By Bob Wise
When you are comparing enterprise business communications systems, it’s easy to get caught up in all the specifications, features and glitzy demos provided by different vendors. Cool tools tend to rule, and the vendor with the most toys tends to win. It’s only after the system is installed you discover it doesn’t actually do what the business needs it to do.
That’s why IT decision-makers need to take a lesson from J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series—arguably the most successful book/movie/entertainment franchise in history. While the rest of the world anxiously awaited each installment to see how the story played out, Rowling already knew. In fact, in published interviews, she has said she knew what the ending would be before she started writing the first book, and then let that guide the rest of the massive seven-book series.
Start with the outcome in mind—what a concept. Because communications technology isn’t about having the best this or the biggest that. It’s about helping the business achieve its goals by maximizing the value of every communications touch point. It’s about understanding why you’re communicating; when you do that, what to use lays itself out like the plot of a good book.
The business spends a great deal of time and effort to recruit and retain the best talent and line up the right partners. It also works diligently to build client relationships for a lifetime. After all of that, users want enriched communications and collaboration capabilities that make those investments pay off; the communications infrastructure simply has to facilitate those objectives so they can deliver measurable gains to their bottom lines. In Harry Potter terms, the users are the wizards and the infrastructure is the wands, i.e. the tools they use to make the magic happen.
To get there, organizations want to work with partners who can help them achieve business success by optimizing their IT assets through a variety of cloud and on-premise delivery options. The goal is to take advantage of every aspect of their core assets – people, information and processes.
What’s needed now is a more strategic and expansive perspective, one that can make business leaders more effective and elevate IT leaders above the fray of fragmented technology rather than one that is solely focused on moving products for the vendors.
To make business communications technology truly strategic, you have to look beyond the technology and, like Hermione Granger, ask why. Why might we rethink our approach to communications and collaboration? Why might a new approach set us apart in the marketplace? Why might our employees, partners and customers value this approach? By diligently addressing these questions, you make communications a catalyst for enduring growth.
Accelerators of growth
Thinking strategically about business communications starts with understanding the performance objectives the business is trying to achieve. And it recognizes there are no all-encompassing, magical product suites—no charms, spells or “silver bullets”—that will fully address these goals. Products must be interoperable, and they must be integrated within a larger framework and network environment.
It’s also critical to ensure you are considering performance gains that can multiply over time as opposed to just the “hard” cost savings that deliver only short-term results. When communications becomes a mere “commodity” in the minds of IT decision makers, it becomes merely a means to an end rather than a competitive advantage. That is a huge miscalculation. Total value equations should account for the vast, ongoing returns associated with productive meetings and interactions among professionals.
Strategic approaches to business communications encompass and enable your lines of business. They involve a clear-eyed view of how business gets done—and how business performance can be taken to new levels.
Think of your communications systems and services as strategic enablers at every touch point—for every opportunity you have to come into contact with employees, customers and partners—and consider leveraging these systems and services to achieve growth in activities such as:
- Improving customer relationships
- Increasing revenue
- Reducing cost and capital
- Increasing quality
- Reducing risk
- Capturing valuable data
The underlying communications tools supporting these strategic initiatives, by necessity, must address trends and market drivers such as: user expectations rising as IT budgets diminish; the increase of bring your own device (BYOD) within the enterprise; the rise of mobile/remote/global workers; and the desire for on-demand access to content, colleagues and data. All of these factors are impacting the way organizations operate and make decisions today. Only by fully leveraging these tools as catalysts for growth opportunities can businesses realize their goals.
One company that understands the value of a strategic approach to business communications is Planview, a software firm specializing in IT portfolio management, which capitalized on the power of strategic business communications to launch its own virtual user conference. Due to budget and travel restrictions among its customers, the company sought an alternative to its annual on-site conference.
Impressively, the firm was able to increase attendance by 250%, generate nearly 3,000 content downloads, and enable more than 3,000 visits to 18 virtual booths. What’s more, it facilitated 634 one-to-one chat sessions and 250 meet-the-expert sessions. With a keynote address by Guy Kawasaki, 50 videos, and 35 customer and company presentations, the event far exceeded projected results and demonstrated that thoughtful business communications can deliver a powerful experience that deepens customer relationships and drives growth.
Open at the close
While the Harry Potter world is filled with all sorts of magical tools and wonders, those things aren’t what made it wildly popular. After all, there had been plenty of stories about witches and wizards before. What Rowling understood was the real interest lies with the people and how they use that magic to achieve their goals – and she built her story around it.
It is no different in your world. The future points to business communications as a source of strategic value and competitive differentiation. How you communicate determines how you perform. That’s the reason there is now so much riding on the richness of your enterprise’s interactions – whether they occur internally or externally. It’s why so much is at stake in terms of the quality of your communications, particularly as your platforms and applications are tested by the intensifying demands of mobile, remote and global participants.
Start with the end clearly in view – focusing on the wider impact you intend to make – and your organization’s “story” will lay itself out before you as well.
Bob Wise is executive vice president of West IP Communications, a subsidiary of West Corporation.