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A roadmap to real "unified" Communications & Collaboration

Tech Trends · Jan 19, 2017

Following a defined Unified Communications (UC) roadmap can help you maximize your current communications investments to drive collaboration, productivity and cost benefits as you move toward a single user interface, with a single point of management.

When I first sit down with companies, there is some knowledge of Unified Communications(UC), but the interpretations of what it is exactly vary from organization to organization.

Often, UC is often not what most companies think it is.

I hear the word video a lot. Instant messaging is also batted around quite a bit.

Put simply, UC is a single platform that supports all modalities (that’s what we call modes of communication in the UC space) – voice, video, collaboration, presence and instant messaging. It runs in the background and offers a single interface on the desktop for users, and in the background for management.

Modalities : modes of communication in the UC space – voice, video, collaboration, presence and instant messaging

Unified is the key word. It’s one solution, with one point of management.

Once we get to that point of consensus, I ask the question: what does UC look like in your organization five years from now? Most clients have a vision for unified communications, which includes investments they’ve already made in voice or video.

While they have an idea of what they want, they’re usually stuck on how to get there.

And that’s where the roadmap comes in.

Five steps to true unified communications

Many companies take a “best of breed” approach to their communications technologies. However, this strategy results in silos that are hard to integrate, use and manage. With a phased approach to UC, companies can progressively leverage all modalities – voice, video, collaboration, presence and instant messaging – from a common platform, protecting their existing investments while ultimately moving to true unified communications and collaboration.

Phase 1: deploy the application

At the start of most UC transformations, companies are concerned with safeguarding current investments in voice (including phone systems) and sometimes video. That’s why we begin with deploying a common application, which is usually instant messaging/presence. Using this approach, companies get a common tool to use across the organization, as well as an UC capability that can run independently of existing voice, video or collaboration platforms. It is a strategic way to introduce UC into the organization, build familiarity with it and encourage its adoption.

Phase 2: add additional UC capabilities

Once the UC application is deployed across the organization, adding or consolidating additional capabilities are the next steps. Conferencing/collaboration is usually the logical choice. Users gain the ability to schedule meetings or conduct ad hoc meetings, inviting anyone, from anywhere. Again, the existing voice or video investment is not being disrupted, but users get additional tangible UC benefits beyond instant messaging, with their own conference bridges, desktop sharing and document collaboration.

Phase 3: deploy to multiple devices

Mobility is a critical evolution for true UC. In phase three, the common UC application gets deployed to the devices that employees use to stay productive including laptops, tablets or smartphones. Now, UC extends beyond the office to enable users to communicate and collaborate from wherever they are working.

Phase 4: activate voice

In this phase, the voice modality of UC is not meant to replace an existing phone system (PBX) or voice platform; rather, it is used to enable new sites. Many companies opt to pilot enterprise voice capabilities to expose the support team and stakeholders to its capabilities and impacts. With lessons learned from the pilot, IT teams can modify implementation rules and schedules. The goal in this phase is to enable UC as a common platform for most modalities across new sites and for conferencing, instant messaging and presence across existing sites.

Phase 5: retire legacy platforms

At this point in time, the existing voice platform or phone system (PBX) is either ageing or failing. Rather than replacing or upgrading with new equipment, companies can make the final move to true UC by turning on enterprise voice across the organization. Once the UC voice capabilities have been adopted consistently throughout the organization, companies can confidently retire their other voice platforms. It is important to note that phase five does not happen overnight, and only makes sense when phases one to four have been adopted successfully.

Patience and guidance are the keys to success

While the urge to move to UC most commonly begins with an event – voice mail is reaching end of life or enabling a new site – implementing UC properly, ensuring adoption and maximizing its benefits takes time and patience.

Traditionally, most organizations are not structured behaviourally, culturally or technologically to support the common vision required for true unified communications. Organizations that take the time to think beyond technology and can adapt, be agile and work across groups and silos often realize greater success.

Because UC is an investment like any other – both a financial and cultural one – it is critical to find a partner that has a proven track record in implementing UC. The product approach does not work here. There is a lot of discovery and exploration required – your vision for UC, your culture, your employee behaviours, business value assessment and budget justification. Pick someone you trust to peel back the onion of your organization and guide you through a phased approach to true unified communications.

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Authored by:
Dave Hall