A salesperson is meeting with a client, who asks if a certain product is available in another region where the company has branch offices. The salesperson pulls out his iPhone and uses FaceTime to contact his counterpart in that region to find out the answer. He relays his counterpart’s response to the client and completes the deal.
Seems like excellent collaboration, no? Not so fast. What the two salespeople engaged in is shadow unified communications.
Shadow UC, much like the broader shadow IT, is the use of unsanctioned or unsupported applications and devices to complete work tasks. While many people think of shadow operations as nefarious, more often users are oblivious to the fact they are doing anything wrong. They are just getting the job done.
In this scenario, the client had a question and the salesperson used the tool he was aware of to quickly procure the answer. Most users are well-versed in the consumer applications at their disposal and often don’t know their company has business-class tools for that task. If they do know, when they run into a challenge with that application, such as needing to set up a chat session with an engineer about a product road map, they will seek out a workaround, downloading an app online and outside the purview of IT.
The problem IT – and the business as a whole – faces in this consumer age is that users are unwittingly opening the organization up to liability, data loss and leakage, and a missed opportunity to collect and retain institutional knowledge. If you are in a regulated industry or one that is auditable such as healthcare and finance, shadow UC is particularly concerning.
IT must uncover shadow UC usage across the organization and bring it into the open.
Shining a Light on Shadow UC
To start, get your arms around the applications in use around the enterprise that count as shadow UC. Look at video chat, instant messaging, file storage, audio conferencing, and other common consumer apps and services.
While you can sniff out some of this traffic using traditional network monitoring tools or inventory software, most will go undetected because it isn’t touching your Wi-Fi network or employees are using their personal devices. To get a read on all the applications out there, you’ll have to go directly to users.
In UC, Users Know Best
Conduct a survey that asks users not only tools they use, but why. What business goal are they trying to accomplish? This information will help you begin to map their needs to tools available in your service portfolio or illuminate gaps that need to be filled. Also, assure them this information is for you to better serve them as an IT department. If you are uncomfortable conducting the survey in-house, ask for help from a third party.
As you review their answers, dig down into feature sets and functionality to make sure they aren’t making users’ lives more complicated, forcing them to turn to unsanctioned apps. If you are unsure, go back to the user and ask them to explain why they don’t use the tools available. If you agree the process is too complex, work with them to find a suitable solution.
The more dialogue you have with users, the more likely they are to accept your suggestions to abandon their consumer products in favor of sanctioned business-grade tools. Always explain the business need for apps that can be centrally managed, audited, and properly protected and that corporate UC services can break down information silos to streamline workflow.
For instance, in the opening scenario, the salesperson could have used the corporate CRM application to identify the appropriate salesperson and begin a live video chat between that colleague and the customer, enabling the client to ask questions directly. Both salespeople would have simultaneous access to the customer record and the call could have been instantly logged along with notes, saving time and effort, and resulting in a better customer experience.
Controlling shadow UC is not a one-time proposition. IT must be vigilant about uncovering apps before they become an issue. Consider the unearthing of shadow UC a unique opportunity to learn more about your users and what they need to optimally perform their jobs.
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