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Unified Communications: Beware of Cutting Corners

Unified Communications: Beware of Cutting Corners
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As with an IT project, you cut corners in a UC deployment at your own peril. So be careful.

As with an IT project, you cut corners in a UC deployment at your own peril. As with an IT project, you cut corners in a UC deployment at your own peril. When someone buys generic ketchup instead of Heinz or mid-row concert tickets instead of premium seats, it’s never the end of the world. There are plenty of ways to cut corners and costs with purchases that make little impact on the final result. But is the same true of unified communications (UC)?

Taken to an extreme, a company might try to get by with Skype, which is free, after all. Only it’s not. Companies need to know that their communications are secure, that calls can be centrally routed and managed. Can Skype interface with a call center or relay its presence information into productivity apps? No. Compared to buying a true enterprise-class UC solution, adopting Skype would mean cutting so many corners that you’d be left with a small circle.

At the outset, planning is key. Most businesses will start their UC adoption by detailing which UC technologies they want and when those pieces will be purchased and deployed.

“It’s key to ensure you take a unified approach to planning,” adds Matthew Woodget, senior product marketing manager at Microsoft. “Are you making new investments? Are you integrating old ones, like legacy PBX interoperability? What is your roadmap? Which departments need it the most? Do you have remote workers, a sales force, consultants or executives who would benefit?”

An equal amount of attention should be given to which technologies will be replaced, and then map out timelines for their extinctions within the organization. For example, companies can save a considerable amount of money simply by not renewing their PBX maintenance agreements. The amortization schedule on a PBX installation is already known, and the sensible time to do a rip-and-replace to UC voice services is at the end of this amortization period. In fact, if PBX-related support issues have been declining over time, it might make sense to let the last year or two of that amortization period switch to case-by-case support rather than a blanket contract. If so, the money saved can help subsidize the UC conversion.

As when making any change dependent on the corporate LAN, it’s important to make sure the network has more than enough bandwidth to handle all of the coming changes. According to Woodget, many companies skip this step, forgetting to right-size their infrastructure and then realizing after deployment that either they have to curtail some services or else rush in additional bandwidth, along with all of the disruption that such hurried jobs often entail.

Another common corner to cut with unified communications is training. It’s easy to assume (especially by IT and management, which tend to be more tech-savvy after hours) that because most UC technologies are widely enjoyed in the consumer world that everyone in the organization is up to speed on their use and details, and so training might be unneeded.

“UC systems can be complex ecosystems,” says Richard English, practice director, Strategic Communications Consulting, at Avaya Professional Services. “If users are not explicitly trained and guided on the productivity components of the system, they do not realize the maximum benefit that can be achieved. This is not the ‘telephone training’ of the past. Different classifications of users leverage the UC systems in different ways to satisfy their operating styles. Presence and mobility can offer different users different benefits based on their work habits.”

Training can also help cut down on the early formation of bad habits.

“Users tend to apply their initial exposure to a functionality or capability and utilize that procedure going forward,” says Avaya’s Richard English. “When not thoroughly understanding the capabilities and not adopting those procedures to the work habits of the individual, tremendous cost savings and productivity benefits are not realized.”

Another desired side effect of training is likely to be better adoption throughout the organization. Obviously, managers want high and enthusiastic UC adoption once deployment completes, but some cut corners can hinder this. Lack of training is one, but so is attention to physical and psychological aspects, such as comfort and familiarity.

“There are great advantages that come from the simplicity of communications tools that look and feel like the tools people are used to every day,” says Woodget. “This can help you cut down on training and readiness. With such new technologies come culture change, and it’s important to provide the necessary introduction into how to make the most of the new technology for  your employees.”

William Van Winkle has been a full-time tech writer and author since 1998. He specializes in a wide range of coverage areas, including unified communications, virtualization, Cloud Computing, storage solutions and more. William lives in Hillsboro, Oregon with his wife and 2.4 kids, and—when not scrambling to meet article deadlines—he enjoys reading, travel, and writing fiction.

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