On August 29, I’ll be joining Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research for an on-line briefing on his research regarding Cisco and Microsoft Unified Communications products and services. While making my preparations for the webcast it got me thinking about how customers should approach Unified Communications strategies, investments, and projects irrespective of any vendor-related decisions. In discussing Unified Communications solutions with customers, I recommend that they keep six success factors firmly in mind in charting course for highly effective solutions.
1. Business value drives investment in Unified Communications solutions, not fancy technologies. Cisco got into the unified communications business after we learned that the network infrastructure technologies—particularly those based on the Internet Protocol suite— we originally brought to market to move computer data around offered incredible potential to lower the costs of communications while increasing their flexibility and richness. Value propositions that say, “We can help you do much more for much less” are almost always headed for success in the IT marketplace.
2. What are you trying to accomplish? In other words, what are your use cases for Unified Communications? A standard array of office telephone, voice and text messaging, video, and web conferencing? Or a more focused solution supporting a customer call center, field service organization, healthcare services, retail, or industrial environment? Vendor experience in designing, building and helping customers manage use case solutions often makes the difference between maximum value generation success and cost-benefit break-even.
3. Investment protection. There are no greenfield environments in the Unified Communications business, so the question is almost always about how to implement new, better, less expensive capabilities without ripping out perfectly good incumbent infrastructure. In the Microsoft instance, Cisco does two things. We respect and preserve existing Microsoft IT investments in operating systems, office applications, directory and messaging. We can also add value to already installed Microsoft solutions. For example, consider the ability to schedule a Cisco WebEx meeting from within Microsoft Outlook calendar, or to unify Cisco voice messaging with Microsoft Outlook email.
4. Multi-axis integration. Integration is more than a bilateral push and shove between Microsoft and Cisco. How does your communications platform relate to phenomena such as desktop virtualization, mission-critical business applications (i.e. SAP, databases, etc.), the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, social platforms, cloud computing, and SaaS solutions?
5. Future proofing. The typical IT investment horizon is five years. But what are you doing to be ready for whatever comes after that? What about surprises and trends that can emerge quite suddenly between now and 2017? Will you be able to shelter from disadvantageous change or be flexible enough to seize on unexpected opportunities?
6. Don’t neglect user adoption. What good is a unified communications solution that nobody uses? Several sub-factors come into play here, from user perception of solution usability and complexity, change management, and (going back to the second principle) designing a solution focused on helping end users achieve desired results.
I have to say, this is shaping up as a stimulating session. I invite you to join us for the live analyst briefing webcast on August 29 at 9 AM US Pacific Time.