Just a few years ago, unified communications was widely seen as an advanced technology, only useful to large enterprises. Now, UC services are fast on their way toward becoming ubiquitous as an ever-growing number and variety of organizations deploy platforms combining unified messaging, video conferencing, presence, instant messaging and more. According to Technavio, UC solutions among small to mid-sized businesses in the United States are on pace to experience a compound annual growth rate of nearly 14 percent between 2014 and 2019.
However, despite UC's rapidly increasing popularity, many companies are not fully utilizing these resources. This can lead to missed opportunities, as well as disappointing returns on their UC investments, all while undercutting the competitive advantage that these solutions should deliver. To avoid these outcomes, businesses need to choose the right UC tools and also embrace effective strategies.
The extent of UC underutilization can be seen in a recent survey of European companies. Conducted by Vanson Bourne for Easynet, the survey included insight from 660 IT decision-makers from businesses with at least 1,000 employees. Among these, only 29 percent said their firms have the WAN infrastructure needed to fully support UC solutions across all of their locations, and nearly half said upgrades would be necessary to fully take advantage of UC.
"Companies across sectors recognize the business advantages of running unified communications across their enterprise, yet this research highlights that only just over half of European organizations are currently able to do so," said Adrian Thirkill, U.K. managing director for enterprise at Easynet.
"UC missteps often lead to inefficiencies and other complications."
Beyond missing out on the chance to deploy UC, numerous other firms fail to see satisfactory results following their implementations. To a certain extent, this can be chalked up to unrealistic expectations – the hype surrounding UC is so great that the technology cannot help but be somewhat disappointing for overly excited business leaders. At the same time, though, missteps often lead to inefficiencies and other complications.
Getting UC right
All of this raises the question of how a given business can best embrace UC technology.
First and foremost, many companies need to take proactive steps in order to pave the way for UC deployments. As the Vanson Bourne and Easynet survey revealed, a lack of preparation can make it impossible for companies to actually take advantage of UC, even if their leaders appreciate its value. To this end, it may be necessary to work directly with a UC services provider. Such a partner can not just deliver UC, but also help organizations to prepare themselves for the technology.
Just as importantly, businesses need to embrace policies that support effective UC use throughout the organization. One key consideration, according to Stuart Hardy, business unit manager at EOH-NS, is the bring-your-own-device trend. BYOD and UC are inextricably linked, which can raise serious issues, he told IT Web.
"UC platforms are accessible through various devices, so security must be taken into consideration," Hardy told the news source. "Since many companies allow staff to use their own personal devices as work tools, management of the devices is essential. In these cases, a BYOD policy must form the foundation of a UC system, allowing for the effective configuration, control and protection of mobile devices."
Without clear oversight of the devices being used on the UC platform, a business will not be able to ensure both compatibility and safety. This can lead to performance problems, user frustration and even data breaches.
Additionally, companies looking to maximize UC value and utility should make user training a high-level focus. The best, most high-quality UC solutions will offer a variety of advanced features, from voicemail to email capabilities to find me follow me to HD video conferencing and beyond. However, in many cases employees do not realize that they have these capabilities at their disposal, or they do not know how to effectively utilize such tools. Instead, they tend to rely on the most basic, straightforward aspects of the UC system, missing out on all of the advantages that these other options have to offer. By providing user training to personnel, business leaders can help workers to truly understand how their UC solutions function and why this can prove so beneficial on a day-to-day basis.
With effective tools, policies and awareness campaigns, businesses will be poised to maximize their UC use.