Where's the Beef?
In the early 1980's the fast-food chain Wendy's created a classic ad that took on its nemesis, McDonald's. Three elderly ladies waddle up to a food counter and, after admiring the size and fluffiness of the bun, are dismayed to find that there is precious little too be found--or eaten--within the bun. The "Where's the Beef?" line was born and it has been part of pop culture ever since. You can see the original ad here.
In the early 1980's the fast-food chain Wendy's created a classic ad that took on its nemesis, McDonald's. Three elderly ladies waddle up to a food counter and, after admiring the size and fluffiness of the bun, are dismayed to find that there is precious little too be found--or eaten--within the bun. The "Where's the Beef?" line was born and it has been part of pop culture ever since. You can see the original ad here.A recent study by Forrester Research suggests that many potential buyers are asking the "Where's the beef?" question when it comes to Unified Communications. As reported in Network World, Forrester found that "Fifty-five percent of the 2,187 North American and European companies queried said there is 'confusion about the value' of unified communications for their company."
Forrester analyst Ellen Daley, author of the survey's report, told Network World, "There's been a 21% increase in UC pilots since 2007 but no increase in firms buying UC. A lot of people are talking about UC, a lot more are tipping their toe in; but at the same time they're all saying they're not sure about the value."
If Forrester's findings are even remotely correct, it's a serious indictment. To be sure, there have been studies that identify how UC is being used to improve end-user productivity as well as significant business processes. Just a couple of weeks ago, Blair Pleasant reported on the "hidden benefits" of UC, based on research she and Nancy Jamison conducted.
Still, vendors have been talking up UC for the better part of two years and Ms. Daley reports that "Forrester receives inquiries from clients regularly asking simply: What is UC?"
If, after all this time, two of the most common UC-related questions are: What is it and why does it matter, either UC is a hoax, or the folks who believe they've got answers to those questions need to rethink how they're communicating.
I reject the UC-is-a-hoax argument, but I believe the industry needs to find better ways to discuss what UC's really all about--and soon.
Each of UC's primary elements--telephony, messaging, IM, video, etc.--aims to solve specific, clearly definable problems. By contrast, UC has those elements continuing with their solo missions, while, at the same time, becoming integrated into larger communications software and applications infrastructures that yield greater benefits than any of the components could on their own.
The dilemma is that UC isn't a "thing" that I can just go out and buy. Wait, let me amend that: I can go out and buy it, but if that's all I do, I'm going to almost immediately run smack into the "where's the value" question.
My friends at UCStrategies.com and other UC advocates have spent a lot of time and effort pointing out that the value of UC--whether measured in hard dollars or in user perceptions--requires considerable upfront investment in planning and targeting, because the biggest bang for the buck comes when UC deployment brings about changes in how a particular business process or chain of processes is carried out or how an organization carries out its mission. In short, UC goes way beyond traditional "reach-out-and-touch-someone" communications and into the realm of how business or work actually gets done.
And therein lies the rub. When networked computing came into vogue in the 1990s, it was easy to justify the costs--shared resources, shared access, better document/data access and storage, etc. Then, after LANs and WANs were in place, business processes changed--indeed were revolutionized--because people figured out the various ways they could take advantage of the new infrastructure.
With UC, however, the situation is reversed. We've already got more tools for mobility than we know how to handle, we can message to one another via text, voice and even video, we IM like it's going out of style and the use of presence is growing fast. To be sure, UC faces interoperability challenges--big ones--but if all those interoperability problems were to magically disappear tomorrow, would the two key questions--What is UC and What's its Value?--also disappear? I don't think so.