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Best practices: Migrating to unified communications

Unified communications (UC) is new -- new to the vendors, new to the resellers/VARs and new to the enterprise. Although there are some recent success stories, there is not a lot of experience deploying UC. The press coverage so far is positive, but as with any implementation, there will be mistakes and gotchas.

Many of the problems in implementing VoIP/IP telephony (IPT) are now evident and can be avoided by following the best practices that have been developed. Moving to VoIP/IPT is really the first step in integrating IT and telecom. Many of the best practices discovered for VoIP/IPT implementation will also be valuable for UC migration.

The purpose of this tip is to provide a list of the anticipated UC best practices, some of which come from the VoIP/IPT deployment experiences. As more UC implementations occur, this list will continue to grow with those best practices unique to UC implementation.

Getting started on the road to UC begins with a review of the telecom and data infrastructures, mobile devices used, and application servers supporting Microsoft Exchange and Office Communications and Lotus Notes. UC solutions come in two flavors -- network-based and application-based. A decision has to be made before the UC commitment is finalized. Next, the use of hard IP phones and softphones must be determined -- either or both may be applicable. The best deployment is a phased introduction of the functions and features, not everything at once. First, select one business

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unit to use as a test bed and to help sell UC to the other business units.

"Best practices" is a term used to define recommendations that will increase the likelihood of success for a project and/or operation. It is a management concept comprising a list of considerations. It outlines more effective methods, processes or activities when attempting to deliver a particular outcome. The idea is that with the proper procedures, validations and testing, a project can be successfully completed with fewer problems and unanticipated complications.

UC migration best practices

Organization
  • Converge the IT and telecom staffs before embarking on a UC deployment.
  • Cross-train the IT and telecom staffs in each other's technology and language.
  • Obtain an enterprise buy-in from the business units that will be affected by the UC deployment. The delivery of UC is for these business units, not really for IT.
  • Have the business units and IT agree on the timing and schedule of the UC deployment.
  • Select one business unit as the first-user organization.

Infrastructure

  • Perform network capacity and performance evaluations.
  • Upgrade the data network for voice and video performance.
  • Verify that the network upgrades deliver the expected performance.
  • Upgrade the IT and telecom management systems so that they can properly manage the integrated UC environment.

Technology

  • Learn about Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), as this is a common protocol for the interface to the servers providing UC features.
  • Attend vendor-independent UC migration training.
  • Evaluate the security and management issues anticipated for UC.
  • Determine whether the UC offering will scale to the size of the enterprise.
  • Verify that the UC offering will fit into the IT plans for migrating to service-oriented architecture (SOA).
  • Keep the number of vendors low.
  • Standards are important, but understand that the standards will evolve over time and UC solutions/products should keep up with the standard changes.
  • As UC software components are changed by delivering new versions, be cautious -- interoperability may be impaired with the new version of software.
  • Once the vendor(s) is selected, send key IT staff members to the vendor-specific training.

Vendor/Reseller/VAR

  • Verify that the reseller/systems integrator/VAR is certified in UC by the product vendor(s).
  • Ensure that the certified reseller/systems integrator/VAR staff will be working on your installation.
  • Contact and visit sites where this reseller/systems integrator/VAR has implemented UC.

Integration phasing

  • Deploy VoIP/IPT before moving to UC.
  • Start with a pilot department, probably IT for each function, before deploying to the entire enterprise.
  • Consider implementing unified messaging and possibly presence as an intermediate step to full UC deployment.
  • Start with one set of features and one server at a time. Ensure that each function is stable before moving to the next function.
  • Start with the wired network first.
  • Deploy the wireless functions second.
  • Do not do upgrades for the sake of upgrades.
  • Provide adequate training for the users.
  • Market the capabilities of UC to the business unit's users. Do not assume the users will automatically want to use the UC functions.

This list of best practices and recommendations will continue to grow with the deployment of UC. Even if the IT staff does not need to follow all of the best practices suggested, they can be used as a checklist to consciously review many of the possible barriers to successful UC implementation.

About the author:
Gary Audin has more than 40 years of computer, communications and security experience. He has planned, designed, specified, implemented and operated data, LAN and telephone networks. These have included local area, national and international networks, as well as VoIP and IP convergent networks, in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia.

Related links:
Podcast: Unified communications: A practical approach
Article: Whose unified communications definition is right?
Article: Removing the roadblocks to unified communications

This was first published in October 2008

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