Developing a Unified Communications Strategy For Your Business - Part I

By

IT folks tend to view Unified Communications (UC) more as server/server or client/server environment and focus more on the underlying protocols and systems rather than on the needs of the people who ultimately use the solution daily. The real goal of UC should be to improve business results by enabling better, more productive person-to-person communications at the same or lesser cost. A fast, flexible, and feature-rich UC solution helps your business operate more efficiently, your employees collaborate more productively, service your customers better, work with suppliers more effectively, generate better business results and ROI, become a more potent competitor in the marketplace, and grow revenues.

Here's a list of three market proven keys to building a useful, actionable Unified Communications strategy to power your business:

  1. Start with the End Game in Mind 

    There are many drivers for implementing Unified Communications projects. Common ones are either short term and tactical (i.e. the need to replace an aging PBX system or upgrade the current LAN infrastructure) or long term and strategic (i.e. the need for better business processes). In either case, it’s critical to begin by assessing the current situation by identifying what’s holding people back and/or dragging down your businesses productivity. These impediments usually have their roots in problem processes, inadequate tools, or outmoded methods of business operations. Determine if these “pain points” can be alleviated with a UC approach. 

    Keep in mind that Unified Communications doesn’t just mean Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). For example, if your business relies on a mix of paper faxes, e-mail, and the receptionist’s pink phone slips, then deploying a UC-based messaging center solution can end the frustration of missed customer calls, lost documents, and miscommunication. Embarking on a UC project without a clear concept of what business issues are plaguing the company and how employees interact with each other, customers, and suppliers increases the possibility of choosing the wrong solution that runs up long term costs and frustrates everyone.

  2. Think All-the-Time Communications, not just Real Time 

    Unified Communication offers new, more convenient services enabled by the fusion of IP and voice technologies. The link of communications tools and technologies into business processes can drive significant business results and a competitive advantage. Business leaders should realize that communications have evolved from being “real time” to being “all the time”. With find-me-follow-me applications employees can no longer miss calls when they are not sitting at their desks. Mobile workers can quickly and easily forward their office phone to another device like a smart phone on a temporary basis, enabling them to conduct business from the road or a remote location while keeping their office number unchanged. Unified Communication solutions excel at providing strong call management capabilities and empower the business to positively control the utility of its communications environment.

    Personal communications have become intensely multi-modal with the proliferation of IP-enabled desk phones, smart phones with SIP clients, laptop soft phones, and even emerging tablet devices like the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Avaya Flair, or RIM’s new Blackberry Playbook. Vendors are coupling these innovative hardware platforms with embedded UC software extensions to popular e-mail/calendaring applications like Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Sametime to deliver a wide variety of productivity and collaboration enhancing solutions including:

    • Click-to-Dial
    • Visual Voice Mail
    • Presence
    • Text and video instant messaging
    • Seamless voice, video, web conferencing
    • Single mailbox for E-Mail, fax, and voice mail messaging
    • Auto attendant and ACD
    • Contact management
    • Collaboration tools include desktop sharing, virtual white boards, Wikis, web portals, blogs, intranets, and RSS feeds
    • Social Networking
    • Contact Management

    All these tools enable geographically dispersed team members to work quickly and effectively together to solve business problems.

  3. Should I Rent or Buy a UC solution?

    Survey the marketplace for vendors, platforms, and technologies that will help your business meet its UC goals. It’s important to focus on the business problems that need to be solved and not to immediately jump on the latest product buzz; otherwise you may end up purchasing some cool products that don’t really meet your requirements. A key choice to make is whether to rent or buy a UC solution. 

    Hosted UC solutions offer a fee-for-service model that reduces or eliminates the need to spend significant up-front capital for new equipment. Hosted UC providers also provide system maintenance, administration, and operations. Customers who opt for Hosted UC solutions also protect themselves from outdated technology and equipment compatibility issues as those are transferred to the Hosted Provider. 

    Premises based UC solutions can be a valid choice as well because they provide a rich set of features, nifty peripherals such as wireless IP phones, and in many cases, industry-specific software capabilities that add business value in verticals such as hospitality, health care, and law. Many vendors have added support for SIP trunking to their IP PBX platforms providing enormous flexibility to the business customer for managing presence, fail over, remote officing, and call control applications.

In Part II of Developing a Unified Communications Strategy, we’ll take a look at the last two key strategy considerations: developing the business case for UC and crafting an implementation roadmap.