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How to consolidate unified communications platforms

Unified communications providers now offer several features across their platforms. Organizations that align with a single vendor could cut costs and simplify deployments.

IT leaders have dramatically shifted their unified communications vendor strategies in recent years, moving from a top-of-the-line model to aligning with a single strategic partner and its ecosystem. In this primary vendor approach, customers migrate as many UC applications as possible onto the vendor's platform and supplement with partners to fill in any remaining holes or add additional functionality.   

According to the Nemertes Research 2016-2017 Unified Communications and Collaboration Benchmark, 43% of organizations are consolidating their unified communications platforms and providers, or will do so by the end of this year.

Two factors are driving this trend. First, unified communications platforms now offer a broad feature set. By comparison, years ago, companies bought separate platforms for web conferencing, telephony, video conferencing and instant messaging (IM). But today's UC on-premises and cloud services generally offer a broad set of features, which often include new capabilities, such as team messaging, analytics and contact center. 

Secondly, IT leaders have been frustrated for years at the inability of vendors to agree on interoperable approaches for everything from instant messaging to endpoints. With a growing focus on reducing operational costs, buying from a single vendor and its ecosystem theoretically offers the opportunity to simplify the user experience, reduce deployment and operational complexity, and avoid finger-pointing when you need to troubleshoot a problem.

Unified communications platforms: Microsoft vs. Cisco

Most organizations, when looking to consolidate vendors, start from the end user and work their way out. So, a company using Skype for Business on the desktop for IM, voice and video chat would likely make Skype for Business the basis of their consolidation effort. Companies using Cisco Jabber or Avaya's desktop applications would likely start from there.

In this video, see how unified communications providers and customers are consolidating in different ways.

In the Nemertes benchmark study, of the 43% of organizations consolidating their unified communications platforms and providers, 54% were going with Microsoft, while 31% picked Cisco. The Cisco companies tend to have already made significant investments in Cisco voice, video and messaging applications. The Microsoft customers start with Skype for Business -- or Lync -- on the desktop and consolidate from there.

Once you've picked your primary platform, the next step is to consolidate as many duplicative services as possible to improve the user experience and reduce redundant costs. This might entail turning off older web or audio conferencing platforms or services, which could save money in the process. 

After, or in conjunction with consolidation, you'll need a strategy for integrating the remaining portions of your UC environment that you aren't consolidating. Examples include legacy video conferencing room systems, voicemail and depreciated applications for which migrating might prove too costly.

Don't forget performance management tools

Another area to address during a consolidation of unified communications platforms is operational and performance management. Larger, older companies might have dozens of highly customized tools used for everything from provisioning phone numbers to managing locations for 911 call routing. Performance management tools may be customized to support legacy vendors and may require upgrading or replacing to support new capabilities from the converged vendor.  

The last key to success is having a program to support end-user awareness and adoption for the new capabilities that you are delivering. Nemertes found companies that have a formal program that consists of marketing capabilities to employees, coupled with formal training, see higher adoption of applications and report significantly higher self-rated IT success. 

These user awareness and adoption programs help people realize the value of the change and how the new consolidated environment can improve their ability to succeed.

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