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Unified Communications Must Remove the Cap on Productivity

This week Siemens Enterprise Communications unveiled a study they recently did that looks at the gaps in productivity between face-to-face collaboration and virtual collaboration. The results were pretty clear and gave some statistical validity to many of the thoughts that I have had around remote collaboration from anecdotal interviews I've done with IT leaders on this topic.

Some of the data points from the survey are:

* 43% of users feel frustrated and overwhelmed by their current collaboration tools.

* E-mail (93%) and phone (89%) are most commonly used by virtual teams, and only 54% feel that those tools are sufficient.

* 72% feel teamwork would be more effective via video, yet only 34% use it.

* Only 8% of businesses have processes in place to manage team performance to ensure optimal team output.

So why do these gaps exist? Ask anyone about the concept of UC&C and they'll tell you it's a powerful technology that can lower cost, raise productivity and streamline workflows. But yet you look at the above results and you can see workers are using the old tried and true tools of e-mail and phone most often.

One of the biggest reasons this gap exists is related to the final bullet. Here's where the common axiom of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" reigns supreme.

Now there are some functions, such as call center, where the manager understands that if you can shave off x seconds per call it actually means y dollars in productivity. In those cases, many of the advanced collaborative tools, such as chat and, in some cases video, have become much more popular.

But with the general corporate worker, they come in the office, have a job to do and do it to the best of their ability, which in most cases means working within a defined process. Having someone look at the process and understand what it would mean to change the process could pay big dividends.

Doing this isn't easy--though it is possible. One of the local companies I recently did some work for had one of the IT leaders shadow some of the field service people to better understand what works and doesn't work before deploying UC. Then, once UC was deployed, the IT leader trained people through the modification of the process.

This is in stark contrast with what many organizations do--which is just drop more collaboration tools on workers' desks and then hope these tools get used through viral adoption. However, the opposite effect can occur. Instead of workers getting excited and using the tools, a large number, 43% according to the Siemens Enterprise survey, feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the increasing number of collaborative tools.

I believe that workers simply do not want more applications. A better option would be to have more functionality embedded within the applications they already use. This was the underlying theme of one of the last articles I wrote for BCR back in the day, which tells you how long I've been of this opinion.

For this transition to happen, CEBP needs to be something more than blog fodder. Blair's recent blog on this topic points out how disappointed she was that the Dreamforce 2012 event didn't have any real mention of it. Unfortunately, this is typical of application vendors, as there isn't a lot of interest from that community in CEBP. And why should there be? Without having workers asking for the additional functionality, there is little incentive for the application vendor to build it. This is why I consider CEBP to be a "chicken-and-egg" scenario. We won't see the vendors working on it until there is user demand, but we're not likely to see worker demand until there are some vendors focused on it that can demonstrate "what's possible".

The other thing that would help adoption is more intuitive, "unified" systems from the UC vendors. Although the vision of UC is to have all of the collaborative tools rolled up under one nice, tidy umbrella, none of the tool sets really work that way. Almost all portfolios have been built through acquisition, meaning UC solutions are actually a set of disjointed tools.

It's for this reason I like the vision behind the "and amplifyTEAMS" campaign from Siemens Enterprise. The vision is to bring together all communication tools as well as social tools, transcription and analytics in a very intuitive, centralized experience across all different devices. It's a bold vision and not easy to execute on, but it's a great lighthouse to try and row to.