UCC in seven steps

With the right UCC strategy, you can create tidiness in the chaos of poorly integrated collaboration tools, PBXs and video conferencing systems.

Why a management sponsor, a user group that accompanies the project and a precise analysis of work behavior are important
Anyone looking to implement UCC should carefully consider key performance indicators.
A proof of concept provides valuable information on whether the planned implementation is technically feasible.

The forms of digital communication and collaboration are diverse, highly flexible and global – from instant messaging and Internet telephony to video communication from the cloud via tablet, smartphone, desktop or whiteboard. Unified communication and collaboration (UCC) ideally leads to fast internal processes, more innovation and productivity of knowledge workers, lower costs and more satisfied employees.

Accordingly, many companies have equipped themselves with modern solutions and systems. However, they often lack the time and expertise to fully integrate them. As a result, communications and IT landscapes are often characterized by isolated solutions from different providers – often used stand-alone or only rudimentarily interconnected. The result is that applications are not used as they could be. Maintenance costs increase with each new system or application, and the hoped-for increase in productivity fails to materialize. The bottom line is that the investments do not pay off.
The greatest potential can be leveraged if all communications services are integrated in a uniform application environment – end-to-end. This idea of standardizing communication and collaboration in the sense of “unified” is currently occupying many companies. In the following, we would like to show how you can achieve a unified, integrated communication and collaboration environment in seven steps.

1. appoint a management sponsor and a user group to accompany the project.

Always keep in mind: This is all about standardizing communication and collaboration. This affects all divisions, all locations, all subsidiaries, all employees – and all functions in the organization. With such a cross-company project, top management must be convinced of the project first and foremost.

Appoint a management sponsor and make the project a top priority. Also remember to involve data protection officers and employee representatives in good time. Projects can be delayed if, for example, concerns arise about possible “employee monitoring.” Sit down together at the table: UCC solutions offer sufficient options to meet even high security requirements.

It is also important that the new communication and collaboration services are understood, accepted and used by future users. To achieve this, it is essential to involve employees in the selection and implementation process at an early stage of the project. Before the start of the project, designate a group of users (power users), around two to five percent of the later number of users, and involve them in all steps. Ideally, this user group should consist of a healthy mix of younger and committed older employees who are open to new ideas.

2. status quo and as-is analysis

This item is all about the current status quo regarding technology and the use of tools for communication and collaboration. Regarding technology, for example, questions such as:

Which instant messaging system is in use (Lync, Skype for Business, Jabber, Slack, Spark, …)? Which versions? Which roles are there? For which user group? With which functions? In which integration depth?
Which tools are used for telephone and web conferences?
Which e-mail service do you use?
Which telephone system do you use? Which service provider?
Which systems are used for video conferencing? For which user group? At what level of integration?
How are sites technically integrated?

The following questions need to be asked about usage:

How satisfied are the users?
How are the various communication channels used? To what depth and frequency?
What are the reasons why applications and systems are not used willingly or frequently?
What would users like to see in order to be able to communicate or collaborate better and more quickly? Are there any suggestions?
What are the costs of use today?

As far as usage is concerned, it is important to put employees at the center of the considerations. They are ultimately the ones who drive productivity gains – by collaborating easier, faster and more efficiently later on. The degree and depth of use can be found out, for example, through surveys. Listen carefully to what employees tell you! A project that is based only on technical criteria will fail.

Special software and the evaluation of usage data can help to perfect this analysis. For example, how often and for how long are video conferencing systems used? What is the utilization of the PBX and are its functions being maxed out? At the end of your inventory, carry out an evaluation of the current situation, including a weighing of advantages and disadvantages as well as a consideration and evaluation of the costs.

3. definition of targets and key performance indicators (KPIs).

After taking stock and conducting a detailed analysis of the current situation, the project’s objectives must be defined for the implementation phase and for periods after six, twelve and 24 months. They are based on the corporate objectives. These can be, for example:

  • Increased productivity (of employees),
  • improved business processes,
  • faster decision-making,
  • shortened time-to-market for new products,
  • reduction of telecommunication, web conferencing, teleconferencing and travel costs,
  • better work-life balance for employees, or
  • better eco-balance of the company

With the evaluation and analysis of the dimensions of technology and usage, a sound data basis is available to set clearly measurable sub-goals for the project. Define what the expectations are for technology and usage and what metrics (KPIs) will be used to manage and achieve the goals.

