Unified Communications (UC), is rightfully making its mark on the agenda of IT decision makers, as organisations recognise the benefits of driving efficiency and effective communication. But UC migration and deployment require a degree of due care and attention, as there are inherent technological and cultural challenges.

While these challenges are not hard to overcome, it’s critical for the IT department to fully address these at the start of the project and understand the extent of the UC project that is being undertaken.

The technological considerations

Moving from a traditional PBX system to a UC platform can be a complex migration and one that should not be taken lightly. Beyond a simple look at retaining SLAs across the organisation, there are other aspects that need to be reviewed to assess the integration options and determine whether to retain the current PBX platform or migrate to a new one.

For example, it may be necessary to consider the use of media gateways to normalise SIP protocols and ensure efficient call routing, as well as minimise hardware and licence costs. SIP trunks for PSTN are also an option for enabling smooth migration. Regardless of the approach, it should always be geared towards retaining normal service across all areas of the business throughout the process.

Growing bandwidth demands and the pressure this will put on the network once UC makes it easier to share content and data across the network. High-definition video is becoming increasingly prevalent and there is little doubt that video will feature heavily on the next generation network. It’s not only the LAN where video use will grow either, as it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2016.

This represents a challenge for UC platforms aiming to support multi-party services on any device, and implementations must consider the impact of this data-explosion on performance and functionality.

Having the right technical skills set in the IT department is also a key consideration. The introduction of voice and video brings technologies that require a knowledge base covering legacy PBX, media gateways and voice-enabled communications to achieve the best value design and execution. These are often not found within the typical IT department, so it may be necessary to consider additional support or resource to manage the migration programme.

Cultural change

Deploying UC is more than a technical change. The growing use of video in communications exemplifies how cultural shifts in consumer uses of technologies are driving transformation in the workplace. Yet the deployment of UC turns this notion on its head, as it demands a cultural change that needs to be initiated from within the organisation.

The true value of any UC platform will only be realised if users understand the benefits it can offer and how these can transform their working practises in a positive way. Consider running a pilot within the business as a proof of concept, to test the platform against a smaller group with minimal investment.

This approach will enable the IT department to identify any user concerns or possible barriers to adoption before a full rollout, so detailed designs can be put together that meet each area of the business, with a comprehensive programme of training to maximise adoption.

Choosing the right platform

Migration to a UC constitutes a break from the norm and the implications will differ depending on which UC platform is selected. For example, an organisation operating a Microsoft environment will encounter challenges when introducing Microsoft Lync, which involves migrating to high availability voice features for what is likely to be the first time.

In this environment, it is essential to conduct a review of the current PBX system, taking note of the infrastructure design requirements and SLAs to ensure that the system can support voice as an ‘always on’ service.

Likewise, while Lync offers a vast range of communication and collaboration benefits, there is no built in call centre functionality within the platform, so it’s essential to consider how to provision effectively for the contact centre and customer service teams as part of the migration. This model differs from Open Touch platforms, which in most cases contain a variety of customer service and conversation manager applications.

It must also be decided whether high availability is in line with the current business continuity plans; it’s great to have that ability but it must be managed effectively. This is a consideration with Alcatel-Lucent Open Touch for example. With built-in presence and status information on all connected devices, the ‘always-on’ culture must be adhered to with post-PBX systems such as this, which focus heavily on multi-device capabilities.

Unified communications can transform an organisation, uniting communications in a business, so that email, IM, calendars, voice calling, desktop sharing and interactive video are integrated and consolidated in a single platform and made available to users from anywhere and any device. It not only transforms and simplifies internal communications, but contact with customers, clients and suppliers is streamlined.

But integrating UC into an organisation is not without its challenges and each UC platform has its own unique features and deployment considerations. IT departments must research these carefully and consider their migration plans, skill set requirements and cultural challenges in order to gain the full benefit of UC.