Mitigating the Risk of Compressed Timelines

August 28, 2012

– by Dale Hardy, VP of Professional Services

Driving home from a customer meeting this afternoon, it occurred to me that more and more, it seems that nearly every project we do for our customers has a very short timeline or compressed schedule.  Once a company decides to move forward and implement a technology that will help them expand market share, reduce costs, or improve the productivity of their personnel, they want to reap those benefits right away.

When implementing technologies for our customers that touch nearly every area within their business like Unified Communications, data center automation, storage networking, or security, we think it’s important for our customers to understand the potential risks of a compressed implementation schedule (that go along with the rewards).  Short timelines often rely on everything going “just right,” and as we all know, there is a very good chance that something can likely go wrong.

Project success is much more predictable along with risk avoidance when there is sufficient allowance in the schedule for discovery, planning and testing. When time is short, we collaborate with our customers to assess the potential risks inherent with compressed timelines.  Then, we to put together a joint action plan that balances the business’ needs against the risks we’ve identified.  For some customers, that might mean that we meet the target dates for critical locations, departments, or applications while slightly delaying deployments to non-mission critical areas.  For others, it might mean deploying the solution to all locations, but limiting non-essential system functionality to ensure system stability.  In any case, we believe that the most important thing we can do for our customers is to meet their implementation schedule needs without disrupting their business. 

We think our honest approach is the best one for our customers and their businesses, and they do too.  We recently received letters from three customers who thanked us for “doing the impossible” – meeting implementation schedules that even they believed couldn’t be met.  In reality, nothing can displace thorough project discovery and planning; however, our team was committed to  exceed our customers’ expectations while mitigating the risk inherent within compressed timelines.

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3 Statistics to Make You Think – Round 2

November 9, 2011

This next segment of our statistics series will make you think (again!) about the ever-increasing volume of traffic moving over your network. With the bandwidth and storage demands of business video and unified communications tools, this topic is more timely than ever.


Collaboration for Education

February 27, 2011

In a global economy, the advantage goes to those who invest in their future leaders, preparing and educating the population for the challenges of the future. To stay competitive, both K-12 and higher education institutions must build safe, effective learning environments that engage and challenge students while streamlining communications and improving operational efficiencies for administrators.

Technology has become a part of our daily fabric. Today’s students demand access to constant connectivity and expect content to be delivered in increasingly visual, rich-media formats. Leveraging the power of secure, borderless networks and developing solutions with the network as a platform helps schools to design complete, end-to-end solutions that make learning more accessible and engaging.

As we prepared for the Enterprise Connect (#enterprisecon) show in Orlando this week, two key technologies stood out as ways for schools and universities to become more efficient and help students gain skills such as problem solving, innovation, and media literacy so they can compete in the global economy.

Video on Demand:a suite of voice, video, and web conferencing tools that can help schools and universities:

  • Deliver on-demand learning to desktops and digital signs anywhere, at any time. Inspire, motivate and educate students – and train educators using the same systems
  • Leverage access to remote resources and provide educational resources to students in remote and under-served geographies
  • Facilitate real-time, virtual face-to-face interactions between students, teachers, parents, and administrators, from anywhere, at any time

Unified Communications:a single IP network delivers connected voice, video and data, enabling faster, more effective communications:

  • Teachers and staff can automatically send parents assignments via voice and text messages with advanced outbound-calling services
  • Provide district wide intercom paging, allowing classes to hear school announcements over IP-phone speakers and external loudspeakers
  • Deliver district wide emergency messages to parents and classrooms within minutes of a situation
  • Phone calls and e-mails can be automatically sent to parents, teachers, and staff, notifying them of student absences, schedule changes, school holidays

In today’s learning environments, the ability to communicate the right information to the right people at the right time is essential. Collaboration technologies are the way to get there.


Advanced Collaboration Brings More Bang for the Buck

January 13, 2011

Companies deploying IP-enabled, advanced collaboration tools are realizing significant gains in business performance, according to an extensive study by Frost and Sullivan. In fact, the more advanced their collaboration deployment, the more impact on performance they are likely to realize.

