Unified Communications 101: Intro to UC

Your firm’s biggest client is on the phone. The deal of the decade is almost done. But there are two problems: she wants to speak to your sales director now to confirm the small print, and she needs the contract tomorrow. You can’t get through to Sales, and no one in Legal’s answering the phone. They must all be out for lunch. You don’t know where anyone is or who else could help, and now the deal looks less and less likely. Too bad your firm doesn’t use UC.

Unified communications (UC) could be the answer to problems like these. More and more organizations are blending networks, systems, and business applications and reaping the benefits of integrated channels for enterprise communications. And those benefits are clear: UC improves how employees collaborate, which in turn improves the bottom line.

Know today’s UC market leaders

Among the current plethora of UC providers, Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya, and Siemens lead the field, according to Gartner.

Avaya, which controls 12% of the world PBX market, provides a UC solution based on the Avaya Aura platform. This can be deployed in-house or as a virtualized solution, and the vendor also offers a turnkey option for mid-sized businesses. Available components support messaging, video, and contact centers, and Avaya has invested heavily in cloud technologies. Avaya is best known for telephony, however. Its Radvision SCOPIA videoconferencing software has only been available since the vendor’s acquisition of Radvision in 2012, and its other UC services are also relatively new.

Identified by Infonetics research as the UC provider with the greatest market share, Cisco also provides cloud and on-premise UC solutions. Cisco’s Unified Communications Manager is available via public cloud, private cloud, on-premise, or as a remote deployment or hybrid solution. With a huge range of options covering everything from email integration and web conferencing to messaging and mobile communications, Cisco offers an all-purpose UC suite. The complexity of Cisco’s offerings can make it difficult to understand what you need and what you’re getting, though.

If you currently use Microsoft for other parts of your network, consider Lync Server 2013, Microsoft’s UC platform. As you’d expect, Lync Server integrates with other Microsoft products, including Skype. Lync Server also offers online meetings, presence indicators, voice, video, and messaging. The platform is a popular choice for messaging, conferencing and chat. Telephony is a different story. According to research by Nemertes, while 71% of companies surveyed are evaluating or deploying Lync, only 11% use it for telephony. Additionally, since Microsoft doesn’t sell phones or networking solutions, you’ll have to procure those elsewhere. Choose a Lync Certified Support Partner like Verizon, which offers the network side, or NACR, which can help enterprises integrate Lync with Avaya for telephony infrastructure or design other multi-vendor implementations.

Siemens Enterprise Communications looks like a good option if you don’t want to buy a new PBX. The vendor’s OpenScape product received the top score in a mock RFP exercise at the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando earlier this year. It is also the enterprise communications market leader in Europe and Latin America. Unfortunately, this cost-effective solution has been slow to make inroads in the North American market, so if you’re based there, you could find it tricky to visit reference sites at the moment.

Whichever provider you choose, the most common UC starting point is VoIP. Once you’ve got that sorted, you can introduce or increase the use of other UC options, like messaging, presence, video, chat, and mobile collaboration tools.

Enhance UC with network monitoring services

Your UC deployment will take more than just some telephones and a chat client. Behind the scenes, your network will need a host of additional services. Having your employees hyperconnected and switched on to video all day can cause network performance issues, for example. Monitor network traffic to more effectively address incidents with solutions from vendors like AppNeta, Codima, and Empirix.

You’ll also need the tech to monitor your UC components themselves if you want to maintain performance at the level your teams require. Once staff start relying on presence indicators, screen sharing, and chat, there’s no going back. You’ll need solutions from companies like SolarWinds, Zyrion, or Ipswitch for that.

Finally, if you need in-depth or packet-level monitoring, you might have to upgrade your existing network monitoring tools and deploy solutions like those offered by WildPackets, Compuware, or NIKSUN.

Sound complicated? An independent integrator like NACR or Orange Business Services can cut through the jargon and customize the optimal UC deployment for your organization.

All in all, UC is more than simply buying some software to help your teams collaborate. Your whole network needs to be monitored and assessed so you can reap the maximum returns on an ongoing basis. Those returns can be well worth the investment.

Get the most out of your new UC deployment

With such a large range of vendors and solutions, it’s important to get something that works for your organization. That means really assessing what your teams need to get the best TCO and ROI for your buck.

First, start off by assessing whether your network is up to scratch, as most UC solutions are extremely sensitive to quality problems like latency and congestion. Then think about how UC is going to be used.

Today, mobility is probably the most crucial feature. Many enterprises need their employees’ mobile devices to act as extensions of the UC capability that they have at their desks. Vendors like Cisco and Avaya offer extensive mobile support, and a mobile-supported workforce means better ROI from employees on the road. Clarify your organization’s needs, thoughyour mileage may vary.

Also consider how your new UC deployment will evolve. Tying yourself to a single support vendor or hardware provider could impact your TCO in years to come, so you may want to opt for solutions with more flexibility. Siemens tops the bill for its ability to integrate with third-party solutions. In contrast, Gartner has expressed concern about the risk of Microsoft’s offering being a closed shop, with little support for non-Windows mobile platforms going forward.

Whatever your choices today, you’ll definitely want something that matures as UC grows up. We’ll see better video capabilities, more takeup of hybrid and cloud options, communication-enabled business processes, and a split between proprietary software and open-source standards. UC is a long-term commitment, so as new technology comes along and BYOD becomes more established, make sure your UC deployment can keep up.

The fast pace of today and tomorrow’s mobile, global economy waits for no one. To succeed, enterprise teams need the ability to connect and collaborate at a moment’s notice. UC can help them do that, as long as organizations make their purchases wisely, with an eye to their team members’ needs and their networks’ capabilities.

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