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Leading Users to the Promised Land

Last week in this space, Blair Pleasant talked about what the next user experience in UC would look like, and the convergence of UC and social that we are seeing in offerings like Unify's Circuit, Cisco's Project Squared and IBM Connections. While I wholeheartedly agree that there are better collaboration tools than the amorphous email, I foresee a major challenge in getting these tools adopted. In planning for these deployments, CIOs need to be thinking not just about how they will get these installed, but how they will get users to make effective use of them.

Our current crop of UC platforms also have an adoption challenge. One of the first Lync deployments I worked on taught me the importance of marketing and training to get the full impact of UC. I had talked to the client about the importance of programs to get users excited about the new capabilities and the need for user training to show how the tools could best be used in doing their jobs. Unfortunately, the user support part of the program got upstaged by the technical hurdles involved in just getting Lync to work and managing the transition from the Cisco telephony system it was replacing.

One of the big payoffs we expected from the Lync implementation was a major cut in the client's bills for outside audio conferencing services, which were running $12,000 to $14,000 per month. Most of organization's audio conferences involved internal users exclusively, so the combination of Lync conferencing on-premises and the customer's existing metro Ethernet and MPLS networks was expected to cut the monthly costs to almost zero.

However, on a routine review of the telecom budget some six months after the Lync deployment, we found that the conference service bills were still running $12,000 to $14,000 per month! As they had spent close on $80,000 over the prior six months, they figured that they could get a pretty quick ROI from a little user training.

The user training that will be required for a transition to one of these next-generation social UC platforms is going to be even more critical than we've seen in UC systems like Lync. In essence, the move to one of these new platforms will involve fundamentally changing the way people will do their jobs.

In his Project Squared launch presentation, Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, used a bar chart that showed the dramatic decline in his own e-mail use as he moved his team onto the platform. Of course, if the boss mandates that all direct reports will have to use the new social platform, it would be the best of all worlds, but in the real world these new platforms will need to earn their way into users' work lives.

People don't like change, and the move to one of these new social collaborative platforms will represent a big change. A key part of the deployment will have to involve showing people how these new platforms will make their work lives much better, or at least much more socially and culturally acceptable.

Of course, the other part of the challenge will be that unless the whole team gets on board, a big part of the collaboration value will be lost. IT will need to put a good deal of effort into helping users understand how to operate the thing, and the operational department team leaders will also need to participate in helping their team members understand how the new tools can be used most effectively.

Social collaborative tools may truly be a major part of the next generation of UC&C products, but we really are asking people to change how they do their work. It can most definitely be a change for the better, but unless we plan how we guide people in making that transition, this revolution could stall in the starting gate.