Unified Communications – Not Your Father’s Telephone System!
The world of telecommunications has changed drastically over the past few years. That’s become more apparent to business executives who are now faced with replacing older “traditional PBX” systems. Why now? Many of today’s telephone systems were replaced in the late 1990’s as a precaution based on fears of Y2K vulnerabilities. Many systems installed during that time, e.g. Nortel, Avaya are now 15-20 years old and are classified by manufacturers as “end of life”. This poses a significant business risk to CIOs who suddenly find themselves vulnerable to business disruption and economic loss if critical communications to customers are suddenly out of service. There is a very real need to replace them and the process to replace them can be a daunting task both in scope of work and cost.
There is good news. Today’s telephone systems are no longer standalone boxes connected with miles of copper cables. Current telephony applications are part of a company’s IT infrastructure that run on servers connected via data networks. Unified Communication platforms now combine voice, data, video, wireline and wireless communications on a single platform that allows integrated messaging, collaboration and advanced call processing critical to customer service and contact center applications. These systems can be premise based or hosted. The challenge businesses face lies in the integration of these traditional voice applications with previously standalone data and messaging services.
Providers of Unified Communications typically come from either the “telephony” or the “IT” world and therefore carry with them certain strengths and weaknesses. For example, Avaya’s Call Center experience is apparent in the complex world of Contact Centers while Microsoft’s Skype For Business (previously named Lync) leverages their e-mail/messaging capabilities in delivering collaboration applications.
So, where do you start? There are many issues to consider when replacing “Your father’s telephone system”. The path you take to understand the impact of these issues and define your requirements will help you select the right platform and vendor. We recommend that you cover four basic areas: IP Readiness, Data Gathering, Requirements Development and RFP Process. This is our framework for identifying the right platforms, features and vendors to make your UC implementation a success.
IP Readiness Assessment: The IP readiness assessment is an essential step to identifying any components of your current network that will need to be addressed before you can implement a Unified Communications system. Since UC systems are run over your data network, you will need to consider the condition of your current network and if it is suitable for supporting voice applications. A typical IP readiness assessment will cover physical cable plant, switch and routing infrastructure and bandwidth utilization. The benefit of this process is to identify any limitations in your data network so that you can develop a plan to address them before you implement your new UC system.
Data Gathering: The data gathering process is your opportunity to collect all of the data you will need to make sure your requirements are well defined. During this process, you should conduct interviews with key stakeholders to understand their expectations. You should identify features and applications that would be helpful to your organization. It is also important take this opportunity to develop a complete list of phone quantities and types in order to make sure you have an accurate inventory of what needs to be replaced. The benefit to this process will be an accurate understanding of what is required.
Requirements Development: Now that you have collected your data, you need to put it in a format that can be used as a measuring stick to compare systems and vendors. We recommend documenting the detailed requirements for each element of your new system and establishing a weight scale to highlight the importance of each requirement. The benefit to this process is clear visibility to the requirements and their importance. This process is critical to ensuring that you get what you need.
RFP Process: Now you are ready to ask vendors for proposals. If you have completed the above steps successfully, you will be well positioned to review vendor proposals with complete focus on how they will address your specific requirements. Since you have taken the time to develop accurate inventories of what needs to be replaced, you can be confident that the pricing provided by your vendors will cover all of your requirements. The benefit of this process is that the vendor sales process will be very efficient when each of the vendors knows exactly what you are looking for and that they are one of several proposing.
Once you have decided on a vendor and a platform, the key to a successful implementation lies in understanding current business needs, network capabilities and application requirements. Unified Communications platforms will become a continued source of productivity enhancement and competitive advantage.
Implementing a Unified Communications System can be a daunting task both in scope of work and cost. For assistance with planning & implementing your Unified Communications System, contact Partner Consulting!