By Alex Donnelly, Portfolio Manager of Damovo UK

There is greater pressure than ever on businesses to deliver applications and allow workers to collaborate from wherever they are located, with the IDC predicting that Europe's mobile workforce will grow in size by an average of five per cent over the next three years. Consequently, many businesses have invested in unified communications solutions as part of their strategy to support greater workforce mobility.

Following is a step-by-step guide on how businesses should approach unified communications, and how to distinguish the end-user reality from the vendor hype.

1. Try before you buy

The majority of businesses, while realising the potential benefits of unified communications, have taken much more of a piecemeal approach to their implementation. This has meant that rather than implementing an entire unified communications suite, they have invested in the functionality that will give them most bang for their buck - typically this isn’t the same for any two organisations. Only after trialling applications and seeing the benefits have organisations been prepared to take the next step and invest further in functionality, and with good reason. Businesses should be selective about how and where they first introduce unified communications rather than doing a blanket roll-out across the entire organisation.

2. Ensure the right fit

In deciding what applications to employ, it is essential to consider factors like culture, employee profile, channels of communication and how their organisation adapts to change. By determining where the return on investment is largest and most immediate, it can allow other areas of the business to slowly become accustomed to the new technology by engaging with other departments and understand how they are putting it to good use.

3. Truly Unified Communications

Technology and business processes need to support each other and work in synergy otherwise some applications may just dormant on users’ desktops. In most organisations elements of the solution exist and true unified communications will bring together multimodel means of communicating from different vendors whether they are BlackBerry, Cisco, Microsoft, web browser or iPhone environments. Optimising the technology that the business already has and maximising communications empowers workers and allows businesses to see true return on investment.

4. Emerging technology

Communications technology and culture continues to evolve, and new software and devices are playing a growing role not only in people’s personal lives but in the way that employees communicate and collaborate. This is being driven by the new generation of internet-savvy workers, who are introducing new applications and devices to transfer and apply these skills to their everyday jobs. Keeping in touch with these changes and preparing your businesses’ network ahead of the trend will lead to better worker productivity and genuine ROI in the long run.

5. A social future

Social is having a greater effect on business, with organisations like Microsoft promoting social functions in their latest business communications and enterprise software offerings. As with most emerging technologies, it is vital that enterprise social software is integrated properly with an organisation’s existing communications platforms and is aligned with its overall strategy. By doing this, it can start to deliver tangible benefits through helping to facilitate closer ties with employees and customers. It also provides employees with the tools that allow them to be more effective, so organisations should embrace these hooks and links into these services.

6. Moving forwards

As unified communications adoption gathers speed, organisations need to educate their staff and utilise their applications and tools for each department in order to extract the maximum benefit from the unified environment. While this may seem like a lot of extra work, it is worth the effort as the tangible benefits start to show a return. Over time, it also becomes very evident that non-tangible benefits come into their own, with employees, partners, suppliers and customers noticing significant productivity gains. Ultimately, all of this can provide organisations with a competitive advantage both now and in the future.