Disclaimer: Apologies to all my vendor friends. I always tell vendors that I’m sympathetic because I started my career doing technical sales for GE. I know what it’s like to be on that side of the table. I know they have a job to do and I don’t want us to waste each other’s time. I also often hear myself telling vendors that notwithstanding their great products, we can’t absorb anymore right now.
Last month, I was in a fascinating discussion with some people from Google about workplace productivity tools. I was interested because we have a feature-rich Cisco voiceover IP phone system that can be used with traditional handsets or “soft” phones on computers with headsets. We also purchased Microsoft Office 365, including their Lync unified communications product, and we are in the process of optimizing the use of these tools.
While our company has many distinct business units with their own cultures, we are moving our corporate staff to a single location beginning in 2016. We have been studying how this largely non-clinical group can better collaborate and use these tools effectively. It’s been challenging to determine which tools are best for which activity, to make them work together, and to train end users on best practices that will stick.
Back to my fascinating discussion with Google. This won’t surprise you, but they said they didn’t seek to develop workplace productivity products to sell them. They did their work, created applications that optimized their work, and voila, there happened to be products they can sell in the enterprise space. They also acknowledged that many companies have large investments with companies like Cisco and Microsoft as well as legacy applications and dependencies that require these products. So, rather than competing head to head with those products, they are creating applications that can coexist and optimize whatever collaboration tools may be in use. I’m not in a place to say what our five-year strategy will be around these products, but I certainly liked the philosophy of building on and optimizing rather than ripping and replacing.
Still, there seems to be a gap between what vendors recommend and cite as success stories, and what we can affect in our non-for-profit, academic environment — or at the very least, it seems to take a lot longer for us. Some of this is because of our distinct cultures in our business units, some is because of fiercely independent work practices (in the research community), and some seems to stem from resistance to change and discomfort with new technology. Moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 and from TDM phones to VoIP flummoxed more users than I would have predicted. We have more features we can deploy — follow me calling, dial from computer directory, instant messaging, presence, standardized desktop sharing, easy peer-to-peer video, and more.
We currently have a couple of conference calling solutions; I see Webex, GoToMeeting, Live Meeting and Lync used in the web conferencing space. I expect some resistance and consternation when we push to an enterprise standard.
In clinical systems development, we’ve followed the mantra, “Make the right thing to do, the easiest thing to do.” We need to create a plan to do the same with productivity tools. When should an employee use a VoIP call versus a cell call? When should one use instant messaging versus email? How do we get staff to use the least expensive conference calling and web conferencing offerings? Some of this can be done through the service catalog and purchasing controls, but, as mentioned above, some forces in our environment aren’t easily controlled.
Whether it’s Google or someone else, the notion of making the right thing to do the easiest thing to is where I need to go. There are many components — communication, training, implementation and integration, service level agreements, and charges. What felt overwhelming a month ago may have some pathway forward. I’m inspired. Now I have to execute.