The ultimate unified communications action plan

Gartner helps identify the best ways for organizations to get started with a strategy to improve collaboration across the enterprise that works as a continuous improvement process

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Today’s unified communicaitons environment includes everything from communications to collaboration and even social media — on-premise or in the cloud or both. While many enterprises are using at least some elements of unified communications, many don’t have a clear roadmap.

And, when it comes to UC, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. So how do you come up with a UC action plan that’s going to work for you?

First, consider your options, recommends analyst Bern Elliot in a recent Gartner webinar.

Maybe you have complex telephony requirements, but you’ve been able to get away with “good enough” collaboration functionality. In this case, you may want to consider a telephony-centric approach, says Elliot.

This means adding UC functionality to your existing PBX investments — no rip-and-replace required. You might add conferencing through an adjunct server or mobility through the PBX. If you’re a large, distributed organization with complex voice requirements, this may appeal to you.

On the other hand, if you have strong collaboration requirements but simple telephony requirements (say, in real estate or professional services), then you might consider an email-centric approach.

According to Elliot, this involves expanding your email solution to IM and presence, and then adding UC functionality into that environment. This, he says, is ideal for companies that have a peer-to-peer focus and require desktop collaboration capabilities.

But, with so many products and vendors on the market, where do you start? Gartner predicts that through 2016, fewer than 10 per cent of enterprises will have rolled out a single vendor’s complete UC suite.

While dual- or multiple-vendor approaches might work as an intermediate solution, Elliot says over time most enterprises will prefer to get what they need from a single vendor as those UC portfolios fill out.

The problem, though, is that many enterprises don’t have a cohesive UC strategy; instead, individual business units make their own decisions. This leads to a disparate environment, making convergence much more difficult.

So, start with a strategy — looking ahead at the next three to five years. Gartner recommends taking an inventory of your current UC environment. Look for gaps. What’s not working the way you’d like it to? Then evaluate and test your partners to see if their solutions match your roadmap.

Over the next quarter, identify potential implementation conflicts. Certain UC technologies may create technical challenges, but there are also organizational challenges to consider. “Different technology areas … have different constituents within the organization, so you want to start building consensus and support for a common UC plan as early as possible,” says Elliot.

And this means talking to the business units. Up to 30 per cent of IT in organizations today is happening outside of the IT department, says Elliot. So find out what they’re doing, what they need and how you can work with them.

Once you’ve completed these steps, Gartner recommends piloting your UC projects over the course of the following year. This involves consolidating your vendor portfolio — but also looking at the need for new services as technology evolves.

UC, in many ways, is a process of continuous improvement. “You execute as best you can,” says Elliot, “but understand that in a year or two you’re going to have to do a hard reevaluation and in some cases make decisions about how well vendors are executing.”

Your UC action plan should be just that — a plan of action, not a static document. So keep on evolving along with the technology, your vendor partners and the needs of your business users.

Take the next step in your action plan: Check out the technical briefing on Allstream’s Hosted Collaboration Solution, a UCaaS offering available now. 

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