Are you really capable of supporting unified comms?

Getting your ducks in a line

UC Unified Communications (UC), by its very nature, crosses a number of technical domains within the business, encompassing networking, server infrastructure, email management, business applications and so on. It may also involve the rollout of new devices, such as new mobiles or laptops.

As businesses implement UC, they will find themselves faced with troubleshooting across these various domains, particularly around the points of interconnection between domains. Any new devices will also require support. This won’t replace the existing need for technical support but will be in addition to it, basically translating to more cross-discipline activity.

Given that the level of support required is likely to be higher in the early days as the system is still bedding in and users are still getting used to it, paying attention to these additional requirements during the transitioning phase is critical to early success. This means ensuring that IT staff are properly trained, and have enough time allocated to deal with the uplift in helpdesk calls that are likely to ensue.

The need to deal effectively with this aspect of a UC implementation is illustrated in feedback from one Reg reader, who identified some of the key things to address during the transitioning phase:

Ensure that all technical staff involved with implementing and/or supporting a UC solution and its users are knowledgeable about the area, the business processes in the organization and most importantly can communicate effectively and work together efficiently. During the early phases of implementation the support staff must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with users, particularly in training and troubleshooting. Never underestimate the stupidity of your users.

And another Reg reader summed it up quite simply, as follows:

Make sure you have a good support team in place before implementation, as most of the problems that occur, arise in the early stages.

Anticipating problems that may arise during the transition will help a lot in dealing with any teething problems. Given that issues may arise at crossover points between domains, we should identify beforehand exactly where things could go wrong and look at how to deal with potential problems. Any opportunity to carry out pre-testing with a small group of actual users should be seized upon to explore areas of weakness, and be accompanied by the formulation of a strategy for dealing with them.

If new devices are brought into the mix, attention needs to be paid to how these interface into the different UC applications, as well as ensuring that they take account of company policy around security, privacy and so on. Tools to help with diagnostics and remedial activity might be worth considering, and should be easy to justify at this point, as ‘getting things right’ will be high on the company agenda (assuming you have the right sponsorship).

From the outset, the IT department should be consolidating its learning around transitioning, and use this to adjust how it builds out UC into the business. Transitioning should be approached as an ongoing process running over months rather than days or weeks, and will be characterised by peaks and troughs of helpdesk activity. Providing the right level of support at this stage is absolutely critical to the long terms success of UC within the company.

On a final note, there has been no mention of the vendor in all of this so far, but it should by no means be exempt from playing a role in the transitioning process. Far from it. It goes without saying that there should be a very close relationship with the vendor, particularly during transitioning. And rather than letting the vendor take the lead when it comes to defining the terms of that relationship, a business will benefit more if it drives this. In particular it should be clear about where the boundaries of responsibility lie, and what any escalation process looks like, as these are potential weak links in the chain if they aren’t properly specified.

In any event, don’t expect a UC transition to be easy – it probably won’t be. But feedback from users who have gone through the process show that quick success is achievable, and can be facilitated by proper planning and attention to detail.

If you have any tips and tricks to share with us around transitioning, or conversely any horror stories that might help others avoid falling into similar traps, we’d be really interested to hear from you. ®

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