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 unified communications deployment may be too much to tackle in one fell swoop.
- 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.
Senior AnalystBurton Group
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.
- 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."
- 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.
Senior Vice PresidentYankee Group
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."