Cisco Canada Blog

Q&A: Why your business needs a strategic unified communications plan, part 1

September 4, 2013

Across Canada businesses take all shapes and sizes, each with their own challenges, successes, goals and bottom lines. What not all businesses realize is that technology – specifically unified communications (UC) technology – can help businesses realize these goals and improve their bottom lines by simply making the ‘little things’ employees do easier. Phone calls are clearer, and easier to route. Employees at home to take care of children can host meetings over video without losing a day’s work. And if an employee needs to travel between offices, Instant Messaging and single number reach make it easy to stay on top of work.

But in order for your business to get the most from your UC deployment, you need to develop a UC strategic plan.

To dig into this topic further I’ve invited Emily Nielsen, president of Nielsen IT Consulting, to join me for a four-part blog series to outline the main steps of developing a UC strategic plan. In the first part of this series, Emily and I discuss the importance of a UC strategic plan and what businesses should consider at the beginning of this process.

If you would like to know more about UC strategic planning, join Emily on October 24th at Nielsen IT Consulting’s UC Strategic Planning seminar.

UPDATE: Read part two of this series here and part three here.

Ted Schirk: What do you believe is the biggest problem with the way businesses currently plan – or don’t plan – for unified communications deployments?

Emily Nielsen: The biggest problem with UC is that people are really underestimating the complexity, pitfalls, sophistication, costs, and resources needed to implement UC into their business. In addition, many organizations miss out on the opportunities UC presents and still mistake it for UM (unified messaging), which is an entirely different solution.

TS: You bring up a good point with UC versus UM.  So what exactly is the difference between the two?

EN: UC is the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, telephony, video conferencing (like Cisco TelePresence), data sharing, call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as UM (integrated voicemail, e-mail), SMS and fax. UC is not necessarily a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types.

UM is the integration of voicemail into your e-mail mailbox.

TS: Thanks for that succinct and clear explanation. Moving onto considerations to make when planning for UC, can you share your top recommendations for businesses?

EN: There are two questions I ask all clients to consider when planning for a new UC solution: Are you stuck in your traditional ways; and have you thought about the cost of being ubiquitous? I’ll run through each quickly.

UC has really been a game changer for the telecommunications industry as a whole. Yet many of our colleagues are having a hard time grasping the fundamental change that is occurring. All too often they simply want to replace their legacy system with an updated VoIP system with similar features as they had before. But the significant benefits and added features a VoIP system with UC can add to your business go beyond just cost savings.  They include enhanced customer service, increased end-user productivity and improved user flexibility.

When considering ubiquity, businesses need to understand that employees expect to experience 100 per cent coverage on their mobile devices during working hours. Whether it is a physician that works at multiple hospitals and wants access to patient records at their fingertips, or higher education faculty members that move between campuses; the desire to be connected with one number and their device of choice is demanding attention. What employees – and sometimes employers – don’t often appreciate or understand is the back-end cost for infrastructure, security, redundancy or cabling required to provide that ubiquity.

TS: So let’s talk now about the importance of a strategic planning. Why is it so vital for businesses to have a UC strategic plan?

EN: Complex initiatives such as UC require a strategic plan to ensure a successful implementation. Without a UC strategic plan budgets can grossly inflate, project target dates are missed, and the UC solution quickly becomes a UC problem as the system’s features fail to address business requirements. UC is not a single product, but an integrated solution that is comprised of many different features and products. Getting all of these pieces to fit together and work can be a challenge.

The benefits of taking the time and resources to develop strategic plan are numerous and include being able to secure project funding, being given priority status and avoiding unforeseen costs.

TS: You mention unforeseen costs, which can be common problem for deployments that are not planned fully. Can you share other common issues that arise when a strategic plan is not implemented?

EN: What we see often are services not being properly deployed due to preparations that were missed or were seen as “out of scope”. Other common oversights include not accounting for the additional cabling, power, cooling and space requirements of the deployment, and purchasing licenses that are never used.

Join Emily and me for the next installment of this series on UC strategic planning when we discuss the discovery process and how to define your vision. If you would like to learn more about Cisco’s unified communications technologies, visit our website.  And if you would like to know more about UC strategic planning, join Emily on October 24th at Nielsen IT Consulting’s UC Strategic Planning seminar.

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