With companies today deploying IP-based applications such as presence, team spaces, document sharing, unified communications, and immersive video conferencing, the researchers wanted to find out how much value they are realizing from their implementations.

One indicator of interest in unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) is growing demand. While 46% of the U.S. companies in its survey have deployed such solutions already, more than 80% of the organizations that have not deployed them intend to do so within the next two to three years.  “IT managers in these organizations cite collaboration-enabled applications in which a worker can launch collaboration tools within an existing software application (21 percent), presence-enabled applications (18 percent), and immersive video (18 percent) as the top UC&C tools they plan to set up in their organizations in the near future,” the report states.

Of those firms that already had deployed collaboration tools, 72 percent stated that they experienced better performance. Where was performance improvement greatest? Innovation (68 percent), Sales Growth (76 percent), and Profit Growth (71 percent).

As part of its research, Frost and Sullivan identified organizations based on their level of collaboration and reliance on collaborative tools:

FrostSullivan-collabchart
What the research firm found (see chart below) is that there is “a continuum of collaboration-driven performance, such that better performance is related to the degree and sophistication of an organization’s deployment of collaboration tools. Lower levels of collaboration technology deployment and utilization are linked with lower levels of performance; whereas high degrees of deployment are linked with higher levels of performance.”

FrostSullivan-collabgraph

Such results, based on a performance index developed by the researchers, indicate that even minimal collaboration capabilities can deliver significant performance gains. However, top performers also tended to be the most advanced in terms of collaborative tool usage.

“Clearly, the deployment and use of collaboration tools impacts organizational performance,” the report states. “As organizations deploy an increasingly sophisticated set of collaboration capabilities, they are able to perform correspondingly better on several top-level business metrics.”


Successful User Adoption Drives UC Value

December 16, 2010

To take Unified Communications (UC) to the next level in terms of success, organizations are challenged to focus on user adoption. While the business case for UC often is extremely compelling in terms of overall savings and productivity benefits, none of these gains can be realized unless UC is embraced by an organization’s workforce.

The first challenge to adoption lies in how a UC solution is presented in the first place. “All too often when Solutions Integrators are proposing a communication solution – whether it is basic VoIP or a UC solution for collaboration, instant messaging, unified messaging or even communication enabling business processes – they get so involved in the technical aspects of the solution that they overlook one of the most basic components of business communication,” writes Pam Avila at Unified Communications Strategies, a portal devoted to UC trends and opportunities.

“That component is the ‘equipment’ that sits on the end-user’s desk or travels in their pocket or briefcase. We refer to this equipment as the ‘end points,’ which sounds very official and technical,” she adds. “In reality, however, it’s all about the end-user experience. Provide a great end-user experience and acceptance of technology is almost assured. Conversely, move the end-user too far out of their comfort zone and a disaster looms.”

Mike Sapien, a principal analyst for Ovum, contends that UC services should be introduced in the enterprise the same way as new PCs have been introduced. As he explains, users gain upfront training. They are educated on new applications, features and the value of these capabilities.

“Just like with new PCs, UC users may at first be completely unfamiliar with some new features and have only very narrow experience with others,” he contends. “The assumption that end users can immediately jump in, knowing which tools to use to improve their productivity, is a bad one.”

He explains that some of the most successful UC implementation results are produced when companies create  formal and informal teams to focus on training users, encouraging adoption, and identifying valuable uses of UC capabilities. In most of these cases, top management also embraces the technology and leads by example.  The rest of the enterprise, in other words, is watching what they do.

“Consider earlier communication technologies, such as voice mail and e-mail, and how often senior managers relied on administrators to manage these tools for them. Some managers went so far as to ask assistants to type up their voice mail.” he adds. “This sort of avoidance technique won’t work with UC features such as instant messaging and telepresence. It has to be clear to employees that they’re expected to use UC features, and bypassing these tools will leave them behind professionally. Senior management has to model regular and effective use of the UC features so that others will respond similarly.”

