UC spells a trillion-dollar opportunity for public institutions

Photo of Morten Floee Knudsen
May 31, 2017
Reading time
4 minutes

By  Cheryle Walline

A trillion-dollar opportunity awaits: By better managing IT projects, public sector entities can offer improved service at a dramatically lower cost. Here’s how to apply the concept to adoption of unified communication technologies.  


How many times have we heard that we need to “do more with less,” “work smarter” or “transform the way we work?”

Probably more than we can count – and almost to the point of cliché.

But when respected consulting firm McKinsey & Company turns its sights toward helping the public sector offer improved service at a lower cost, people pay attention.

Among the many outstanding suggestions in McKinsey’s 160-page report, Government Productivity: Unlocking the $3.5 Trillion Opportunity, is one that caught my eye – and should pique the curiosity of IT professionals everywhere: “Improved management of major projects could save up to $1 trillion per year across governments.”

Experience suggests that one such project is unified communications. We’ve all heard about the vast promise UC holds. By blending voice, video, instant messaging and other technologies, we can unify disparate teams and workers, boost productivity, innovation and value creation while reducing maintenance and infrastructure costs.

It’s a home run, right?

The truth is that it’s not quite so clear cut.

I’ve seen plenty of UC (Unified Communication) implementations over the years. Some have been spectacular successes while others, sadly, have been disappointing failures. All offer valuable insights into the challenges of deploying UC and practical ideas for addressing these obstacles.

By far the biggest challenge is adoption. After a major investment and plenty of meticulous planning and implementation, we expect employees to cheerfully embrace the new technologies. So imagine our surprise/shock/disappointment/anger when they instead dig in their heels.

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The reason for the reluctance is basic human nature. People, as rational human beings, have an innate desire to control their environment. And when they lack control, they resist. A recent study finds a third of all IT managers reporting that UC adoption is stuck in the low 10 percent range.

Suddenly our home run looks more like a called third strike.

Adoption Cues From Elephants – Yes, Elephants!

How then to change habits and get workers to embrace UC, thereby realizing our portion of the benefits McKinsey promises?

For starters, IT needs to understand that the old ways of introducing technology aren’t effective in deploying UC. Far from a modest, easy-to-grasp tweak to software features, UC is a major transformation to the way workers collaborate and communicate. That means it just isn’t enough to conduct the obligatory training session and then kick back and wait for the magic to happen.

To ensure a successful UC deployment, we need to orient employee behavior toward embracing the new technology. We can start by taking a cue from the animal kingdom.

We’ve all seen the videos of mother elephants gently nudging their calves in the right direction. The same concept of “nudging” applies to accepting new collaboration platforms – understanding, of course, that we’re dealing with people and not pachyderms.

Nudging in the human sense means designing people’s choices so that they will choose our preferred solution. Research shows that we eat less dinner if it is served on a smaller plate. A series of footprint stickers leading to a waste basket inspires more people to use the basket rather than tossing their trash on the street. We reuse our hotel towels when we see a sign stating that 75 percent fellow hotel guests reuse theirs. And so on.

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A Gentle Whisper is a Powerful Tool

A good “nudge” has the power to inspire employees to change without asking them to continuously exercise their willpower. Here are a few proven ways to nudge employees toward UC:

  • Request that colleagues commit to using UC publicly, and ask them to make positive statements about the advantages of using the new technology.
  • Provide employees with activity indicators and give them the opportunity to show off their results and compare them with others. There is nothing like a little competition among coworkers to get adoption rates soaring!
  • Visibility is critical. Create a forum where colleagues can demonstrate their newly adopted behavior and earn the credit of their peers.

It used to be the oldest joke at any IT gathering. Question: What’s the fastest way to lose your job? Answer: Invest in a large, business-critical IT system!

Not anymore. Look to the elephants and unlock your portion of the trillion-dollar savings opportunity.

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