UC vendors don't like to admit how complicated it is to deploy today's systems. Follow our plan to get the most out of your UC deployment.

February 1, 2012

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A unified communications initiative, when executed well, can add significant bottom-line value while shaving costs for most organizations. Companies that implement UC poorly, however, tend to wind up with very expensive dial tone--and confusion about why they can't get the expected return on their investments. For most, poor ROI is the result of one hard truth: UC vendors don't like to admit how complicated it is to successfully deploy today's unified communications systems and then get employees to actually use the bells and whistles. Converging data and real-time communications networks requires a significant amount of planning, and IT and business users must have a full picture of the challenges that come with UC.

Too often, they don't.

The good news is that CIOs can ensure that their organizations get the most out of UC by following our six-step plan to maximize ROI.

1. Define Your Expectations

The goal of UC is to unify the multitude of ways in which employees communicate. This raises the question, How do they communicate?

Write down the major applications and services in use, including version numbers, and note the applicable users, purpose, and average volume of communications per day or week. Most of this information can be gathered from the applications themselves, and it will give you a high-level picture of which apps and services are most important to your organization.

2. Define Your ROI Model

In our experience, the challenge is not in getting ROI, but in quantifying it. To prove that the expected return is being realized, define metrics before the implementation begins. Specifically, determine what costs and revenues were associated with the old way your company communicated, and then calculate how much IT lowered those costs and increased revenues through UC. Sound simple? Well, it isn't. But it can be done.

The first step is to identify the communications methods used, as we mentioned above. Next, work through savings and revenue numbers to determine the ROI on a per-application basis. One UC application may replace the soft and hard costs of several different communications functions. In addition, UC applications may enhance the value of, for example, videoconferencing by making the service easier to use and adding features, such as whiteboarding, thus extracting more ROI.

UC Implementation Skills

3. Organize For Success

Unified communications cannot be the responsibility of just the network group or the telecom team. You must bring together multiple realms--network, systems, storage, and data center, at minimum. For some applications, such as HD videoconferencing, you'll even need to bring in the facilities team. When your vendor or integrator performs pre-deployment design and assessments, be sure to involve all the areas that UC will touch.

4. Get Your House In Order

Modern networks can handle unified communications. However, you only have one shot at getting your users excited about using UC, so don't let the network trip you up. You don't have a month or two to get things working; they have to perform on day one.

Some of the common issues we see while providing analytics services for UC environments, such as transmit discards on congested interfaces, are potential showstoppers. For example, we consulted for a company that had a large wireless initiative interlaced with its UC rollout. IT had done a thorough RF survey for the wireless network and thought it would support UC, which was a major driver for the wireless project. Our analysis showed, however, that while the company had plenty of bandwidth and acceptable coverage, the wireless interfaces were experiencing a huge number of discards.

These sorts of errors reduce quality, and that ultimately slows adoption and results in lower ROI. Getting a handle on such pitfalls early on means you have a far greater chance that your full suite of UC features will work together, and that your employees and customers will use them.

5. Bandwidth Isn't The Answer

Forget about your bandwidth--it gives you a false sense of security. You must evaluate the quality of your network, not just the quantity of bandwidth in it. Bandwidth is, of course, one important factor, but a slavish focus on it can cause the main culprits in network performance problems to slink by unnoticed.

For instance, dropped packets can impair UC quality. Consider that an HD video call can show significant degradation with as few as two dropped packets--these links have to operate perfectly, regardless of bandwidth. Dropped packets are typically caused by simple duplex mismatches, clocking issues on serial interfaces, or instantaneous overutilization, among other factors. Problems such as these should not exist in a UC-ready network. Take the time to thoroughly evaluate network quality, even if you think you have plenty of bandwidth.

6. Do A Dry Run

Finally, map out the major logical and physical paths that your UC traffic will traverse--including WAN links--and then test those paths to make sure they can handle the additional load and still provide an appropriate service level to other applications on the network. You can do this simulation for a relatively low cost, and there's really no downside. Many promising UC deployments have been derailed by weeks or months of finger-pointing among vendors, carriers, and customers over what, exactly, is causing problems with a UC system. Thoroughly testing the environment beforehand could have enabled IT to identify and resolve these issues well ahead of the actual deployment.

Properly executed, UC can be a fantastic success. Plan well, and define how you'll measure performance. Establish a baseline so you'll know where your ROI is coming from. Test your environment thoroughly, including the WAN, and correct problems before you roll out UC applications.

Is your company using Unified Communications?

Jeremy Littlejohn is president of consulting firm RISC Networks. Write to us at [email protected].

InformationWeek: Feb. 13, 2012 Issue

InformationWeek: Feb. 13, 2012 Issue

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