When senior managers embrace Unified Communications, they set the stage for widespread adoption across the enterprise. They accelerate time to value by taking steps that encourage others.


Empowering the Heroes in Your Organization

November 16, 2010

What would it take to turn more of your organization’s employees into heroes?

That’s the question posed and addressed by Forrester Research analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler in their new book Empowered. They are encouraging you to “unleash your employees, energize your customers and transform your business.” They insist the way to do this is to give your people the tools and freedom they need to engage in exceptional work.

Clearly, there are important implications here with respect to the availability of collaborative technologies — the social tools that are now raising such concerns in IT and PR departments at many organizations.

HERO, as the authors explain it, is an acronym for a “highly empowered and resourceful operative.” They identified such individuals through a survey that asked two key questions:   

  • How empowered are you? They asked these workers if they agreed with the statement “I feel empowered to solve my own problems and challenges at work.” They then measured the respondent on a ten-point scale.
     
  • How resourceful are you? In this case, they asked about the individual’s resourcefulness with technology. Specifically, they wanted to know whether that person had regularly used two applications or Web sites unsanctioned by their IT department (such as Linked-In or Twitter).

What they discovered is a division between those who are empowered and those who aren’t.

Empowered

HEROes, as the findings suggest, come from the 20% of people in your company that are both empowered and resourceful. But 34% of such information workers are considered to be Locked-Down — ready to help, but unable to use the apps necessary to perform. Meanwhile, 13% have gone Rogue. They’ve download unsanctioned apps or accessed unsanctioned sites, but don’t feel empowered to create change. Still another 34% are Disenfranchised. These are folks that neither feel empowered nor act resourceful.

How can you make a difference? According to the authors, “It’s all about culture. First, you (and your IT department) need to make it possible for people to use the innovative technologies they’ll need to reach out to customers — relaxing the rules for what technology use is permitted at work is a first step in this direction. As for empowering workers, it starts at the bottom, by identifying people who are innovating, supporting them, and then shouting to the rest of the company about what they’ve done. This is how management can make more HEROes possible.”


Ensuring Your Network is UC-Ready

September 21, 2010

If you are intent on deploying Unified Communications (UC) applications, it’s critical to ensure your network is up to the task. Should your network architecture prove inadequate for the task, you’re in danger of losing the confidence and attention of potential adopters within your organization.

But that’s definitely a fate to be avoided. “You and your network will need to support a variety of real-time applications if you’re going to get the ROI and full business impact that UC offers,” writes Jeremy Littlejohn in InformationWeek. To prevent a failed UC deployment due to network failure, he offers a four point plan:

  • Think throughput, not bandwidth. If you’ve got 100 Mbps to the desktop and 1-Gbps uplinks, focus on maximizing throughput rather than worrying about bandwidth.
  • Don’t bust buffers. Overloaded buffers on a switch interface can lead to dropped packets, which can be deadly for real-time apps like voice and video. Ideally, your switch infrastructure should have a dedicated buffer per uplink or aggregation port on your switches.
  • Use the right switch. Organizations sometimes use access-layer switches to aggregate other access-layer switches. This topology can lead to dropped packets. Link access-layer switches to distribution layer switches instead.
  • Mark traffic for QoS. Ensure that real-time applications get priority treatment across your LAN and WAN by labeling traffic using the quality-of-service markings available with your networking gear.

InfoWk-BuildBeyondVoIP

Liittlejohn believes organizations that follow these steps and then, thoroughly test their networks are in a strong position to roll out robust UC solutions to meet growing demands.”To move past voice over IP to real unified communications, your network must provide appropriate levels of service,” he concludes. “Remember to keep things simple, address the details of your equipment, and retain as much control as you can over the flow of your data. And most important, test your network. Follow these steps and your network not only will satisfy UC’s requirements, but it also will positively affect adoption in your organization.”


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