by Lauren Brousell

Unified Communications Success Depends on Changing Employee Habits

Sep 27, 20113 mins
Collaboration SoftwareSmall and Medium Business

CIOs offer tips for getting employees to change their most ingrained habits and adopt new unified communications tools.

Disrupting the way employees interact is often risky. And deploying unified communications (UC) tools can be riskier than other enterprise software rollouts because it affects employees’ ingrained habits. “People move at their own pace around [this] technology,” observes Barry Libenson, CIO of Land O’Lakes. “It’s not like a new ERP system.”

Installing Cisco’s UC suite during the next few months is critical to the $13 billion butter maker’s efforts to expand globally. One feature lets employees program their phones to forward calls to other locations, or to their iPhones, based on where their calendars say they will be. Another lets people launch a videoconference by clicking on a colleague’s name in the company directory.

But UC tools create new expectations for how people will work together. Art Schoeller, an analyst at Forrester Research, says that makes it easy for UC deployments to fail because employees may not value the tools as highly as management does. “Users can ignore you and you lose the benefits,” he says. “You have to establish and [invest] in a change-management program.”

Selling Change

To sell the new capabilities, Libenson took a tip from Cisco and set up more than a dozen flat-screen monitors that display weekly messages informing the company’s 3,000 users about upcoming changes. He followed up the messages with paper mail and email, and offered demos for groups of 10. Then during each deployment (the tools were rolled out to Land O’Lakes’ two biggest facilities last month and are scheduled for use in its main dairy plant in February) Libenson designated IT staffers to wear orange vests and walk around answering questions or helping coworkers individually.

Libenson says he’ll judge how well the rollout succeeds by how employees use the new tools. “It’s a failure if people still only use the [technology] traditionally.”

Christian Anschuetz, CIO at Underwriters Laboratories (UL), says he made it clear to employees that they wouldn’t have a choice about using UC tools. But part of his implementation plan includes dedicating a team to communicating with workers and managing change.

UL is using Microsoft Office 365 to unify phone, email and fax on desktop and mobile devices, and is shifting more than half of its voice network to voice over IP (VoIP). Before rolling out the technology, Anschuetz offered plenty of avenues for UL’s 7,000 employees to learn about it in their own way, including through blog posts, newsletters, webinars and videos.

At CUNA Mutual, an insurance and financial services provider, CIO Rick Roy designated “change agents” in each business unit to educate their peers about a recent rollout of VoIP phones and Cisco telepresence tools to 4,000 users.

“The technology part of this project is complicated but proven,” Roy says. The key to making it work is having the change agents explain to users how their business units will benefit. “The change agents [are] the voice of the audience they [are] representing.”

Follow Editorial Assistant Lauren Brousell on Twitter: @lbrousell.