using various communications applications in an integrated fashion.
Bigger than the sum of its parts
You can’t conclude that a collaboration session was a success because the call quality on the voice connection was great, or the presence engine made it easy to pull the team together, or the conferencing features made it easy for everyone to join a meeting despite using different endpoints and networks. All of these play a role, but you can’t equate success with any one in particular.
In this regard, collaboration is bigger than the sum of its parts, and that creates specific barriers to adoption. As noted in my last post, the point applications that comprise a collaboration platform each have their own standalone worlds within an enterprise. Telephony is managed by one team, fax by another, video conferencing elsewhere, mobility somewhere else, etc. Each is in a silo, with distinct performance metrics and budgets managed independent of the other communications applications.
Each point application is owned, so to speak, by a team with a budget, and that budget is based on hitting specific metrics. This is very much a legacy model that keeps silos in place, but has no real strategic value to the business. The value is very high tactically, and that’s actually an adoption barrier for today’s collaboration solutions.
Collaboration is strategic, end of story
When you think of collaboration this way, it’s easy to understand why adoption is challenging. Collaboration isn’t tangible like the point applications that comprise a solution, and as such, nobody really “owns” it. The IT group may own the collaboration platform that they acquire from a vendor, but the results that come from collaboration are all driven by end users. Since end users don’t have an economic stake in that platform, they don’t have much incentive to use it, which creates a barrier to adoption.
This is where business outcomes come into play, providing a path for IT to tie these loose ends together. The first step is to start thinking of collaboration as being strategic. Point applications are tactical, and don’t play well together inside the enterprise, which runs counter to the collaboration concept. Strategic resources need to be evaluated differently, using benchmarks that are strategic, not tactical.
The next step is to demonstrate how collaboration can drive business outcomes that have strategic value to the business. Strategic benchmarks can be based on P&L-style metrics, but when management is focused on creating strategic value for the business, other things will carry more weight, such as:
·         Faster time to market for new products/services
·         Better quality products that last longer, perform better, don’t break down, etc.
·         Easier to do business with – both for customers and partners
·         Improved customer satisfaction by providing great experiences and personalized service
·         Happier employees by supporting their preferred work style – better morale, performance and retention
·         Driving innovation to improve processes, workflows, product quality, customer experiences, etc.
·         Inspiring invention to create breakthroughs for competitive differentiation
This is what you need to do to make collaboration strategic, but there’s more to the story. When it comes to breaking down adoption barriers, you also need to think differently. Old habits are hard to break, and that will only happen when you can show there’s a better way with today’s technologies. You’ll need a vision, and that’s where I’ll extend this topic in my next post in this series.

For clarity, please note that this Collaboration Insights series is sponsored by Cisco Canada, but the content is my own, and by design is vendor-neutral.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Next stop, London, ON - speaking on UC

Just a quick update post - am driving to London, Ontario shortly for a one-day seminar focused on Unified Communications. Industry colleague Emily Nielsen is behind this - her firm, Nielesen IT Consulting is running this in partnership with MISA Ontario and Middlesex County. The event is small - I'm told the room is at capacity - but will have a strong regional flavor. It's mostly for the public sector, and that vertical is ripe for what UC can offer.

Emily and I are co-presenting tomorrow morning about the reasons to move ahead with UC, along with a reality check covering the challenges. Despite living in Toronto, I don't get in front of Canadian audiences all that often, so am looking forward to hearing what's really on their minds. Plus, London is home to Western University, my undergrad alma mater, and if time allows, I'd love to visit the campus - it's been a while!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

March Writing Roundup

Maybe my busiest month ever in terms of the amount and variety of writing that's out there for public consumption. More of the same coming in April, so plenty of research and writing work to keep me busy. So, here's a digest of the best examples I think you'll enjoy if you didn't catch them first time around.

Collaboration Insights - Getting Work Done, my blog, March 2 - also posted on Cisco Canada's Blog

Will UC Become a Loss Leader?, UCStrategies, March 3

BYOE and the Rise of End-User Driven UC, Internet Telephony Magazine, March 4

Three Ways SIP Phones Add Value Value to Hosted VoIP, Internet Telephony Magazine, March 4

BYOD Expectations - Will Employees be Happier?, Toolbox.com, March 6

More BYOD Expectations - Personal Privacy, Toolbox.com, March 12

Complexity Versus Simplicity in Making Collaboration Work, my blog, March 16 - also posted on Cisco Canada's Blog

BYOD Challenges and Risks - Shadow IT, Toolbox.com, March 17

Verizon's Virtual Communications Express - Bigger can be Beautiful too, my blog, March 18

Energy Thought Summit, Austin - Recap of my Posts, my blog, March 20

TIA's Network of the Future Conference, my blog, March 27

ETS15 Takeaway: Finding Tomorrow's Leaders in the Energy Economy, ETS Insights, March 30

UC Trends and Smart Grid Opportunities - Parallels to Learn From, UCStrategies, March 30