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Are You Ready for 2014?

With few exceptions, for most of us January 1 marks a new year. The problem with this model is that everything graduates out of the old year, though some enterprises should not. Some firms should be held back: "Sorry, your company has not shown sufficient progress in collaboration to merit promotion to the next year."

It's a difficult problem to assess readiness, because the core curriculum isn't clearly published. There are no standardized tests. We have very little objective data to determine a company's readiness for the future. There is no clear sequence, as each organization evolves its technologies uniquely.

Below are 10 questions to facilitate identifying an organization's preparedness for the future of unified communications and collaboration. The questions are not just about a firm's technology, but its attitudes toward it. Ten questions, one point each, and a possible score of 10. A score of 6 or lower could indicate that the company stock plan may not be a prudent long-term investment.

Access to Wi-Fi: 0/1
Score 1 only if employees have reasonable access to Wi-Fi at the office. The question exists because Internet access for mobile and personal devices can be problematic. The logistical challenge of providing such access can fall into the "too much trouble" category. This may have been a perfectly reasonable attitude not long ago, but today, the Internet represents how we become productive. Even Starbucks and McDonald's understand how Wi-Fi completes their treats.

This is not to say that office Wi-Fi should be unsecured, but there are solutions to facilitate Internet access while securing corporate information. A score of 0 is given when worker productivity requires approval to connect, or when free access comes with fries.

BYOD: 0/1
BYOD means different things to different people, so let's avoid the term. A score of 1 means that most employees can access key communication tools such as email, directories, instant messaging, and business applications from their mobile device of choice (recent iOS or Android device). Restricting usage to company-owned devices or offering only a narrow list of corporate devices results in a 0 score. Score -1 for firms that only support Blackberry devices.

Remote Participation is Normal: 0/1
Think about frequent work meetings. Is it common for some (or all) participants to be remote? If so, score 1. Score 0 if virtually every meeting finds all attendees in a single room. Modern technologies do not impose physical attendance requirements for contribution There's nothing inherently wrong with everyone being in the same room, but firms that are not embracing remote workers are severely limiting themselves and/or not meeting with their customers enough. Organizations that foster remote contributors have the edge.

YouTube Access: 0/1
If your employer blocks access to YouTube, it may be indicative of A) a lack of trust that still measures productivity by appearances; and B) the belief that recorded videos cannot be productive. or productive enough to warrant the bandwidth (and bandwidth is cheap). Score 1 for open access to YouTube, and 0 if you have to leave the office to get this type of work done.

OoO Alerts: 0/1
The original intent of an Out of Office email auto-responder was to notify senders of a delayed response. It came from a time when being out of the office provided a clear and defensible explanation for such a delay. Fast forward a decade and the alibi isn't so solid. It just doesn't matter if the sender (or receiver) are in or out of the office (no one cares). The new reality is that most people expect timely responses regardless of the recipient's location.

The OoO alert still has its place and value when used properly to indicate a justifiably delayed response. Score 1 if office colleagues use OoO alerts primarily to indicate a delay in response (vacations, conferences, training, etc.). Score 0 if office colleagues use OoO alerts just because they are out of the office. The intent here is to understand the association between location and productivity, factors which should not be coupled at contemporary organizations.

Document Collaboration: 0/1
By next year, millennials will account for 36% of the American workforce. Already, some firms report millennials compose two-thirds of their entire employee base. Forbes recently reported that Millennials like to work in teams: "In a recent study by IdeaPaint, they found that 38% of millennials feel that outdated collaboration processes hinder their company's innovation and 74% prefer to collaborate in small groups. They are used to using wikis, social networks and other technologies to share ideas and innovate."

Score 1 if corporate colleagues A) regularly solicit input AND B) do so efficiently by sharing content (SharePoint, Google Docs, DropBox, etc.). Multiple minds are better than one in a surprising number of efforts (although clearly not appropriate on all kinds of work). Score 0 if most work, including finished documents, gets completed by individuals without collaboration OR if solicited input is conducted primarily via email attachments. This second point calls attention to the fact that having multiple versions creates additional work, and marginalizes collaboration into a series of individual contributions.

Integrations: 0/1
The workplace evolved around isolated communications. The PBX used its own servers, networks, and endpoints. Business processes evolved separately from communications and vice versa. Today, integrations are possible between business systems and communications. Common examples involve IVRs and utilizing business logic to route calls or provide notifications. Score 1 if business processes and communications are integrating, 0 if they aren't.

Digital Work: 0/1
In the old days, we had paperwork. But paper flow can be a problem in the modern organization due to increasingly distributed teams. Paper can significantly inhibit remote workers. Think about various processes, forms, and signatures. Score 1 if most processes can be completed electronically--requisitions, expense reports, evaluations, presentations, etc. Score 0 if a significant pile of paper awaits folks that were out for a few days. The firms that have effectively digitized their processes are in a better position to leverage distributed collaborative efforts.

Office Number: 0/1
When customers, partners, and peers call your firm, do they tend to dial a work number or personal cell number? The line between work and personal is a tough one to navigate, but the number that colleagues advertise and encourage reveals attitudes. Nobody wants a bunch of work calls during a vacation. The solution, single number, is simple and among the most basic of UC features. Single number understands the number dialed and routes calls appropriately. Not every organization has it, and many that do have it don't use it.

Score 1 if work calls generally go to work numbers and personal calls generally go to personal numbers (and the user controls what goes to which device). Score 0 if all important calls go to the cell number.

Tele-meetings 0/1
Audio conferences will likely remain an important form of communication for the foreseeable future--they are effective, inexpensive, and practical for a variety of situations. But they aren't the only tool in the conferencing toolbox. Both video communications and content sharing solutions offer richer collaborative experiences.

Visual (video or content)-enhanced conferences should be increasingly common. Score 1 if the organization provides access to rich conferencing solutions--if and only if pervasive attitudes cause employees to make use of it. Score 0 if employees are left to figure out their own solutions. Hint: look for facilitating equipment such as headsets and cameras. Is there a negative or surprised response to collaborative invitations?

Dialing with Digits: 0/1
"Dialing" is an obsolete concept. Not only are the "dials" on phones gone, but more and more we dial by clicking a mouse. This is not about mouse vs. finger, or hard phone vs. softphone. It is really more about pressing single digits to make an address, vs. a single click-to-connect. Click-to-connect is commonly supported from within UC apps as well as browser plugins. It is a feature commonly supported on hard phones with desktop plugins.

Score 1 if most numbers including address books, CRM fields, and even browser numbers can be dialed with a click or two. Score 0 if you and colleagues are commonly staring at the display and pecking digits with your own digits. The issue at hand is integration and productivity.

This is a simple binary survey, hopefully with lots of 1s. A high score means Happy New Year. For those with lower scores, I hope things improve for you in 2014.

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