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Organizing for unified communications

Unified communications (UC) has the ability to revolutionize your enterprise -- if you know the keys to a successful implementation. Read Gary Audin's suggestions before you and your staff consider a UC deployment.

Unified communications -- what is it and how will it benefit the enterprise? What are the IT and telecom organizations doing to successfully implement UC? Technology is a tool. UC is a new tool (or even a collection of tools, depending on how you implement it). Will the enterprise organization(s) be ready for this new set of tools and multiple system and product integration? UC requires even more organizational convergence than VoIP did. New vendors, like those with collaboration tools, will be involved.

Unified communications implementation is a cultural change, not just a new way of building a better communications environment. The rapid integration of what were separate technologies into a unified environment affects IT management and staff. Can you future-proof the IT organization? Modified IT organizations, cross training and knowledge transfer in multiple technologies have become mandatory.

The organization structure and staffing necessary for successful implementation is usually limited. Although existing organizational structures may have a common management point in the CIO, the staff is segregated by technology -- they operate in silos. Data network personnel are generally unfamiliar with UC and collaboration technologies. They also have little knowledge of the servers and applications running on their data networks. Applications personnel have limited knowledge of data networks and need knowledge of the collaboration products they will be operating for UC. New applications will emerge that will be developed and installed. Mobile users add to the complexity and skills requirements. Those responsible for security must understand all of these technologies. These are the issues of organization readiness for UC deployment.

Managing these segregated groups presents a challenge. Management is not required to bridge the ignorance gap among these groups. Management must make the business decisions justifying and promoting the UC technologies. It is common that management is removed from the nuts and bolts of technology. They will have a difficult time adjusting to the major decisions and challenges that will occur with a UC environment, independent of whose UC definition is used.

Elizabeth Herrell, vice president at Forrester Research, has published documents dealing with the staffing issues related to UC and evaluating the business value of UC. She provided the following insights about migrating to UC:

  • Some of UC functionality can be delivered when implementing IP telephony (IPT), but it is a good idea to implement IPT first.
  • Conferencing over a data network will have to be well managed for the traffic. It will be difficult to predict the conferencing impact on the data network. The data network staff will have to monitor and control the traffic and possible abuses. For example, leaving a conference up when not in use so that the connection does not need to be established another time during the workday.
  • A staffing issue will be the lack of UC knowledge with UC's conferencing, collaboration and presence capabilities. The IT staff should develop pilot installations to see how UC will be used in their enterprise.
  • The IT staff will most likely have to deal with two or three vendors, not one, to implement UC. One may be a voice vendor, the second a collaboration vendor, and possibly an application vendor.
  • The choice of these vendors will be as much a policy decision as a technical decision because the vendor relationship will have to last for many years.

I have produced a set of suggestions to help the IT organization implement UC successfully.

  • Focus on business needs.
  • Remember that UC is designed to increase user productivity.
  • All staff members must appreciate and understand each technology.
  • All staff members must talk the same language.
  • Set expectations right at the beginning of the UC project.
  • There must be one overall master of the UC project. Don't let one technology group lead. Select an independent project manager.
  • Form a blended interdependent team early.
  • Admit that the data network may not support the UC traffic or produce the necessary reliability.
  • Use a formal systems acquisition process for the needs analysis, RFP preparation and vendor scoring methodology.
  • Include testing and assessment in the project.
  • Train, train, train the user.

Good technology itself is not enough for success. The IT organization can be ready or it can try to solve the implementation problems as they happen. Staff and organization readiness can avoid the nightmares. Remember how easy to implement IP telephony was going to be, according to the vendors a few years ago.

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