Reflections on Mobility and Collaboration

When I wasn't in the casino or at the pool, I managed to find time to moderate two panels at the IT Expo Conference in Las Vegas last week. The panels proved to be much more rewarding than my time at the blackjack table.

My two sessions were titled "Effectively Managing Remote and Mobile Workers" and "Productive Collaboration: Using the Right Tools for Process Improvement." The panelists included a wide range of participants, including CEOs of smaller technology products/services firms (Loopup, PanTerra Networks, Nextiva, CounterPath), Unified Communications and Collaboration subject matter experts (Yorktel, Polycom, Masergy) as well as a business process "story teller" from IBM.

Much of the panel discussions focused on having the right tool sets for users as well as IT support. In many respects, the issues aligned with those identified in my most recent No Jitter post "Platform vs. Use Case."

In the Effectively Managing Remote and Mobile Workers session, the panel focused on:

BYOD – How to deliver and manage applications – BYOD was widely acknowledged as the strategy that most organizations were using today and that the ability to effectively manage the applications (not necessarily the entire device) was essential. In other words, these tools are not your father's MDM set.

Management Tools – How IT could measure how the system is being used as well as the quality of the user experience – This included the importance of traditional elements of network and IP Telephony management such as QoS, Utilization, Capture and MOS reporting. The panel agreed that this is key for remote worker support.

Use of Proof of Concept – The panel also agreed that piloting UC was key to adoption and a successful user experience -- Although an expensive investment in terms of time and resources, the success rate claimed for moving forward with the planned deployment was as high as 90%. I found it interesting that the remaining failure rate of 10% typically resulted in the chosen vendor and user organization agreeing that the initial premise for deployment was incorrect and needed to be reexamined.

Onboarding New Users – Consensus that onboarding of remote users presented significantly greater challenges than on-site workers -- Although many aspects of the UC&C tool sets are intuitive to many users, a combination of synchronous and asynchronous training was highly recommended. Given different age groups' varying levels of comfort with technology, "one size fits all" training probably is not appropriate.

Cloud – Although not a key element of the session, some of the panelists deliver their product in a cloud model and discussed the advantages of this, which resonated with the mostly SMB audience.

In the Productive Collaboration: Using the Right Tools for Process Improvement session, the panel focused on:

UC Tool Selection – Much discussion about how to determine which tools to deploy (i.e. video, Web conferencing) – Should it be based on use case or platform? Consensus was reached that the reason for poor adoption of tools is that people won't use technology unless it truly solves a problem. Behavior should drive technology, and not the other way round.

Collaboration Features that are Gaining Traction – Much of the discussion was around conferencing applications including audio, Web and video. Many case studies were cited on successful deployments of conferencing that removed pain points for the specific business unit or enterprise. Anecdotal information on past video conferencing failures such as camera positioning and audio quality were discussed. Aligned with the UC Tool discussion topic, it was reinforced that tools must solve specific business problems to gain acceptance with users.

BYOD – Taking a different tack than the earlier group, this panel's BYOD discussion was framed around consumer vs. business class tools. Questions from the audience concerned the quality of conferencing from low bandwidth sites and what to do about it.

Organizational Dynamics/Business Process – Greater adoption of UC tools will have a huge impact on middle management of many organizations. As business processes take advantage of UC&C tools and information flows are changed, the middle manager role must be redefined or eliminated.

Overall, the sessions confirmed much of what I see in my own consulting practice concerning the importance of defining requirements/use cases prior to tool selection. There was also a high level of interest from the audience in managing UC deployments.

I also found it interesting that some of the 'new frontier' of UC&C such as analytics/AI were not mentioned at all. Perhaps the products have not yet caught up with the hype.

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