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Roadblocks to Adopting Unified Communications

As I continue to travel the country as part of Siemens Open Minds UC road show, one thing has become clear: The challenges IT managers anticipate around unified communications are changing. Chalk it up to market maturity, but once you get past the discussion of costs (and for more on that, see my earlier post here), most customers have more specific--and in some cases, relatively sophisticated--concerns.

* Training. Surprisingly, many managers realize that as easy as UC applications are to use, they have to formally train employees on the new tools to get maximum return on investment. The good news, of course, is that UC apps themselves can enable training and keep it effective and low cost.

* Supporting next-generation technologies that employees bring into the workplace. More and more, managers realize that UC and social media are coming in to the enterprise, whether they like it, or support it, or not. The challenge for them is to enable and support the tools, while paying close attention to management, performance, security and compliance.

* Compliance. Speaking of, compliance is a key issue for many organizations—especially, of course, those in regulated industries. But it’s also an issue for other businesses, as they consider the impacts on discovery and employee relations going forward.

* Mobile device support. As more employees rely on smart phones to stay connected and, in many cases, actually do their jobs, companies must support the devices to enable communication and collaboration. Trouble is, the number of devices is constantly growing; no longer is it enough to run business applications on a Blackberry and call it good—some users will prefer an iPhone or a Droid, and some will have to use other devices based on their location and cell service provider.

* Change management. The most common question I get from attendees after my presentation, when they are out of the spotlight and eating lunch or drinking coffee, is "How do I get people to understand that presence information is not intended to act like Big Brother?" I was surprised by this—the attendees are primarily techies, so I expected the biggest questions to be about the technology. But almost everyone seems to realize that as communications technologies change, business—and management practices—must change, too.

Unified communications are meant to enable connectivity and collaboration, not to act as a virtual "time clock" for your employees. The best way—indeed, the only way—to assure that message gets across to your workers is to deliver it from the top down. That may also involve changing corporate practices and compensation practices to reward teamwork and project-based success, rather than facetime, desktime and the like.