Has Unified Communications lived up to the hype or has it lagged behind where it ought to be by now?

The key battleground in the Unified Communications market today is not features or functionality, but ease of use. I used to work for a large American telephone vendor, where I conducted a straw poll of my colleagues to find out how many knew how to transfer a call or set up a conference call – less than 10% of people knew how to do this on their handset – and they worked for the company that made the system!

The only possible conclusion is that most users cannot use their telephone effectively, with the result that none of the expected productivity or efficiency benefits are achieved.

Enter Unified Communications – a PC-based application enabling the use of voice, video, instant messaging that is much easier to use and understand. But, no matter how much the manufacturers focus on user experience design, these are still complex applications with many capabilities. Even the most sophisticated user will only do what they know how to do.

The result for many companies, is that their people use this sophisticated (and often expensive!) tool the same way they used the telephone system – they make and take calls in the office.

For Unified Communications to truly deliver the promised benefits – better productivity, more agile workforces and improved collaboration – users have to actually use it.

We see this regularly when talking to prospective customers: implementation projects that achieved all their technical goals, but failed to deliver the desired business benefits.

But there are also several companies I know – some of them our customers – where threatening to take away the UC system would result in a full-scale revolt amongst the workforce.

If you want to realise the benefits of UC, then user training, cheat sheets and internal peer-support user groups to support your deployment are as important as ensuring a successful technical implementation. Then you’ll reap the rewards that UC promises.