An important strategic decision for SMBs today is whether to move toward a Unified Communications (UC)system. The definition of Unified Communications can vary widely depending on who you talk to. To me, a good definition would include traditional voice telephony, Unified Messaging (integrated voice mail, email and Fax), Presence Management, Instant Messaging (IM) and Mobility. However you define it, the goal of UC is to unify all of the communication modes you use under one umbrella of functionality, infrastructure and administration.
UC is an ideal technology for SMBs because it can increase productivity and reduce costs. UC can help you support remote, distributed or mobile employees, which may in fact be an enabler for your business today. UC can help you project a more professional image and help you compete with larger competitors.
Preparing for Unified Communications
If you decide you want to pursue a Unified Communications platform, what steps do you need to take to prepare for the transition?
- Prepare your network for VoIP.
- Decide what communications modalities are important to your business.
- Identify the vendors/platforms that unify the communications modalities you care about.
- Select the vendor that best meets your needs.
- Implement your core VoIP platform (including Unified Messaging, Presence Management and IM).
- Integrate mobile workers into your business telephone system.
- Implement other modalities based on your own priorities.
Let’s look at these steps one at a time. Many of these steps I have discussed in other blog posts, so I will refer you to those where appropriate.
Preparing Your Network for VoIP
VoIP is going to be a basic enabling technology for any UC platform. Preparing your network for VoIP consists of three parts:
- Prepare your cable plant to support voice over the network
- Prepare you LAN to support voice
- Prepare your WAN to support voice
Decide What Modalities are Important to You
Consider IM, SMS,videoconferencing, whiteboarding, Fax services, IVR, audio conferencing, recording, video chat, IPTV, etc. If you won’t use whiteboarding or data collaboration, it shouldn’t be a part of your requirements. If you can see that videoconferencing will reduce your travel costs and make your people more effective, make that a requirement. Enough said. (This is one of those areas where having a local vendor you trust can really help. Use them as a consultant to help you talk through these issues and arrive at a spec that makes sense for you.)
Identify / Select Your Vendor / Platform of Choice
Here you have two primary choices:
I think it makes sense to try to find a single vendor solution. Obviously, implementation,administration and maintenance will all be easier in a single vendor environment. But you may not be able to meet all your requirements with a single vendor. Then you need to identify those systems / vendors that are most compatible.
Implement your core VoIP platform
Implement those core functions you selected earlier. Stick to the basics here and try to keep it simple and slimmed down. The goal here is to have a successful migration to your new platform. Platform being the operative word here. We are building the foundation upon which all other functions will be layered. Once implemented, test, test, test. We want to be sure we have solid functionality and reliable interoperability between components. When we add another modality, we don’t want to be questioning the core system.
Integrate Mobility into your System
Forecasts tell us that the workforce is and will become more mobile over time. Call center agents will work from home. Salespeople will be on the road. Everyone will need to be connected all the time, not just during business hours. Provide smartphones for those employees that integrate well with your platform. Today, that means either the Apple iPhone or one of the many Android phones available. Think about tablets also. Here, your options include the iPad or an Android tablet like the new Nexus 7. Unified Communications capabilities are coming to tablets and they are ideal devices for it.
Implement other Modalities
Once you have the foundation in place, you can add your other requirements into the mix. A solid VoIP system will make your conferencing or IM implementation go much smoother.
Do you see the value of UC for your SMB? What are your plans for implementing a UC solution? Share your thoughts in the comments.