Modern management theory is so caught up with “Quality” and “Six-Sigma” that we often forget about older, tried and true methods of making companies more efficient and productive. In the case of Unified Communications (UC), many of the questions from customers are about the technology, but I think “time and motion” savings should be the most heavily weighted factor as a company assesses the ROI of UC.
In the industrial era of the early 20th century, scientific management was the rage. Researchers in corporations spent much of their time with a stopwatch observing the basic motions of physical laborers. Perhaps the most famous example was a classification by Frank Gilbreth of the 18 basic hand motions typically used by masons to lay bricks. By studying the most efficient masons, Gilbreth identified how five specific motions could be used to lay bricks in a manner that maximized a mason’s productivity while minimizing his fatigue. As a telecommuter who spends most of his day pressing keys and moving a cursor around a laptop or a smartphone, I am amazed at how remarkably relevant this 100-year-old management theory is to UC.
When it comes to ROI for Unified Communications, I am not only thinking about what a company pays its telecom provider, but also how much time it takes and how many buttons employees have to push to check and respond to multiple voicemail boxes. Or how much easier it is for employees to adopt a new business process when it has only three steps instead of seven. I am thinking about the value of reducing repetitive stress injuries for people who spend all day pounding on a keyboard and clicking a mouse. (Can you tell that I am one of those people who has a hard time remembering that pressing keys harder as I type will not help emphasize my point?)
Like many technologists, I have done my share of focusing on the technology first and the user experience second. Often, this is the only way to prototype new technology. One might add three steps to an existing process, but the output is 10 times better! The problem is that new technology will never be adopted if technically-oriented, first-generation technologies are not transformed into simpler, user-oriented embodiments of that same technology. There’s a reason no one ever set the clock on their VCR despite the fact that those few extra steps would have enabled a whole new ability to timeshift programs. It took too many hard-to-recall steps. Not until DVRs eliminated those many steps was timeshifting adopted by the non-technical masses.
So it will be with UC adoption. As a techie, I learned the 18 steps needed to use yesterday’s first generation of UC, but I never adopted it in my daily life. For non-technical end users to adopt the next generation of UC, it has to support a more seamless user experience within the enterprise. That means integrated staff directories, integration between wired desk phones and wireless devices, and unified cross-platform presence. In other words, UC must involve fewer clicks than today’s telephony or it will be resisted. After all, it only took a dozen or so hand motions to dial a phone before UC – with most of those the same physical motion of pressing a numbered button with an index finger.