cat cuddling with a dog
Companies need to adopt some best practices to get their unified communications to really play nice. PHOTO: Krista Mangulsone

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: you’re walking into an important meeting feeling good.

Your presentation is ready, you know all the right talking points, and your coffee has just kicked in.

Suddenly you get a flurry of emails from remote participants — a few are having trouble dialing into the call because they can’t get the software working right. 

Others are in a room where they can dial in via phone, but they can’t see your presentation.

The “work from anywhere” mindset has changed the way we do business, and unified communications (UC) technology provides businesses limitless tools and combinations to improve productivity no matter where in the world their teams are located … at least that's the dream.

Too bad it's so hard to turn that dream into reality.

Big brands are taking notice of UC technology and jumping into the fray with promising new services like Amazon Chime.

Not only does it bring together file sharing, multimedia conference calls and more, it is built within the existing Amazon Web Services program, which offers IT infrastructure support for its clients.

As more industry heavyweights develop a broad portfolio of UC technologies, things are going to get more complicated before they get better, and company management needs to understand and navigate these roadblocks.

The change cannot happen overnight.

'Walled Garden' Woes

As a business establishes relationships with different UC technology vendors, one major hurdle is, ironically, the lack of unity.

An employer may use one service for chat messaging and another for audio and yet maybe another for video, with no clear-cut way to integrate them together.

And, at any given time, the office may be in the process of transitioning from one vendor to another or integrating a different office that was using a separate platform.

While training staff to use the new software, other departments will want to do different things with different tools that they know specifically work for them.

Even though the firm may officially support only a single unified platform, as new services become available with feature sets that appeal to specific departments, some groups may run their own platforms on the side.

Failures to Communicate

Achieving cross-department coordination is a tall order. Once you put all those people in the same room, you need to support all the multiple services that they’re using (or wanting to use) – that means your rooms can’t be a closed ecosystem for conferencing.

For example, if your company runs a Cisco infrastructure, as soon as you need to talk to a non-Cisco room — either a client or people in another office — it can be a major disaster.

The “walled garden” effect prevents other technologies from working with the existing infrastructure to encourage users to adopt more of that provider’s tools. But since the future is app-friendly and mobile-first, the idea of building a walled garden in your workplace or in any other sort of area is outdated.

Who would buy a phone that couldn’t support any apps except those from the manufacturer?

That’s why office decision makers are big proponents of open platforms in unified communications.

Employees are no longer locked in one system, unwilling to make the switch to another communications platform. The conferencing vendors are incentivized to do this for client retention.

But there are drawbacks. Offices can lose out on a lot of the innovation that happens in the industry because a “standard” was decided upon years back and now it is too painful to switch.

Make Your Technologies Play Nice

Companies should, therefore, engage in a few best practices to make their unified communications work harmoniously.

  1. Be agile. Develop practices that will allow you to switch services quickly when the time comes, including a change management plan and establishing teachers who can transcend teams, departments and seniority levels. At some point, you’re going to have to incorporate new technologies and you must be able to respond quickly! That again means sticking with the more open platform.
  2. Stick to your guns. If you look like you want to play hardball with your vendors, it gives you better pricing and keeps you from being locked in and left without the latest innovations. When the provider knows he must earn your business every single day, your company becomes more of a priority.
  3. Understand the needs of your users. All the various services out there have their own advantages that can be used by different teams. By understanding their needs, you can speak their language, which will, in turn, cause them to listen to your guidance in using the new UC technologies instead of saying, “screw the IT policy, I’ll figure this out on my own.” When your users venture out on their own terms, it hurts productivity and can cause major security problems.

The result? Everything works the way your employees want them to work, and obstacles or gaps in knowledge are resolved quickly. Overall, it creates a more straightforward, productive and “unified” working environment for everyone.