Gaining Competitive Advantage by Implementing the Microsoft Unified Communication Platform

Leo Barella, VP & CTO, Excellus BlueCross BlueSheild
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Lessons from the Field

I had the opportunity to execute global deployments of the Microsoft Unified Communication platform for four of the largest organizations in the Strategic Consulting, Pharmaceuticals, Healthcare and Financial Services industry.

Each program involved the migration from the IBM Domino platform and included the deployment of combinations of Microsoft Lync, Outlook and SharePoint.

“A Unified Communication deployment should not be approached as any other deployment of new technologies, but rather as a cultural change”

Acknowledging that every deployment had very different requirements, I will try to summarize the common practices that made every deployment a success.

Obtain Executive Buy-In

A Unified Communication deployment should not be approached as any other deployment of new technologies, but rather as a cultural change. In order for your investment to truly achieve maximum value, you must obtain executive sponsorship not only for financial approval, but for their personal commitment in leading this change by example. This is one of the most transformational programs your organization will endeavor and, if executed properly, can provide a CIO and the executive team with great customer loyalty and credibility.

Engage with your Corporate Communication team as early as you can and, if possible, make them co-sponsor of the initiative.

Brand Your Program

Since you are changing many of the most-used applications on your users’ desktops and will likely not change them all at once, you want to be able to relate all the changes throughout the lifecycle of the program. Make your brand easy to associate with collaboration. In the past I used names such as “Connect” or “iConnect” followed by a slogan that can help you explain what the program is about in a few words, such as “Communicate, Collaborate, and Connect”.

Generate Excitement

If your budget permits, I strongly recommend hiring a professional designer to create your branded materials. This should include a logo and a presentation template that you will use to communicate this program from the start. As soon as your program gets the green light, start generating your “Coming soon“ announcements and, if possible, start distributing branded merchandise such as pins, pens, mouse pads, etc.

Profile Your Customers

One of the most important aspects of success is to define the most effective deployment plan and to carefully pick who your first customers will be. This group will generate the organizational first impression, so it is extremely important that you choose a team for whom the value of the new collaboration capabilities will outweigh minor glitches that you might have during your first deployment. This can be accomplished by sending a simple survey to all of your users to understand their willingness to welcome the change. Sales and Marketing are usually eager to try out new technologies, yet we all have departments that are more change averse. Deploy to people who will generate a positive message about your program first. Remember, the success of the deployment is all about positive momentum.  

Role-Based Training

While the technology being deployed is the same for everyone, there are capabilities and features that will benefit one role more than another. In order to maximize your ROI, invest in diversifying your training so that you can spend more time training your customers, specifically on features that will most benefit their role. For instance, your Marketing and Sales team might need more training in using the mobility and off-line features while your Finance department might need more training on how to use SharePoint Pivot Charts.

Communicate Abundantly

After all, this is a Communication program, so use all of the communication channels your Corporate Communication department offers and, if possible, add a few more. An excellent way to communicate this change is to create short two-minute videos that explain in plain English the different features of the new platform. For the deployments I executed, “how to” videos proved to be very popular, especially ones where we explained how an operation was performed in the old system and translated that into how the operation is performed in the new platform.

Find Your Connectors

These are the people in your organization who simply cannot stop talking. They know everything about everyone and they are not shy telling you what they think about any topic. Pay very close attention to them, as the success of the deployment is highly dependent on their buy in. Make them part of your discussion groups and always make sure they feel part of the team that makes design decisions. The payoff of this simple step is that they will do all the advertising for you.

Department Power Users

They are the go-to people for quick questions on how to use technology within their departments. They are usually tech savvy self-starters who can use the web to find the answers they need to do what they need to do. They should receive the same type of training you will be giving your help desk, plus additional training on the features that their department will use more than others. By taking this step, you will be able to limit the risk of flooding the help desk with calls at the time of deployment.

The Evangelists

This is possibly the most important role to affect adoption. It’s usually a team of two or three people (dependent on how big your organization is). Their role is to spend “a day in the life” in different departments and watch people go about their day with the new technology based on what they learned from training.

Most times, people tend to adapt the new technology to their old processes, which negates your business case. After a couple of days of watching, they will switch to the driver’s seat and show the customers how to adjust their old processes to a much more efficient new process that will take full advantage of the new Unified Communication and Collaboration capabilities.

In Conclusion

Plan on investing 30 to 50 percent of the total cost of your program on Organizational Change Management, as it is the only way to assure that your investment will produce the productivity gains you claimed in your business case. If, after your deployment, your customers continue to use Office365, Excel 2000 or perhaps even Excel 95  as they were previously, you failed. Survey your customers often and ask what you can do to improve your communication. Implementing the practices discussed in this article takes work, but the work pays off by significantly contributing to the success of your deployment.

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