As much as we'd like unified communications solutions to be simple, they tend to be pretty complex. Market acceptance and deployment of these solutions hasn't met business expectations, in large part because of the complexity involved.
As companies begin their UC journeys, they become aware of various challenges, including the fact that not everything works seamlessly together. UC is not a single product, but a solution that comprises many different elements and components from various vendors, which don't always play nice with each other. Trying to get all the moving pieces to work together, while managing and maintaining the different vendor products, can be a nightmare.
UC solutions generally involve a new or existing IP PBX, mobile capabilities, conferencing solutions, conflicting clients (like Lync and Jabber), not to mention integration with the enterprise's business processes and applications.
Simplifying complex unified communications solutions
How can organizations reduce the complexity? There's no one simple answer, but here are some guidelines to start with:
- Work with a trusted systems integrator or value-added reseller that has experience integrating the various elements of a solution and working with the different vendors and products. They can help deploy the system and ensure that all the pieces work together and with your existing infrastructure and applications.
- Understand what resources are already in place (including network infrastructure, security, storage, PBX/VoIP, etc.), determine which resources work toward your UC agenda and learn what new applications, systems and devices will be required. When selecting these new elements, make sure they are easy to use, interoperable, flexible and reliable. Try to work with vendors that already partner with your primary existing vendors and with vendor products that have APIs and plug-ins to make it easier to integrate different vendors' products.
- Start with a pilot trial prior to a full-blown UC deployment to demonstrate the solution quickly. Prior to the roll out, evaluate whether there is any impact on the network infrastructure and what additional hardware may be needed. Where possible, try to leverage existing infrastructure and desktop applications. You may discover that you have to make some changes to your infrastructure, and it's important to deal with this earlier, rather than later.
- Don't "boil the ocean." Start your UC deployment small, and grow gradually. Perfect UC interoperability with one or two departments or locations; work out any kinks and gradually add more departments or locations.
- Engage stakeholders early on. Include line-of-business representatives, IT and telecom managers and end users from admins to CxOs. The earlier end users can be brought into the planning process, the better. They can identify issues that the IT staff may not consider, saving you from problems later on.
- If at all possible, work with a single UC vendor. This makes it easier for small and medium-sized businesses, although it's practically impossible for large organizations, especially those that are geographically dispersed.
- Train your users. The act of introducing something simple like presence could easily get complicated. Users need to understand what all the red and green lights showing up in Outlook mean, for example. To adequately prepare users for the new technology, plan some hands-on and online training -- both before and during deployment.
By their very nature, unified communications solutions involve some complexity. By following the guidelines above, you will reduce some of the problems and make your UC deployment simpler for your organization and end users.