Developing a unified communications strategic plan and transformation roadmap

by Eric Sineath

In spite of the untold dollars spent on marketing the term, Unified Communications (and/or Collaboration—UC or UCC) has been the victim of unclear definitions at best and is often defined differently by vendors and their customers. UC is not a single product or technology. It’s a collection of functions that, ideally, are integrated into a single user interface. Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) is the technology that takes the all the separate communications platforms for your company and manages them in one easy-to-use place for you. These services most often include all or a subset of the following:

  • Voice over IP (VoIP), IP Telephony (IPT) and/or IP Contact Center (IPCC)
  • Unified Messaging (voicemail and email)
  • Secure Instant Messaging (IM)
  • Audio, video, and web conferencing
  • Desktop productivity software
  • Scheduling and calendaring tools
  • Shared online workspaces
  • “Service enablers” – Presence awareness and management, Location-based services, Directory services

My work with AT&T customers across all vertical markets and segments indicates that one of the biggest challenges companies face regarding UC is the development of a strategy that closely aligns with the goals of the business, efficiently delivers the features that users need, and generates positive economic value. At AT&T, we believe a comprehensive UC strategy based on the following four “pillars” addresses these customer needs:

  • Defined Service Catalog: The UC services a customer needs to provide end users, ideally based on what business problems they solve or new capabilities they generate
  • Detailed Solution Architecture: The vendor platforms a customer intends to use and how they will be integrated
  • Transformation & Migration Plan: What, where and when the customer is planning to deploy, including the resources & staffing the company will need
  • Defined Delivery & Support Model: The operational support model that identifies where the components will be installed and who will monitor, manage and administer the solution

AT&T Consulting has created an eight-step approach, outlined below, for helping customers develop these required components and provide clear alignment between the needs of the business and the associated technical, operational and financial requirements and constraints.

  1. Define a guiding vision
  2. Identify & document business, technical and functional requirements
  3. Evaluate current voice and data environments
  4. Identify & develop viable solution alternatives
  5. Evaluate alignment between chosen solution capabilities & requirements
  6. Develop a step-wise transformation roadmap, based on the chosen solution
  7. Perform financial analysis & develop a business case
  8. Plan for continuous service improvement

In this first of a series of posts on UC, we’ll discuss the first step: Defining a guiding vision.

Defining a Guiding Vision

As Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass famously said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” This applies to UC as well as any other technology implementation or migration. In order to be successful, it is critical to begin with the end goal in mind.

In many organizations, UC tends to be a “push” to the Lines of Business (LOBs) and end users (e.g., “This is a great new technology and you should use it”) whereas for maximum business benefit the solution really needs to be a “pull” in the opposite direction. Without this grounding in business needs, UC can end up being a technology that is deployed for its own sake rather than as a set of tools and enablers for moving a company forward.

To begin changing this dynamic, an open question-based approach often helps. For example, what kinds of problems or challenges exist in the business unit that could be addressed with UC? What “pain points” and “cost buckets” are you aware of that could be resolved or at least improved using UC capabilities? And on a positive note, what new capabilities do you anticipate UC will provide? Are there new ways of interacting with your company’s ecosystem of partners, suppliers and customers that UC could enable? How would that differentiate your organization from your competitors? Are there new sources of revenue that could be generated using UC or is your primary focus cost savings and avoidance? Is the company planning to acquire other firms, expand organically or contract due to divestiture?

In its simplest form, what do you need UC to do and what would it mean to your organization? The answers to these and other questions can help you develop a guiding vision for UC.

A great example of a guiding vision for UC comes from a recent UC Strategy & Roadmap engagement we delivered with a consumer goods manufacturer in the Midwest. This customer had identified several “business imperatives” and definitions of what it wanted its UC solution to do for the company. One of its biggest challenges was the amount of time it took for business decisions to be made and the results subsequently communicated throughout the organization. As a result, one of the principles of its guiding vision for UC was to provide “the right information to the right person at the right time.”

The customer realized (and correctly so) that this should be a plank in its UC vision so that downstream decisions, such as how to include mobility in the company’s UC strategy or which user types should be addressed, could be made in keeping with this context. Other customers may have similar or completely different expectations for what the UC solution needs to provide. The key takeaway is that the guiding vision should be based on the needs of the organization doing the planning—not the UC provider.