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Five common unified communications pitfalls

With the hype about unified communications, industry experts discuss some mistakes firms may make when deploying such projects for the first time.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

As the adoption of unified communications is expected to rise, it is important that user organizations know how to deploy such projects correctly.

The wheels of the UC hype engine have been turning steadily this year, with numerous industry players carrying optimistic projections of where the market is going.

Research firm, IDC, forecast late last year that the UC market in the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan) would generate some US$1.2 billion between 2007 and 2011.

French company, Orange, said in March companies should prepare for UC because the advent of younger users entering the workplace is expected to exert pressure on companies to adopt the technology.

More recently, Nortel bought Pingtel last month, in an effort to boost the software aspect of its UC offering.

While the vendors may be readying themselves, are end users doing so?

ZDNet Asia asked the experts where enterprises commonly go astray when deploying a UC strategy for the first time, and how to possibly avoid these pitfalls.

1. Inadequate IT planning
Nortel Asia's unified communications solution specialist Tsuyoshi Teitei, said some companies neglect the "readiness" of their backend infrastructure LAN or WAN--they do not plan for adequate capacity over which to lay the UC implementation. This ultimately affects the success of the project, he said.

Teitei also advised investing in a consulting service to help save costs by finding out what parts of the company's existing set up can be reused. "Customers usually have the impression that UC solutions can only be implemented with 'new' infrastructure which translates into a high upfront investment requirement.

"This is not true," he said, adding that older voice switches can be upgraded rather than be replaced to enable voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), for example. These can then be integrated into a UC set up.

2. UC project is led by the IT department, without involving the business.
Teitei said: "Very often, UC deployments are led entirely by the IT departments with very little consultation with the business groups."

As a result of which, the IT department may "focus more on the cost aspect" and opt for products which may not be entirely suited to the business' end goals, he said. "The IT department should involve its business users in their evaluation process so that they can better understand the benefits to these users."

Steven Tan, marketing director, Asia-Pacific and Middle East, of contact center vendor Aspect Software, said companies should focus on the contact center "as the logical starting point" for the UC implementation.

"They should, because in the contact center, results are measurable," he said, explaining that results such as shortened response time to calls can be traced back to more efficient UC set ups, helping IT departments benchmark results more realistically.

3. Business does not understand UC project, and has unrealistic expectations.
Nortel's Teitei said UC projects need to be well communicated and presented to the procurement or finance departments, because the business side of the company needs to understand the "potential saving they will accrue from [aspects such as] travel reductions, flexible work environments and speed of decision" that come with a successful UC deployment.

Lack of understanding leads to low levels of buy-in because the management cannot envision the potential returns on investment, he noted.

Lars Ronning, Tandberg president of Asia-Pacific (excluding China and Japan), said business buy-in is necessary for the long-term sustenance of the project: "As UC is a long-term project that has to be implemented in phases, gaining management’s buy-in and commitment would go a long way in obtaining the necessary resources [such as] money, time and expertise."

4. Businesses do not factor UC into strategic plans
Aspect Software's Tan said after the IT department has rolled out the UC implementation, the business has to go on to "look at how best to improve their processes [and] communication channels" with the new tool.

"Companies need to move past the obstacle of just seeing UC as a way to improve productivity and processes...they should recognize how it impacts the overall customer experience," said Tan.

Tandberg's Ronning said organizations should also plan to work with multiple vendors, in order to avoid having an incomplete set up. "As no one single provider can provide a complete end-to-end UC solution...the IT team will have to integrate a variety of different solutions.

"Hence, it is critical that these solutions support international standards to ensure interoperability and seamless integration," he said.

5. IT departments are not dedicated to UC deployments.
According to Ronning, IT managers have to actively manage a UC platform's network usage, so that the user experience is not hampered by bottlenecks. IT teams have to control network usage effectively and manage adequate bandwidth for applications across the enterprise, he said.

Security is also an added vulnerability that comes with UC deployments. "As more applications are introduced onto the organization’s network, there is also an increase in the number of potential security vulnerabilities.

"To prevent unauthorized access to confidential information, the IT team must put in place adequate security controls and tools to ensure the network remains secure and maintain data integrity," said Ronning.

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