IT must collaborate for collaboration’s sake

by Jon Arnold

When it comes to collaboration, the focus is almost entirely on employees and how they can be more productive
within the enterprise. That may well be the endgame, but before that can happen, a very different form of collaboration must take place, and it has very little to do with the technology driving unified communications (UC).

There is no denying that implementing UC can be complex and can deter efforts to adopt it. However, if the business value is there, these issues can be overcome. Identifying that business value is a different challenge—and that requires IT to collaborate in ways they haven’t previously.  

UC adoption has unique challenges

They exist on many fronts, and haven’t been present with previous technology-related decisions. The UC concept doesn’t resonate naturally with end users the way telephony, conferencing, messaging and the like do. Employees use these underlying applications all day without difficulty, but the prospect of forced integration makes them hard to win over.

In addition, the concept of collaboration itself can be highly subjective. Everyone understands it differently because there is no standardized approach. With IT behind the UC deployment, employees see it as a technology solution, not a collaboration solution—and they will until UC truly meets their needs.

IT must be proactive to stay relevant

Employees have choices for every application supported by UC, and those choices can be made with little or no IT involvement. This translates into a loss of control for IT where collaboration experiences can be defined on the employee’s terms.

New expectations are being set, courtesy of the great numbers of millennials entering the workforce. Conventional UC offerings may not fully address how they collaborate, so they gravitate to purpose-built, web-based collaboration platforms such as Slack.

If IT doesn’t take proactive steps to establish a leadership role when deploying UC, this trend will continue, making
it harder for the enterprise to realize the full value from UC across the business as a whole.

This pressure is further exasperated by LOBs

This pattern is also being repeated on a line-of-business (LOB) level. Again, when IT hasn’t determined end-user needs prior to deploying UC, the solutions fall short. And when that happens, LOB decision-makers no longer rely on IT for technology guidance. They scan the market themselves and find cloud-based solutions that suit their particular needs. With OPEX-based offerings, LOBs have the budget to buy what they need. And with hosted solutions, they can choose their own applications and manage them independent of IT’s purview. This may be great for LOBs, but can really diminish IT’s value to the organization. If too many LOBs follow this course, the enterprise may have a Tower of Babel scenario where collaboration across LOBs becomes problematic, countering the advantage of using UC as a singular solution for everyone.

Is the hurdle too high for IT?

Presuming this is what IT wants, the short answer is no. There certainly are cases where IT has fallen too far behind and can’t regain some level of control where their future is assured. But if that’s not your mindset, and you want IT to play an active role in using UC to drive collaboration with today’s employees, research indicates three things IT can do.

1.      Take a collaborative approach with all users

Taking this approach to define technology needs has not been the norm for IT, but it’s a root cause of the above problems. IT simply cannot employ a one-size-fits-all UC approach. Through a discovery process, IT can learn how extensively employees are using their own applications for work. This helps level the playing field between what employees truly need and what IT can deliver when making the right decisions.

2.      Leverage your own data to create new forms of value

IT can tap into tremendous amounts of enterprise data to create many types of performance-based metrics. Given the inherent difficulty of measuring the ROI on UC, there’s an opportunity here for IT to create new value by measuring the utilization rate for each UC application, and how each is being used in collaboration settings. Armed with this data, IT can show how employees collaborate more effectively with UC.

3.      Choose the right UC partner

Partner relationships for legacy-based solutions tend to be technology-centric, but greater value can be derived from how well the partner understands your UC journey. At the heart of that success is helping IT take a collaborative approach with internal stakeholders to define collaboration needs. Once those user requirements are understood and effectively supported, IT can establish or regain a leadership position for introducing new technology to the enterprise.

When that happens, collaboration becomes more powerful by engaging employees to establish best practices. That, in turn, will give LOBs less reason to take their own path, and steer more budget back to IT, which can be invested to make UC better for everyone.


The above is what IT should look for in a UC partner. Being the sponsor of this series, AT&T is one such partner, and as you should expect, they bring more to the table than integration expertise. As with other service providers, they have a consulting arm to help drive end-user adoption, and their UC capabilities were reviewed in a recent UCStrategies analysis.

This type of user-centric approach reflects what’s needed in today’s environment. If your thinking shifts to this model, I have no doubt IT will at least have a fighting chance to own collaboration. Otherwise, LOBs will own it, and along the way, disown you.