With most of my customers, the IT or voice teams are just beginning to investigate UC. I start every conversation the same way, with the same question: do you know what UC is?
Most people say yes, however the interpretations usually vary. For consensus’ sake, I provide my interpretation:
UC takes the often-siloed communications capabilities – voice, video, instant messaging, presence – and brings them together in one application, with one point of management.
Moving between capabilities becomes seamless, and communication becomes more integrated and interactive.
Inevitably, when we progress to the Unified Communications roadmap conversation, questions arise. And the questions are common across companies. So I thought it would be beneficial to highlight those questions and include my answers to help clear up any confusion and help you make more informed UC decisions.
#1: Can I reuse my current investments?
It depends on the investment. For desk or cordless phones, reuse for UC is rare. Phones usually end up being the most dated, and often incompatible with modern platforms. The effort, time and money required to reuse them doesn’t really pay off in user experience. I always recommend a full assessment of all communication assets including conference/boardroom video systems, paging systems, fax machines and even elevator phones. New UC phones often enable more effective ways to deliver the same capabilities, while building a nimble foundation for the future.
#2: How much bandwidth will we require?
Most reputable UC partners will offer tools to help you determine the amount of bandwidth usage. Inputs for the calculation include number of users at each site, capabilities being deployed (i.e. voice, video) and how the proposed platform plans to deliver those capabilities.
#3: What happens if a branch location experiences WAN downtime?
Reliability and uptime require proper design and planning. I recommend hardening the network connection from the branch office location to the location of the UC platform, which can be done in a variety of ways including diversified routing, wireless resiliency by failing over to LTE/Internet or relying on alternate carriers. This approach delivers consistency in the user experience, ongoing access to all UC capabilities and better performance for other applications.
#4: What are the costs?
There will be upfront costs. But there will also be significant hard and soft savings over time. As part of the UC roadmap exercise that I do with clients, I conduct a business value assessment to identify existing costs and determine the UC payback over time.
#5: Does each branch require a local trunk/phone line?
This question is quite common for companies used to legacy voice designs. Local trunks/phones lines enable vital capabilities including 911 and site survivability. However, in an UC context, the budget required to ensure survivability of communication capabilities is more effectively used to harden the network connection from the branch to the location of the UC platform (see #3). For 911 calls and local trunks, a centralized UC platform will most likely take advantage of the savings that Session Initiated Protocol (SIP) trunks provide. By enabling 911 service on SIP trunks, companies can address the nomadic nature of UC users. This means that an agency answers the 911 call and asks the user’s location. Once determined, the call is transferred to the 911 Centre that serves the caller’s actual location. There are also a number of other devices to make 911 calls from, such as smartphones, which offer almost ubiquitous availability. However, with a hardened network, centralized trunking and smartphone availability, local trunks and survivable appliances become less relevant.
#6: What’s the best and most secure way to enable mobility?
Many companies choose UC because employees can work anywhere they have an Internet connection. However, security must be strategic. Traditional firewall and VPN technologies can potentially impact voice and video quality. Conversely, modern UC applications can encrypt all signaling and data streams natively. The UC platform’s edge capabilities can enable secure authentication and access, with little delay to real-time streams.
#7: Can I integrate with Skype/Lync/Office 365?
The simple answer is yes. In addition to basic inbound integration, most voice platforms have strategies to integrate with Skype/Lync/Office365 at the desktop level (leveraging an application/widget). However, there are pitfalls that can include:
Broken communication for Lync/Skype: the voice/video capabilities are excluded from the Lync/Skype application. When interacting with federated companies (UC applications connected from one company to another) or those with consumer Skype, the communication path for voice/video fails.
Confusion when using smartphone/tablet: there is no integration application/widget available for mobile devices. As a result, two separate applications are required to enable all UC capabilities (Lync/Skype for instant messaging and presence and a separate voice application). A VPN application may also be required for the voice application to connect.
A heavy lift for support: if there are issues, support teams must investigate two separate platforms and the desktop integration application, making support calls more complex and issues more difficult to resolve.
As a result of these pitfalls, I tend to advise my clients away from cobbling together a best of breed UC strategy using different vendor platforms for each capability. The whole premise of UC is to deliver all capabilities – voice, video, IM and presence – from a single application on any device, with the ability to deploy and support using a single pane of glass.
#8: What about support?
Any help desk supporting UC capabilities requires a breadth of knowledge. A UC solution is made up of many parts:
Services: Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) trunks, MPLS WAN networks
Infrastructure: data switches/routers, security, firewalls
Devices: headsets, phones, room systems
Even basic triage requires fluency across the traditional silos. It is also critical to establish clear escalation paths. Your UC partner can support you in supporting your UC solution.
#9: Does the cloud make sense?
Cloud-based UC solutions definitely simplify support (see #8). You’re also guaranteed the most up-to-date platform, as well as 24/7 monitoring by qualified, trained staff. Most companies that choose cloud for UC are able to reallocate staff currently supporting best of breed communication capabilities. However, it is important to consider whether an OPEX model fits with your financial structure.
#10: Will I eliminate long distance costs?
Not entirely. Long distance costs will lessen because interoffice communication will be data network, rather than PSTN-based. In addition, by introducing presence and IM, your employees will be making fewer calls to locate colleagues or subject matter experts. If you enable federation to other companies, you can replace regular phone calls via PSTN with UC calls over the Internet. For calls made via the PSTN, the SIP Trunk service may come with free calling within boundaries – either provincial, national or North American. These boundaries are service provider dependent – not all offer the same capabilities