1 – Addressing Demands of the New Workforce
CIOs should already understand that new communications and collaboration tools that are widely adopted by the workforce result in a more effective business that produces positive results for the bottom-line. The changing workforce is more Internet-savvy, highly mobile, and has expectations of rich applications accessible from almost anywhere, anytime. So your assessment should begin with an accurate profile of your workforce. Different users in different roles have different needs and it’s this profile that you can refer back to test whether you will be addressing their day-to-day needs. Keep in mind that you need to address their work-style, who they interact with, how they could be more efficient, etc. It’s more than looking at a replacement for their aging desk phone, in fact they may not need it at all.
First, the solution should be a highly scalable virtualized software platform that enables your business to easily grow, shrink or redistribute its communications and collaboration services as needed. It should be designed like other enterprise software, scaling as you distribute instances, etc. Its flexibility should allow for use on premises or from cloud infrastructure, or as a hybrid solution – giving you the ability to leverage a common set of UC and collaboration tools with multiple options for delivery. Web-centric architectures may use approaches such as a Java application framework and HTML page servers such that UC clients are composed under a client-server topology akin to delivering enterprise web portals. This enables server-side UCC business logic to optimize delivery of UC&C information to users of the system. Moreover, the delivery mechanism is based on standard HTTPS, where the SSL security utilizes standard user credentials and the enterprise’s certificate management. This will better align with your overall web-oriented delivery model and your internal security and networking policies.
Solutions should employ integral security methods that are aligned with enterprise architectures using security approaches such as SSL with HTTPS for client connectivity and SIP encryption methods based on SRTP and TLS standards. Integral archiving and recording options for text messaging, audio calls, and virtual meetings allow enterprises to address compliance and privacy/regulatory needs as well as create a new level of traceability.
Some platforms achieve accreditation from 3rd party test agencies and seeking the details of these out is good practice as it provides an independent validation. Do your best to ensure the agency has a clear practice on how they test and how the produce test results. One such agency is operated for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The unique set of tests enforce a well know set of industry standards, applicable to the broad enterprise industry and should be considered as an excellent reference as this validation that is not only mandatory for the DoD, but is becoming critical for markets such as healthcare, government, public service legal, finance, and others as well.
It’s common for vendors to fill the gap when they do not have technologies to meet the “check list”. Perhaps the most prominent example is the difference in the experience between Apple and Windows clients. However, in most cases the client designs of most vendors for mobile devices is also a result of acquisitions dropped into the portfolio, OEMs software, or other “fill the gap” product strategies. You should look for solutions that emphasis a consistent user experience across mobile, tablet, Windows or Mac users. Solutions that leverage web delivery frameworks are most likely to be capable of code re-use, thus a very common user experience. Moreover, they can provide a lighter-weight client design that is easier to install and manage.
In the UC industry there is much focus on the “unified” word, but unification often ends after the feature checklist. You should look deeply into the software to validate that it has been unified itself, bringing the key unified communications, collaboration, and contact center functions together in a cohesive software architecture. A tell tale sign is the need for several back-end servers, each with different roles or functions. It should not take more than a few servers to deliver a redundant UC services to a 1000 employee organization – if it does then your red flag should go up.
Common functions that, at a minimum, you should see integrated into a single software system include call control, and ability to handle your volume of IP phone registrations, messaging, presence, media services for attending calls, voice mail, and recording, UC desktop client server (web engine), SIP trunking.
Leveraging a combination of support for standard SIP Video conferencing equipment and the option of deploying a room-based web collaboration your platform can cost effectively enable all forms of rooms, while providing a common user experience whether in a room, on the road, or in your office. More importantly this approach addresses the most common needs for workgroups that gather in shared workspaces. Look for solutions that can be used to empower all of your meeting rooms for easy enablement of voice and content sharing as a first priority. If solutions add video as an integral part of the software this is even better. Start with a plan to avoid purchasing dedicated hardware for video conferencing – unless you enjoy giving vendors you money.
Providing a common set of enterprise <login> credentials, users can access their UC or collaborative meeting tools from any device, from anywhere, securely. Much like Internet applications, the user’s settings, contact lists, virtual meetings, and the look and feel is consistent across mobile devices (Smartphones and tablets) or PC, simplifying the user experience and delivering it virtually anywhere, anytime. Most likely you already employ policies for single sign on/ login using a common directory server. Make sure your solution ties into these systems naturally.
As these technologies have become mostly software their licensing should be designed to simplify your approach to enabling UC&C services within the enterprise. The right license model should allow for common services across users, such as web conferencing services capacity. A centralized licensing approach will allow you to expanding capacity as needed and redistribute (reuse) licenses as things change within the business. Additionally, a compelling this to look for is the elimination of “server” fees. This means there would be no charge to deploy multiple instances of the software, an approach that makes the decision of resiliency and load balancing easy for IT administrators.
Ultimately, enterprises are focused on servicing their customers, and to the extent new communications and collaboration infrastructure can facilitate enhancement across the different roles in the business, there are intuitive gains.
As you review in-house collaboration services software (aka Web Conferencing) it should be designed to apply to different roles, enabling enterprises to utilize a common software infrastructure across different parts of the organization – gaining greater efficiencies from your investments. Consider the following examples of ways a common infrastructure can be utilized within your business:
- Sales organizations can easily schedule or establish ad-hoc collaboration sessions to engage prospective clients.
- Marketing can arrange webinars to promote to the broader market and to poll attendees on their specific interests.
- Internal workgroups can arrange recurring or scheduled virtual meetings.
- Support organizations can invoke remote control or co-browsing sessions with customers to enhance the support experience and ultimately the resolution.
- Users across the organization can selectively utilize video, screen sharing, file sharing, and more during virtual meetings for a fully integrated multimedia experience.
- With a single click users in organizations can easily escalate a phone call or a text-messaging dialog to a multi-media collaborative session.
As you head forward into your decision making and vendor evaluations tuck these 10 areas into your assessment criteria to ensure you get the most from your forward looking investments in unified communications and collaboration.