Goals/KPIs may include:

  • Reduction in email volume,
  • fewer and shorter meetings,
  • higher satisfaction with meetings,
  • more video meetings,
  • improved user satisfaction,
  • fewer meeting attendees.

4. conception and selection of the technical platform

The unified communications concept should consider all integration aspects in as much depth as possible. Especially when many technical trades (PBXs, existing UCC solutions, infrastructures, networks, external WAN providers, etc.) have to be dovetailed, overlooked details can delay implementation. Think of it like an orchestra that is reassembling and has to take the stage at a predefined time.

Especially when there are distributed heterogeneous system landscapes, for example in the form of several PBXs, as well as diverse video conferencing systems from different manufacturers and versions, it is important to select the appropriate technical unified communications platform. The interfaces of different manufacturers are often a pitfall during integration. It is necessary to decide whether the integration of older systems and applications is absolutely necessary, or whether a streamlining of the portfolio appears to make more economic sense.

Companies should also intensively weigh up in advance which operating model is suitable for them. One hundred percent cloud solutions offer an attractive price-performance ratio. However, it becomes difficult when there are specific data protection and compliance requirements that a conventional cloud solution does not meet. In this case, an on-premise solution can better map customer-specific security and configuration requirements, but it requires more IT resources.

An on-premise solution that is operated externally in a highly secure data center (private cloud) is also conceivable. Have your service provider create a communication and collaboration architecture for you. Check your service provider for their expertise in technical implementation and also whether they can support your project every step of the way.

5 Implementation and proof of concept

If steps 1 to 4 have been implemented properly, this is a good starting point for a successful rollout. Now it is up to the system programmers and engineers to implement the concept technically. Attention should always be paid to the details: Are all systems and applications mapped? Have the interfaces been programmed properly? Have the desired functions and roles been taken into account or mapped?
Proof of concept (PoC) is a proven method of conducting a kind of general check after implementation and before rollout. It provides indications as to whether implementation as planned is technically possible. The feasibility analysis not only provides clarity and security, but also offers the opportunity to adjust a concept before it is fully rolled out.
A PoC is particularly urgent when several heterogeneous systems have to be integrated. This is the case, for example, when replacing PBX systems with simultaneous introduction of a UCC solution for all employees at distributed locations. It is advisable to involve the user groups named in the first step for the PoC and to test all functions together with them. This can usually be done in showrooms, where the individual applications are presented and tested in a user- and process-oriented manner.

6 The roll-out

Once the PoC has been successfully accepted, the rollout to the entire organization can begin in predefined phases. A step-by-step roll-out has proven to be effective – usually country- or region-specific. Areas that work closely and intensively together should be implemented first.
At each stage of the rollout, the milestones should be closely monitored. This ensures that errors and problems are identified early on as part of the continuous improvement process and avoided in future project phases. The project managers have a great responsibility here. The more intensively you report on roll-out progress and train users, the better. Word travels fast when employees are happy with the new platform and applications, but even faster when they are not. Use the positive feedback from early adopters to inspire the user groups that have not yet been converted.
In some cases, it makes sense to split training into traditional short training sessions (including video-based), on-the-job training, or coaching sessions. The role of the previously selected and trained power users is particularly important here; experience shows that users accept their advice more easily.

7. continuous optimization

You have set clearly measurable goals in step 3. It is now important to continuously measure their achievement. If you detect deviations, you need to analyze them. Here, too, it is helpful to survey the user group accompanying the project. Sometimes it is only small details that cause applications not to be used as desired. Example: A small manual with the most important operating functions (distributed among the employees or laid out in the video conference rooms) can work wonders.
Users are forgetful, especially when it comes to activities that are not performed on a daily basis. Train your employees on a regular basis. There are functions that are time-saving and helpful, but have been forgotten or are not known. Often, a short training session is all that is needed to refresh knowledge. As a rule of thumb, if 80 to 90 percent of all users are using the new unified communications platform regularly, the lights are green that the KPIs are being met. Supportive Usage & Adoption services can help measure, optimize and adapt adoption to new situations.
The number of helpful UCC tools and applications is growing, and will continue to do so for quite some time. Make sure your service provider can accompany the operation and further development of your UCC solution with the appropriate know-how and services.