Fitting UC into your business – five questions you should ask before buying

You’ve thought long and hard about it, and you’re finally ready to adopt unified communications (UC), including its foundation, Voice over IP.

November 29, 2011

By Bennie Langenhoven, Managing Executive, Tellumat Communication Solutions

You’re ready
You’ve thought long and hard about it, and you’re finally ready to adopt unified communications (UC), including its foundation, Voice over IP.

Part of the attraction is the rich application benefits of this technology, but you’re also painfully aware that its array of predecessors, including TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) switched telephony, won’t be around or dominant for that much longer.

The bottom line: whether your existing TDM PBX has broken down, doesn’t have the features you want, costs too much to maintain, or whether your business is growing and your existing technology won’t scale or isn’t worth scaling, there are numerous reasons to go UC.

But are you prepared?
Nevertheless, the migration you’re planning is a serious overhaul of your business communication systems, and some preparation is in order.

As you consider your alternatives, the following questions are pertinent:

• Which UC capabilities are most important to my business goals and stakeholders?
• Can I get mileage out of my existing equipment?
• How can I benefit from a cloud delivery model?
• What resources will be necessary to deploy and maintain the system?
• How quick is installation, and how flexible is provisioning?
• What will the cost be to acquire, implement and maintain the system over a period of five to seven years?

Mapping UC to business goals
A good UC integrator-consultant will give you the best possible advice about a solution that suits your company and your business goals.

For example, if your business places fluctuating demands on communications (seasonally or otherwise), you need ‘elastic’ infrastructure that scales up and down as needed. To accommodate the campaign/holiday call centre agents without being left over-provisioned when they’re gone again, a UC solution in the cloud could be considered.

If you have many mobile workers, the vendor with the best (most interoperable) mobility solution should get a look in.  And if you have very active business partners it may be helpful to you to set up multiple ‘zero-rated’ lines to them. And so on.

Sweating assets
Consider a phased approach. Your old TDM PBX can still be used to satisfy the needs of existing office-based users. As you grow, deploy UC and test the business case before you roll it out to the entire organisation. The business benefits of UC together with the total cost of ownership should outweigh your old TDM system.

Should you go cloud or not?
A cloud service offers many theoretical advantages over physical infrastructure, including flexible provisioning, zero capital costs and predictable ongoing charges (no extra charge for updates, upgrades or maintenance).

However, in the South African market the availability and cost of bandwidth is not making cloud solutions that attractive yet. Even in the North American market, hosted voice is accepted by the sub-50 user market, but not much in medium and large organisations.

A customer premises-based UC system that is reliable, easy to manage remotely and offered on a managed services basis provides virtually the same business benefits, but with the peace of mind that the system is on-site and can fail over to TDM lines if and when required.

Deploying and maintaining the solution
If you have the IT staff, you may want to deploy and manage your own (on-site) UC solution especially if it is a system that is easy to deploy and maintain.

You may want to consider a UC system with an architecture that allows you to deploy a hybrid on site-private hosted solution. Host some appliances or servers in a data centre, either for redundancy or disaster recovery, or, if you have a large number of small offices that need to be part of the UC system, for economies of scale.

Speed of installation and flexibility of provisioning
Cloud should by rights be quicker to deploy than customer premises equipment, since it only requires deploying IP phones and client software or using a Web browser to access the full UC feature.

But in reality, connectivity to the organisation needs to be increased with cloud, and there is typically a waiting time for this. In the case of an easy-to-install on-site UC solution, the appliances will come pre-programmed by the solutions provider, and installation will consist solely of rolling out phones and hooking up the server and appliances in the customer’s server room.

Think first
It is becoming obvious to many businesses that UC is the way of the future, but a healthy amount of planning can deliver unexpected benefits and avoid lost opportunity costs.

Before you jump at any solution, do your own research. Have a look at what Gartner and other analysts have to say about the vendor. Take a careful look at the market challengers as well as some of the niche players. Also look up commentary about the vendors in the international business press. 

 
* Tellumat is the South African distributor of ShoreTel systems.