Some assembly required: A Canadian firm’s collaboration journey

In the second half of an in-depth interview, building industry supplier Vicwest’s infrastructure manager shows how collaboration requires planning and a great partner

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This is the second installment of an interview with Mick Montgomery, Vicwest’s Infrastructure Manager, who recently spoke on the phone with expertIP Editor Shane Schick about how his company has approached collaboration and what the future holds. This interview has been edited and condensed. Read part one here.

ExpertIP: When you look at all the investments you’ve made around collaboration, what kind of metrics are you using to evaluate your success?

MM: It would be two-fold. From an IT perspective, we would be looking at reduced administration and management. That’s something we’ve definitely seen, because we were able to take the management of phone systems for three different sites and centralize that into branch administration and reception in one site, which is the main site where all the lines run into now. They’ve been able to take that over and be very comfortable with it. That’s been great for us. Obviously we have to monitor and watch our MPLS lines to ensure that we’re not having any significant impact on bandwidth and latency since putting the new systems in. But outside of that, I think the real metrics fall more on the business side, which is whether they can achieve the goals they’re after. They want to be able to offer a friendlier, more streamlined communications experience with customers. And from my side of the fence that’s a hard one to measure, but it really comes down to customer satisfaction, which is something they would measure through surveys or generally seeing more calls coming through and being answered in real time, instead of the usual voice messages, people being transferred around or having to call back.

ExpertIP: To what extent do you think these benefits are making the business side see improved collaboration as a bigger source of value – and an increased expectation from their IP networks?

MM: It’s changing. My understanding when the Western region at Vicwest decided they wanted to do this was that this would be looked at reasonably closely by the other regions as well. Essentially it’s something that could roll out across the entire organization. That’s where I see the biggest bang for your buck and the business benefits. If you’ve deployed it across your entire organization, then the entire organization becomes that virtual office. There are a lot of challenges I see around here every day where people are coming from one office to the other and they have to have two extensions. It’s very simple things that are easily addressed in those solutions. There’s a realization that those challenges are there. I think it’s a question of whether it’s seen as a nice-to-have or as a requirement. I think today it’s still kind of a nice-to-have but it’s opening a few people’s eyes that maybe there are some opportunities that need to be looked at.

ExpertIP: For other IT professionals in your peer community that are just starting on this journey, is there any advice on how they should evaluate the opportunities and prioritize their IT investments?

MM: At the time, I didn’t look at the top layer, the UC solutions. I was looking from the ground up and thinking, ‘What is the network I have today is it manageable and scalable? Am I all over the place with different suppliers?’ Our key goal was to break the habit the company had, where one site had a T1 connection with one provider and one site had a DSL connection with another provider. The management, support and scalability of those lines – it just wasn’t there. If you don’t have that, it’s very hard to move forward with any products for collaboration that require the Quality of Service to be able to function well. You can put a UC solution in, but if you don’t have the network to support it, it’s going to be a bad experience. I need something where I can deal with a single vendor that can provide sales, service, support and that can provide a product or products that can offer the services needed for now and for future considerations. That could be VOIP, video and other things that could be coming over the network. You also want products that are scalable from a bandwidth standpoint, and it should be reasonably easy to do. We’re fortune that the solution that Allstream came up with the voice system was something the company likes, so it’s very complimentary to my side of the fence, because now it makes things a lot easier from a support perspective. If this a problem with the trunking that’s going across the MPLS, and it’s tied to phone systems that Allstream also supports, they are end-to-end responsible. When I make a call for support, there’s full ownership of the issue by Allstream.

Read the complete interview with VicWest and a host of other best practices by downloading The Enterprise Collaboration eBook: A How-To Guide to Unified Communications, from Allstream.

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