Unified Communications Without Tears

It's easy to make mistakes deploying unified communications systems. Here are the lessons learned by four IT managers.

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"The hardest part about planning [a deployment] is learning how the system works," Massey says. A staff that fully understands a UC system's structure and its user requirements is prepared to identify and remedy just about any rollout problem that may arise.

But acquiring the necessary knowledge takes time, Massey adds. "There's a discovery process that I would say takes several weeks," he says. Yet Massey feels that such an extended effort is necessary if an enterprise is absolutely serious about avoiding a UC breakdown. "Perfection doesn't just happen," he notes.

In with the old

Jim O'Brien, director of technical services at St. Louis-based ReHabCare Group Inc., a physical rehabilitation services provider, says he was able to prevent start-up glitches, reduce end-user confusion and cut costs by bringing some of his enterprise's existing technologies -- such as its PBX system and phones -- into the new ShoreTel Inc. UC system.

"PBX phone systems come with line cards ... so we were able to take the old phone system and then integrate it with the new [one] so they could talk to one another," O'Brien says. "It allowed us to do a much more graceful transition, rather than trying to come in and replace 450 phones in one weekend."

Bob Haldane, operations analyst at Payworks Inc., a payroll services firm in Winnipeg, Manitoba, says he avoided deployment problems by going with a UC system that was easy to design and manage. For Haldane, this meant steering clear of Linux-based offerings. "We don't really employ very many Linux experts here," he says. After considering various options, Haldane ultimately settled on Windows-based UC technology from Objectworld Communications Corp. "It's allowed us to feel comfortable by not sending us into a situation where we would be in over our heads," he says.

Haldane also felt it was important to find a vendor that would commit to fast and reliable support. "If something does go wrong, you want to make sure you've got a lifeline you can call," he says. "You want them to get you back up and running if it's something that you can't figure out in-house."

Info-Tech's Angl notes that poor training often sends new UC deployments into chaos as confused end users flail away in an environment they don't fully understand. "When you're implementing this end-user-facing technology, certainly having a help desk and support processes in place -- ensuring that end users have access to training as part of the deployment -- is critical," he says. "There's not much value or impact if users don't adopt these new [UC] features."

Reid says the only significant glitches he experienced were the result of poor training. "We absolutely learned the lesson the hard way, and if I had a do-over, that would be the one I'd want," he says. "I really would start from the beginning with extensive user training."

Edwards is a freelance writer in Gilbert, Ariz. Contact him at jedwards@gojohnedwards.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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