Considerations For Creating An End-To-End UC Solution
It's VoIP. Video conferencing. Text messaging, call forwarding, automated answering services and voice recognition tools. Link them together and you've got the makings of a unified communications (UC) system – one of the most-hyped business telecom solutions developments in the last five years. Done well, companies can enjoy considerable cost and efficiency benefits from UC technology, but in this developing market, it's not always clear which path leads to improved collaboration and which choices simply complicate existing telecom solutions. Best bet? Create an end-to-end UC solution that addresses end user, guest, IT pro and network security services concerns. Here's how to get started.
Beginning of the End?
Before spending dollars on any UC technology, it's worth defining the term "end-to-end" as it applies to UC solutions. Think of it like this: While specific technologies such as voice over IP or online video streaming address specific points along the communications continuum, they're not all-encompassing. For example, VoIP handles the need for reliable and flexible voice communication, while collaboration tools enable the use of shared workspaces, white boarding and document sharing. Mobile support, meanwhile, makes it possible for users to link personal or business-issued devices with the broader corporate network.
End-to-end UC solutions are designed to ensure all communication-related functions "play nicely" with one another and provide a seamless transition regardless of device, platform or intended use. In addition, end-to-end deployments must address the needs of multiple users, such as front-line workers, "guests" from other companies or in the form of customers, in addition to local IT pros.
Benefits of UC Adoption
Why adopt a UC solution? There are a number of key benefits. First is the elimination of "siloed" services – for example, plain old telephone service (POTS), which are effectively insulated from all other technology on a network. By making the move to Internet-based UC tools, it's possible to unify communications under a single framework: IP-based data transfer.
Cost is also a key benefit. Instead of paying multiple providers for discrete services, opting for UC lets companies easily manage total business telecom services overhead. What's more, services can be scaled up (or down) on demand, meaning businesses won't be surprised by sudden increases or long-term rate hikes. Another big draw? Lack of expensive hardware. While technology like business VoIP service relies on specific software to enable connections via handsets, mobile phones and web portals, there's no need to purchase large-scale hardware – or maintain it over time.
So how do you tap these benefits with an end-to-end solution?
When making the move to unified communications, it's critical to address existing business processes. Consider: UC is meant to enable improved collaboration and connectivity – but this won't happen if new solutions are implemented without regard for current processes. Start with round-table discussions: What do specific business units want? What are some of their concerns, and how do UC offerings address these issues? Ideally, end-to-end solutions should deliver communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) that don't overwrite existing mandates, but make it possible for business units to communicate more easily, access better information, and improve operational efficiency.
The number of UC offerings now available makes it possible to bolt-on virtually any cloud-based function to your existing communications network with minimal time and effort, this kind of speedy adoption doesn't always result in improved performance. When building an end-to-end solution, you're better served to slow down and take a hard look at technical readiness before making any big changes.
This starts with your internal network infrastructure: Do you have the bandwidth necessary to handle the switch to all-IP voice and video communications? If your Internet service can't handle the required download (and upload) speeds, you won't see maximum returns from your UC spend.
It's also important to consider the technical readiness of your unified-communications provider. For example, does it offer multiple codecs and compression standards – such as H.264, H.265, H.323, G.711 and G.729 – or only the most popular? It's also worth looking for dual-protocol support for SIP/SIMPLE and native XMPP to ensure you're ready for any type of connection request.
Not all UC partners offer the same level of service and support; and since you're offloading at least some oversight and operational capabilities to a UC provider, it's critical to find the best fit. First up? Remember that all of your end-to-end services don't need to come from the same place – the burgeoning market means it's in the best interest of providers to play well with others rather than supplying only proprietary solutions. In addition, make sure your UC partner provides regular updates for its systems and devices to maintain data security – without requiring you to go "offline" while they're applied.
As noted by UC Insight, designing any end-to-end strategy starts at the far "end" – with users. These include local sales professionals, IT staff and executives; in addition to "guests" on your network such as customers looking to connect for help or to remedy concerns, or trade partners taking part in voice and video calls. Start by determining how users connect and then work backward: Which technologies best support this kind of communication while still maintaining a solid security posture? For example, it's a good idea to leverage detailed call logs that let you keep track of who's connecting, when, for how long, and what they're doing on the system.
Last – but not least – in building an end-to-end solution is considering the future of your deployment. The ideal UC architecture should not only support existing demands such as the need for VoIP and video, but also help "future proof" your system by making room for new technologies such as the Internet of Things. Consider wireless sensors and wearable devices – both are critical trends over the next five years – and shouldn't be left out of the UC discussion. A true end-to-end solution has no hard "stop" but instead makes room for continual growth.
Ready to build an end-to-end UC framework? Start with components, consider processes and performance, link partners and users, and don't forget the future.