The Microsoft Lync Server technical community is full of knowledgeable IT professionals who work tirelessly to share their wealth of hard-earned experience and expertise with the world. They blog, tweet, deliver presentations, and answer questions in the forums to help foster expert knowledge for administrators and IT Pros in every corner of the globe. At NextHop, we are fortunate to have many of these Lync superstars as team members and contributing authors.
In this new NextHop series, we bring you a variety of knowledgeable insider views into the special considerations inherent in planning for, deploying, managing, and troubleshooting Lync Server as an integral part of a unified communications strategy.
Today’s article, the first in the series, comes from Justin Morris. Justin has worked with Microsoft UC since the Live Communications Server 2005 era, designing and deploying environments for customers of up to 20,000 seats globally. His experience ranges from voice integration and troubleshooting media exchange issues to determining business cases for UC and user profiling exercises.
Justin’s current role for
focuses heavily on Lync Server 2010 design and deployment for UK customers. He works in both an advisory and hands-on capacity. He also delivers technical solutions through his Lync blog,
Justin Morris on UC
, writes the popular
Interview with a UC Pro
series for NextHop, and is the co-founder of the Microsoft UC User Group in London.
Unified Communications (UC) has come a long way in the past four years. It began as a loosely arranged collection of communications products that formed an emerging solution—with UC vendors striving to find a foothold in the marketplace. Today it has become a fully proven platform that revolutionizes the way organizations communicate with each other, their partners, and their customers. What was once viewed with skepticism is now deeply integrated into many of the most innovative businesses around the world.
But as UC reaches critical mass and becomes the “must deploy” silver bullet solution high on the list of CIOs, IT teams must ensure that their technical processes are in shape and that they are prepared to manage and own the huge culture shift they are about to bring upon the organization.
My experience as a UC consultant working with firms in the UK and Australia has enabled me to identify the key pain points during deployment and adoption—where special management and attention to detail must be given to ensure success of a UC project. As we continue to see the increased adoption of UC, every IT team should prepare for the following three success criteria.
Success Criteria 1: Solidifying Business Buy-In
Nothing is more important than establishing complete and unwavering support for the business of UC. One weak link in the chain can send a ripple effect through the entire organization, derailing a UC deployment in its tracks. Everyone must be “all in,” completely aware, and in agreement with what UC can and cannot provide to the business. I’m talking everyone from C-level executives to HR managers, to the service desk. All it takes is one influential manager to voice their concerns over a particular feature not meeting a mandatory user requirement, and your project is history.
A good way to demonstrate commitment from the business is to be vocal about your investment in UC. In recent times, I’ve seen UC mandated globally across firms. In this ideal situation, a board of individuals qualified to make communications and cultural decisions for the company decides that UC is the way forward and ensures that it is adopted as the “standard” across the organization.
Identifying “UC champions” as the user rollout begins is a fantastic way to have multiple team members “flying the flag” on the ground. These delegates should be individuals that users can query, ask advice from, or just provide feedback to around your UC solution. The escalation process should be as friendly as possible, because after all, we are changing the way everyone works, and the human element must be fully considered.
Success Criteria 2: Managing the Voice and Video Experience is Critical
Time and time again, I have seen deployments become shaky because the proper due diligence for voice and video was not performed. Bandwidth requirements of UC must be fully understood, the right devices selected, and integration points with existing environments documented.
Providing more pervasive communication modalities, such as video conferencing solutions, as part of UC is a fantastic way of driving greater productivity. But if your network is already strained, your users will never get the opportunity to embrace it. Ensuring the existing environment is assessed on its ability to support this and other new functionality that may place a burden on the network ensures the most appropriate UC feature set is selected.
UC almost always involves a voice component that is introduced into the legacy PBX environment. Understanding completely how this will either compliment or interoperate and eventually replace your previous voice system is important. Determining PSTN breakout points, dial plans, capacity, and performance are all key voice considerations. Engaging the right people and having them involved early in the process means there are no negative surprises a week before you plan to roll out to users.
Selecting the right device for the right usage profile is also paramount, because this can make or break the user experience of your UC platform. Even though a college graduate may have no problems with a Bluetooth headset paired with their PC, a staff member that has spent the last 30 years with their telephone handset wedged into their shoulder may not. Can existing devices be reused with the new UC product or do new ones need to be sourced? Will your users prefer wireless or wired headsets? What type of handsets do you need?
Success Criteria 3: Training and Adoption are Core Components
Although getting business buy-in is important, it’s only half the battle. If your users don’t know how to use UC, many will reject it and demand back their old way of working. Delivering UC training to employees forms a key phase of the deployment and comes in two flavors:
• User training: Providing instructions on features to end users.
• IT Pro training: Giving your IT staff the skills to support and manage UC.
Understanding how your users learn new technology skills is the best way to work out how you’ll provide training. Is the new UC solution similar enough to an existing range of products so that only training on voice and video are required? Will some users benefit from classroom-based training? Can training be delivered online?
When it comes to your IT staff, UC often merges skillsets. It can be both disruptive and an initiative that fosters a more holistic group. After UC consultants have handed over the platform to IT, are they sufficiently prepared to support it? If a user calls complaining of failing PSTN calls, do they know how to investigate and troubleshoot the problem? It is critical to engage a training provider who can give your IT staff the right knowledge, tailored to your bespoke UC solution, and ensure the longevity and continued success of the implementation.
These are a few of the important considerations during the planning phase of a UC project. Addressing them will help ensure the smooth deployment of UC, stress-free adoption by your users, and ultimately the success of the solution.