Cisco Collaboration Summit: Driving Technology Adoption
The hard part is the cultural and management shifts--the stuff that ensures people will use all this new technology in the most effective, and cost-effective possible way.
This week, I attended Cisco's annual Collaboration Summit for analysts, consultants and partners. A lot of the content was heavy on marketing-speak, and light on new information. The truth is, the UC&C story hasn't changed much over the past few years; the goal of unifying a quiver of communications capabilities and then delivering them to end users on a variety of devices is still in play--and for most companies, out of reach. Cisco's emphasis on "mobility," "cloud" and "video," on "new ways of working" or "business process improvement," was what we heard two years ago, and will probably still be top of mind in two years.
Obviously, we've seen--and will continue to see--technology shifts. Mobile devices are driving the need for cloud services, and for different apps and pricing models. The increased use of video (as a content stream, not a communications medium) is a real phenomenon and has ramifications for the enterprise. But the bigger and more important trends are cultural: the steady increase in the number of virtual workers; the ways in which social media has changed personal interactions and expectations; the willingness of employees to blur the lines between home and work. And, like most cultural changes, those take time to shape the new world, and the technology we use to support it.
So let's accept that we are at the maturation point for UC&C (and S? we must include social), and that technology changes will be more incremental until the next big disrupter hits. And let's accept that now the hard part is the cultural and management shifts--the stuff that ensures people will use all this new technology in the most effective, and cost-effective possible way.
Perhaps the most compelling session was delivered by Hans Hwang, who talked about the critical importance of adoption of collaboration tools. There is a high cost to low adoption, he said--suboptimal ROI, lost collaboration benefits, and stalled strategic initiatives. And this is true especially now. Early adopters--both on a company level, and within a company--have already jumped on board; they've deployed and are using the technology. Now, as we start to see the mainstreaming of the technology, the newer users are less apt to use it; they weren't looking for it, they aren't inherently excited about it, and they aren't particularly inclined to change their behavior to embrace it. That requires a change in how you deploy the technology--you need to treat is as you would any other kind of new application or service, rather than as a user-driven, intuitive tool that people will clamor to use.
Hwang gave the example of a pharmaceutical company that deployed telepresence to reduce high travel costs, but they did it wrong: they limited the technology to executives, didn't tell people where it was located or how to use it, and didn't track the results. The project failed. Cisco wants to change that, and its new "Organization Network Analysis" should/could be of huge value to customers. The single biggest challenge to ROI isn't making the initial case; it's the post-deployment measurement: Is the technology doing what you thought it would? If not, why not, and what can you do to change that? Such analysis isn't easy, and it requires intense, high-level network and endpoint data analysis. But it's the best way to ensure success for new technology deployments, especially in the area of collaboration.
For cloud services, this level of analysis also makes it possible for vendors to improve their applications according to user needs and actions, without even asking those users what they want: They can see the patterns, then react and build accordingly--and send out the changes within weeks, rather than months or years.
Of course, Cisco/WebEx isn't doing that today, and they may never be able to move with the necessary agility to make such roll-outs work. But it's one more way analytics are becoming critical to communications and collaboration in the enterprise.