Removing the roadblocks to Unified Communications

In its “Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications” Gartner stated that “the largest single value of UC is the ability to reduce human latency” — in other words improving worker productivity.

This report went on to analyze the market. Gartner believes the UC market is maturing but not yet fully mature. UC may be discussed a lot in the press and at conferences, but the adoption rate is still low. This slow rate of adoption results from organizational as well as technical issues. Gartner summed up its six conclusions about the state of the UC market in this list.

  1. The newer the technology is, such as presence, it is not well understood.
  2. The industry is working on best practices, but there is not a lot of experience yet in UC deployment.
  3. Some of the products and their integration are still in their early stages.
  4. With existing communications investment, forklift upgrades to UC are unlikely, also slowing evolution to UC.
  5. Complexity exists in product and applications deployment.
  6. Calculating the ROI for UC is soft, and it is hard to demonstrate the productivity improvements.

It is important to ensure that you and the vendors agree on the elements that are included in the vendor’s definition of unified communications. Dave Hart, CTO of Presidio Network Solutions, a VAR, developed a list of definitions he uses when presenting the UC concept to enterprises. His five major definition components are:

  1. IP telephony: (a.k.a. IP communications) Phone system based on standard IP transport over Ethernet. Usually includes a server-based system for call control and other applications (VM, Call Center) and TDM gateways for PSTN and traditional PBX integration.
  2. Convergence: The aggregation of voice, video and data onto a single IP-based network supporting advanced networking features such as high availability, QoS and redundancy.
  3. Unified Messaging: A messaging system that includes a single store for voice, video, email and fax messages (some vendors include IM).
  4. Unified Communications: A communications system that includes two or more of the following elements; voice, unified messaging, video, mobility, Web/data collaboration and presence.
  5. Presence: A system for collecting and managing an individual’s status, ability to communicate, and preferences for mode of communication.

The following list of non-technical considerations should be used to help evaluate vendor strengths and weaknesses before selecting vendors for the RFP and for UC implementation.

Vendor considerations

  • Financial strength — Is this vendor venture-backed or profit-making? Is the vendor going through any financial difficulties?
  • Delivery in the North American market — Can delivery be made anywhere in the U.S. and Canada?
  • Delivery outside North America — If the enterprise will require UC server locations outside North America, can the vendor support technology in the countries where the enterprise has locations?
  • Is the solution a combination of vendors? — Is the final UC solution made up of more than one vendor’s products? If so, which is the prime solution provider and how do the other vendors integrate their products?
  • Where does UC fit in the overall vendor product strategies? — Is UC the primary product, an addition to an IP telephony solution, or a small part of the vendor’s portfolio?
  • Is the vendor reorganizing its structure? — Reorganization can mean some discontinuity in product development and support, as well as delay in product enhancements.
  • Is the solution really a partnership of vendors? — Is the product offered really a collection of separate vendor products combined under an umbrella product?
  • Is the solution a set of recent acquisitions? — Recently acquired UC components may not interoperate well. The solution support may also be fragmented.
  • Is the product delivery direct or indirect? — When purchasing the UC solution from a third party, that third party’s capabilities may be just as important as the primary vendor’s.
  • Is a VAR/system integrator necessary to integrate multiple vendor UC components? — If so, then the enterprise needs to evaluate the VAR/integrator because successful deployment will depend on that UC VAR/integrator’s deployment capabilities.

UC solution considerations

  • Is the solution mostly unified messaging? — The variations in the UC definitions all seem to include unified messaging (UM) as the minimal set of features. Be careful that UM is not the only real function supported.
  • Is the solution network- or applications-centric? — Most vendors are applications-centric. At least one vendor requires that the enterprise use that vendor’s data network components to deliver UC.
  • Is the vendor’s focus on all elements? — The focus may be more on IT or telecom, not the full range of UC capabilities. The focus may also be more on service providers than the enterprise.
  • Does the vendor have an established record with at least some of the UC elements? — Experience counts for a lot of confidence in the vendor. New products will almost always have some initial deployment problems.
  • Does the vendor have IT as well as telecom and contact center experience? — The broader the experience, the more likely that the vendor will be able to deliver the range of UC functions successfully.
  • Is the product a new announcement? — Think of all the patches and fixes that occur in the early life of a software product. The newer the product, the less stability it can deliver.

Some of these considerations may not be related to your selected vendor. Other considerations may not be significant enough to dismiss a vendor. No weight is given to any consideration. The enterprise has to make the value judgments for each consideration.

Can the UC product scale to large installations?

One final consideration — function without scalability is not attractive and can possibly be useless. Scalability does not apply just to a single server. Enterprises need to ask whether the products can also be scaled with multiple equal-function servers distributed over multiple locations.