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Navigating Disruption, Synergizing with Tech


Disruption by its very nature isn't something you can avoid. It isn't something your business can opt out of if you don't want to go through the pain of reorienting. Or if you do opt out, there are eventually serious consequences.

Over the last few decades that I have been in the enterprise communications space, we have seen a lot of changes. The biggest up to this point was the transition to VoIP. While this transition was difficult for some on the inside and reshaped the industry somewhat, the technology itself didn't really alter communications processes in a way that was truly disruptive. In other words, the change, while fundamental, under the covers mimicked the functionality of the digital telephony world. Which, by the way, pretty much mimicked the functionality of the analog telephony world. One of the big selling points as VoIP came into maturity was it supported the same functionality as a traditional PBX.

But we are seeing a different trend today. Most public cloud UC providers are not even trying to provide 100% of traditional PBX functionality. Since many sprang up as startups with new code, they valued simplicity and ease of use over full functionality. As these companies and their offerings have matured, some have been able to do a pretty good job of layering on traditional functionality, but will never match that of a PBX. Nor do they want to, I should add.

With the shortening cycles of disruption, we are seeing an industry in a bit of disarray as providers seem to want to transition from barely mature offerings into brand new platforms. And as that is happening, products and services seem to be getting dumber from a traditional telecom perspective. For example, for all the cool things products like Cisco Spark do, there are huge gaps in traditional telephony features. And just as Skype for Business is disrupting the industry with a limited traditional PBX feature set, here comes Microsoft Teams with an even more limited telephony feature set.

Let me be clear -- I think these changes are extremely positive and way overdue. Changes up to this point have been mere alterations to communications processes that are decades old. Rather than trying to unify our communications, we now have tools that change the way we communicate and work. While this is really needed, the key word here is change. With VoIP and UC, these technology changes didn't really change the way we work. We didn't have to ultimately rethink and modify our communications processes; so they have remained in place despite the business world changing around us.

New Wine, New Wineskins

One of the biggest problem we are facing during this time of transition is the collision of modern communications tools and antiquated communications processes.

If you will permit me to borrow a biblical metaphor, today we have new wine (new tools) and old wineskins (old processes). Two thousand years ago, wine was stored in animal skins. New wine, that is wine that is still fermenting, needed to be stored in new wineskins that were still able to stretch and accommodate the expanding wine. If it was placed in old wineskins that were already stretched out, the wineskin would crack and bust as the still fermenting wine expanded.

If one buys new collaboration tools but doesn't address the communications and business processes in place, they are putting new wine in old wineskins, which equals failure. You can put old wine in old wineskins, and many organizations are choosing this route. Staying with a traditional communications platform (cloud or on premises) is still not a bad idea for many organizations, especially if they are unable to enact the changes necessary to take advantage of the newer tools. Definitely preferable to the first option.

The ideal state is to rethink communications processes and layer on the appropriate tools to meet the needs of the business.

So how do make our wineskins new?

The first step is acceptance. Accept that the tools are changing whether we asked for it or not, and acknowledge that the world has changed as the Internet, cloud, and mobility have opened doors to new tools that were once science fiction. The other part of acceptance is that some features and processes just won't be supported and need to be replaced... even good ones.

The next step is to rethink communications processes to better leverage the capabilities of the new tools. In some cases, this may even include some realignment in the organization to make sure that teams in the physical workplace match teams in the virtual workspace. The key is to not focus on the workarounds of how to make a modern tool work in your environment, but to think about how the modern capabilities of team collaboration and improved communications can better drive business objectives. Then apply the new applications and integrations to do exactly that.

The third step is to make sure that the users are properly trained -- and this has very little to do with training on how to use the tools. The focus here is more on changes in processes and how we work to harness the power and efficiency of the new tools.

In my 23 years of consulting, I have always advocated that technology in and of itself should not be the driver of business processes. Implementing technology for technology's sake and then changing the business to try to make it fit will fall short every time. That is not what I am talking about here.

I do think, though, that things are very different with the introduction of new communications services that are designed from the ground up to better reflect communications in the 21st century, as opposed to those with roots in the 19th century. So it's not a matter of forcing technology changes on the business but more of how can we realign our processes to reach a point of synergy with technology.

So will you stick with the old wineskins? Or are you ready for new ones?

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"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.