Unified Communications (UC) is a unique technology in the way all users have a direct exposure to it.
It might even be the only one with such a degree of intimacy. Think about the traditional core technologies (routing&switching): do users really care about what protocol routes their web traffic? Not likely. Is it vital for them to know whether multicast is being implemented in Dense Mode or Sparse Mode? I doubt it.
And I'm referring here to the vast majority of users of course. Granted the IT technical staff will have these questions very present when operating the network but does the executive assistant of your vice-president going to ever ask about those? At most, she will notice whether the network is down or whether it's slow at some times during the day, but that's far away from using the internals of the solution.
Now think about UC. It's something that reaches everyone to the last degree. Do users notice if the conferencing feature doesn't work? Oh yes. Are they concerned if the dial plan is missing a set of numbers? You bet. Will they send feedback on the way phones operate? Certainly.
Unified Communications is a technology exposed to all of your user community. What's more, the success or failure of the rolling out of a particular solution is based on how well your end users adopt it. This exposure to everyone in your company, from the IT support personnel to the assistant of the vice-president, makes it necessary to include your users in your project plan. And this is again very different from planning a change in your routing protocols. In those type of projects, users won't play a key role in the way you plan the different phases. But in the case of UC, you need to involve them at an early stage and define specific tasks for them to contribute.
I'm not only talking about the "end user training" phase which usually happens at the very end of the implementation when everything is designed and configured already (leaving small room for change). Sure users need to know how to operate the new phones, systems, etc. I'm talking about early phases of the project where the design of some features is being worked out. To guarantee the success and the adoption of the UC solution deployed, you need to bring the "voice of the user" to those early phases and make sure the requirements, requests and needs are listened to and taken into account. What's more, you need to identify your "power users" and really give value to their opinions, as they're the ones that use the system to its last feature. Think again about the example of the executive assistant of your vice-president. She is a power user not only because of the hours she spends working with the solution, but also because of the direct line of feedback she has into your management structure.
How do you make sure your users are taken into consideration when designing the system? How can you integrate their feedback? There are a number of things I've seen in customers that have worked very well:
Look in your user community for power users, select a few that would like to participate in the roll-out and make them part of your project team
Invite that group to the design workshops and activities that discuss items that will impact users directly (for instance, the implementation of a particular feature)
Make them part of the pilot, collect their feedback and make them feel they're understood
Use those power users to help spreading the word about the new system and its advantages
Communicate, communicate and communicate. Not only to those power users, but also to the rest of the organization. Share the progress of the implementation. Give information about new features at the right pace, so users don't feel overwhelmed.
These are just some thoughts collected from customers that have implemented UC solutions successfully with a great user adoption. It's not an exhaustive list and I'm sure there are many other ideas that can be shared. What, from your experience, can you do to engage users better? What can you do to improve the adoption of a new UC solution? Please leave your comments and continue the discussion!
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