Three tips for UC deployment

Unified communications (UC) has moved far beyond buzzword status, with major vendors -- Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Nortel, Siemens and a host of others -- offering tools to enable convergence and tie communications into business processes.

But the landscape is still confusing to many enterprise IT folks, who struggle to weigh the cost and necessity of UC solutions while also devising an attack strategy.

Burton Group senior analyst Mark Cortner and Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president with Yankee Group, offer three tips to get enterprises rolling on their unified communications strategy.

"The entry point into the UC discussion is commonly concurrent with a migration to IP telephone, an IP PBX or a next-generation voicemail solution," Cortner said, noting that legacy PBXs, for many companies, are reaching the end-of-life stage, and traditional voicemail solutions are in need of an update to some form of unified messaging.

Where the confusion starts, however, is whether to attack IP telephony and unified communications as an all-in-one upgrade or to parcel it out into a series of projects. The former, Cortner said, can work well for the SMB, where "doing both at once isn't so difficult." For the large enterprise, however, an upgrade to IP telephony rolled into a

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unified communications deployment may be too much to tackle in one fell swoop.



  2. There are many productivity benefits, but you still need funding to get the project rolling, according to Kerravala. Consider the various areas of communications spending and figure out the two or three key areas of UC that would provide the most cost savings and use this as a starting point. For example, when traveling overseas, the cost of making calls from a cell phone is extremely high. A soft phone and unified messaging client could eliminate almost all those costs.

    Start the migration with no more than one or two [UC technologies] at the same time.
    Mark Cortner
    Senior AnalystBurton Group
    Kerravala points out that productivity improvements are very hard to quantify because they normally involve some sort of process change. While the vendors talk about it all the time, it's just not that easy to sit down with someone and discuss how UC can alter a process and what the impact is. Start with a few technically savvy, high-impact users and discuss with them how having disparate communications systems hampers them. Apply UC to those very specific parts of the process first, and then look to expand when you have some examples.

    Cornter agrees. "Start the migration with no more than one or two [UC technologies] at the same time." For many companies, he adds, IP telephony is still the most clear-cut path to unified communications.


  3. Cortner suggests that companies ensure their migration roadmap include current open standards such as SIP and SIMPLE and that they shy away from protocols like H.323, which is still in wide use among major PBX and IP PBXs.

    "You want telephone components to utilize SIP," Cortner said. "Not all features in H.323 are necessarily available in SIP."


  4. Enterprises are also stumped about whether it's best to go with a single, strategic vendor or play mix-and-match with various best-of-breed solutions. For example, a company can choose Cisco for its IP telephony, unified messaging, mobility and audio conferencing while selecting IBM or Microsoft for its email, instant messaging and Web conferencing.

    "When you start looking at vendor solutions out there, it's possible to go with a strategic vendor or single vendor solution," Cortner said. "Or go with a best of breed."

    It's important to ensure interoperability among varying best-of-breed components to secure the investment and be prepared for future integration.
    Zeus Kerravala
    Senior Vice PresidentYankee Group
    In general, enterprises already have a strategic vendor, which will influence the direction they take with unified communications. The single, strategic vendor approach can get complicated when their offerings start encroaching on the market areas of other strong vendors. In the Cisco example, the networking giant has aggressive UC plans and an equally aggressive product roadmap to address the continuum of UC applications, but that could infringe on the areas where Microsoft and IBM have already found their strengths. And getting the competing vendors to play nice with one another can present interoperability hurdles, Cortner said.

    Kerravala adds that with the number of major vendors making plays in the UC space, it's important to ensure interoperability among varying best-of-breed components to secure the investment and be prepared for future integration.

    Companies should "look at who is ultimately going to have the best experience from a user perspective," Cortner said -- and at what pace [vendors] will push for integration with one another.

    "Push the vendors as hard as possible on federation," warns Kerravala. "It's extremely important that the various vendor platforms work seamlessly together, and a user community that simply accepts this will push most vendors into doing the work to truly federate. By taking a stand now, you'll be much better off in the long run."


This was first published in September 2007

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