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8 Pilot Projects to Help Chart Your IT Course in 2020

The highly-dynamic state of our industry is introducing a multitude of new technologies and methods. Careful navigation seems imperative to find ways to use these new tools and techniques while avoiding the risks of failed projects or wasted time and capital.
 
In nautical terms, one gets a pilot to guide a ship safely through tricky waters. In IT we can use pilot projects for the same purpose! (Just for fun and on a personal note, a great read about the value of a nautical pilot is “Flying Cloud” in which Eleanor Creesy pilots a clipper ship to set the record time from New York to San Francisco. A favorite of mine. Now, back to 2020 IT pilots.)
 
With this in mind, here are eight high-potential pilot project ideas for you to consider. All of these are in core enterprise communications but exclude the contact center, which is in its own dramatic change cycle driven by “customer experience” forces. If you can select and run a few key pilot projects this year, you’ll still have time to catch the waves of change in your 2021 budget cycle.
 
Here’s the list:
 
1. Apply some data mining (simulated ML and AI) of your data.
Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are sophisticated methods of understanding then acting on large amounts of data – usually across multiple datasets with analysis that exceeds the power of an individual or a typical pivot table.
 
However, you can show your team and IT management that there are large sets of data on voice, email, text, IM, and meeting usage in your enterprise and can begin to find significant opportunities in that data, even without ML and AI.
 
So, consider capturing the data from your communication systems and creating some reports and dashboards to guide decisions, actions, and services. Since the labor costs of communications in your enterprise may be as high as 50% of the total payroll (paragraph 3 of this post), this can be powerful!
 
2. Do some real ML and AI with the business intelligence team focused on the communication-intensive business processes.
If you want to go beyond analysis and really get into ML and AI, then partner up with the business intelligence team in your enterprise and share your data on communications traffic. With them, you can begin to correlate the communications data that you have with the transaction data from key business processes that they have. It’s likely that together you can find the places where communications events are being triggered by (or are triggering) certain actions in the processes and can then consider automating those communication steps for increased speed, reduced errors, and lower costs.
 
3. Prototype call routing with directory-enabled gateways or SBCs.
This is an infrastructure action but is key to your future if you aren’t already doing this. A directory-enabled gateway or SBC is the nexus by which you can assign users to any communication platform, while still keeping them accurately aligned with the enterprise dial plan and accessible to internal and external callers. We’ll have a great session on this at Enterprise Connect 2020, which could be part of your pilot project.
 
4. Test PSTN connectivity (telco trunks) using communication platform as a service (CPaaS) providers, plus your SBCs.
With the gateways or SBCs in place, you can move your trunks and numbers to a CPaaS provider such as Twilio, Nexmo, or others. You will find those services are very cost-competitive, can dynamically adjust capacity based on demand, and will enable new options and services for your enterprise.
 
Some unified communications as a service (UCaaS) providers also offer this type of option but may limit the capabilities to their platform, so you couldn’t expand to an enterprise-wide deployment without converting entirely to their UCaaS.
 
5. Re-imagine some portions of your IVR services.
Here you can take a page from methods already being used for contact centers and customer experience improvements to make your high-volume interactive voice response (IVR) services or even your voice mail auto-attendant services much more effective and user-friendly.
 
With the much-improved natural language recognition tools (a branch of ML and AI) from the CPaaS providers. you may be able to provide much better services that are more satisfying to the users – likely internal users or some partners – and lower costs both due to the pay-as-you-go CPaaS pricing and reduction of staff time to answer questions already in your knowledge base.
 
6. Look at applying contact center CX concepts to other business processes.
The customer experience initiatives in the contact centers are proving to be very effective. So, when will it be time to apply those methods to other business processes? Have some meetings with your line of business contacts to brainstorm areas for pilot projects. Those may be the same “hot spots” you found in #2 above. Or, they may be simply discovered by a “day in the life” analysis. Ask, “Where are business processes failing, being delayed, or invoking major remedial action?”
 
7. Partner with one or a few business units to move some usage profiles off the PBX while optimizing their workflows.
I have written about applying usage profiles many times before, but it’s clear that the PBX is no longer the best platform for some sets of users and their associated workflows. Examples are:
  • Move to all-cellular: Many field jobs and mobile jobs no longer need a desk phone. Your enterprise can own the mobile numbers and the gateway, or SBCs can do the call routing.
  • Move to a collaboration platform: The users in the collaboration usage profile, as well as some in other usage profiles, can get all the communication services they need right from that platform. It may be Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Slack, or others, but it’s certainly possible and much more efficient.
  • Move to business applications: A business application software package is the organizing tool for the entire day of many users. This might be the CRM system for sales, the electronic health record (EHR) for patient care, a help desk application for the service team, or any number of other examples. Many of those application packages already have communications capabilities; most others have APIs that can be connected to a CPaaS for communications services.
 
8. Start testing IP options to analog device lines – wired or wireless:
Finally, don’t forget those analog lines that are just sitting there on the PBX consuming gateway space and annual maintenance fees. Many of those devices, such as door alarms, parking garage phones, temperature monitors, and many more are now available as wired or wireless IP-based devices. Maybe, it’s time to consider a change, using a pilot project for proof.
 
So, there’s plenty you can be doing this year, even if you’re not ready to jump completely into the uncertain waters of the industry hype cycles.
 
It shouldn’t be hard to fund your pilot projects. In many cases, a pilot project can (a) fit into your budget, and (b) provide some payback within the same fiscal year. Also, vendors are desirous, even desperate, for participation in these new areas. Let them help you – with their skin in the game. Also, in some cases, the pilot project funds can become part of a purchase, if the pilot is successful, and be included in the capital spending and amortization schedule. In that way, you can spend now but pay against your budget later.
 
So, happy new year and may you find some fun and fruitful pilot projects this year that will help you navigate the future successfully!

Parker is writing on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.