Elka Popova's Blog

Does UCC Need a Social Facelift?

28 May 2013 | by Elka Popova
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Social networks and social media have rapidly become a key element of our daily interactions with family, friends, and business associates. Capitalizing on the ubiquity and improving quality of the public Internet, growing computer and Internet literacy among younger generations, and demand for maintaining relationships in an increasingly dynamic social environment, social networks provide both a convenient source of relevant information and a more flexible way to stay connected with people in spite of geographic boundaries.

As consumers become increasingly familiar with social software and aware of its various benefits, they demand access to similar tools at their workplace. Vendors are responding to growing demand for social capabilities in the enterprise by developing business-grade social solutions that offer greater security as well as features and functionality that best suit the business environment.

Businesses adopting social technologies must consider the advantages and disadvantages of integrating the social element with the rest of the unified communications and collaboration (UCC) stack. While consumer social tools are likely to remain siloed for security and control reasons, business-grade social tools deployed behind the firewall can deliver greater benefits when integrated with the other UCC technologies used within the organization. The social tools can help enrich communications by providing valuable context in terms of user profiles, shared files and messages, activity logs, and so on. And, through integration with real-time communications, a social interaction can be escalated to a voice or video call or a conference meeting.

However, without proper training and a cultural shift within the organization, social tools may easily become a distraction or remain underutilized. While the availability of a broad set of communications and collaboration applications creates opportunities for richer and timelier interactions among employees and across organizations, it is also becoming overwhelming and confusing for the individual users to manage and properly use the different tools. Multiple devices, interfaces, passwords, and user directories sometimes delay and complicate rather than accelerate and improve communications. Furthermore, the integration process as well as the ongoing support of integrated solutions may involve an additional upfront cost and may place an additional burden on IT resources.

Some businesses are, therefore, likely to see social tools as a distraction that only aggravates an already challenging situation. They may question the value of adding social tools to the already rich palette of communications and collaborations tools available to their employees.

Overall, Frost & Sullivan finds that there is a compelling business case for integrating social tools into the UCC fabric. But businesses that choose to do so need to decide whether to deploy a single-vendor or a multi-vendor integrated social-and-UCC infrastructure. Then they need to apply a structured approach to the selection of a specific solution to ensure that their IT and broader business objectives are properly addressed.

UCC vendors Cisco, IBM, and Microsoft have opted to provide their own social solutions and have integrated them with their broader UCC portfolios. A recent Frost & Sullivan study (Weaving Social into Your UCC Fabric) examines in detail these three vendors’ social UCC portfolios and strategies.

Once a decision is made to deploy social technology as part of a broader UCC portfolio, customers need to consider a number of factors in order to select the vendor and solution that best address their specific needs. In addition to features and functionality, various other factors—such as existing technology investments, available IT skill sets, and the vendor’s vision for future UCC and social infrastructure evolution—can determine social vendor and product choices. Businesses must carefully assess their business objectives and technology investments before making a final decision.