Higher mobility and increasing demand for collaborative resources in the workplace are highlighting the deficiencies of legacy phone systems. Traditional telephony is expensive to buy and expensive to maintain. As a result, businesses are transitioning toward IP-based unified communications. But if the network migration isn't managed properly, unified communications can overwhelm networks and affect application performance. Vasili Triant from ShoreTel Australia outlines strategic tips to avoid the pitfalls in transitioning to IP-based unified communications without stretching IT resources and budgets.
Legacy phone systems are effectively the single largest roadblock in creating higher workplace productivity. Increasingly, employees are seeking the resources to work remotely and want to be able to collaborate where and when they choose. However, IT departments are short on staff and budget to make these demands happen as quickly and efficiently as they would like. Add increasing layers of IT complexity and network needs to the challenge, and it's easy to see why CIO’s are finding it tough to create new paths to productivity and cost containment.
In response, there is a global-wide transition toward IP-based unified communications (UC) systems to promote higher workplace productivity through a rich, collaborative experience and do so within tight budget parameters. But while UC can enhance business processes, it can also overwhelm networks, affect application performance, and require new policies and planning if the network migration isn't managed adequately
The quest is to untangle the complexities of transitioning to IP-based UC systems without overtaxing IT resources or budgets. The following are five tips to eliminate the complexities. They cover the critical criteria businesses must consider when changing their communications systems to IP-based UC systems.
Tip No. 1: Adopt a "metaphorical aspic" strategy Legacy time-division multiplexing (TDM) systems are costly and difficult to maintain. It may appear safer to migrate by gradually upgrading the legacy system, but many IT managers have discovered that it is usually more costly (and certainly more complicated) than deploying new systems. The best approach is to seal off the old systems in "metaphorical aspic" and cease investment in them. Legacy systems can be connected using trunks to the new UC system, and off-system extensions unify the dialling plan. Another step is to decommission the legacy voicemail system and connect to the UC system. The successful manager then proceeds to pour "metaphorical aspic" on their legacy collection of TDM systems, preserving them in a natural state and then bridging them to the IP-based UC system. They can then be retired at will, either individually or in groups.
Tip No. 2: Accept your network as a known unknown The pride CIO’s have for their networks can sometimes interfere with the need to ensure network bandwidth and priority for UC traffic. UC brings a new set of real-time demands on a network and UC adoption places the network in a mission-critical role. Even with a new and expensive network, voice is especially sensitive to jitter and packet loss, so understanding network requirements for voice is critical. Inspecting, updating and configuring a network can help eliminate typical problems such as one-way audio, poor voice quality or disconnecting applications. Most networking and UC vendors offer services, tools and training to bring the network and staff up to speed.
Tip No. 3: Count your nines Legacy TDM systems did an excellent job of delivering high availability (that is, "five nines" or 99.999 per cent). As vendors developed UC systems, IT tools and servers were used as the platform. However, these systems typically deliver 99.9 per cent or 99.99 per cent — in other words, only three nines or four nines. A UC system built and delivered with these tools is 10 to 100 times less reliable than its legacy-based predecessor. Most UC vendors have addressed this issue and can provide enough redundancy to meet reliability requirements, albeit at additional cost and complexity. When evaluating a UC system, the IT manager must ask the vendor to take them through the system component by component and ensure that the UC system meets enterprise-level reliability requirements.
Tip No. 4: Toss your users a bone User adoption of a UC system is driven by ease of use, improved efficiency and "fun factor." Enterprise cost savings are simply not enough. Removal of a legacy TDM system inevitably causes user disruption. An IT manager who adopts a strategy of a simple "rip and replace" takes away the familiar but offers nothing in return. Providing some popular, modern UC functionality such as Windows Office integration, visual voice mail, presence, chat, and mobile integration makes the move to UC a welcome move forward.
Tip No. 5: Have room to grow An important evaluation criterion is a sensible growth path. Well-engineered UC systems are modular and designed for expansion at the customer’s pace. A system that requires forklift upgrades every time the company experiences a growth spurt is certain to entangle the IT manager in complexity that is costly, difficult to upgrade and hard to justify.
Moving forward Essentially, the key to a successful deployment is understanding the requirements for delivering toll-quality voice and UC capabilities over an organisation's network infrastructure and then appropriately planning for, choosing and deploying the right UC solution. UC continues to deliver on the promises of reduced cost, improved efficiency and productivity gains. The time to take advantage of this workplace enhancing technology is now.
Vasili Triant is one of Australia’s experienced IP telephony business specialists. He has owned, operated and divested telecommunications services companies in the US, and served as a ShoreTel business development head in the US mid-west. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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