By: Dermot Corrigan
Any Irish-based companies looking to improve or upgrade their telephone systems must now at least consider leveraging the benefits offered by emerging unified communications (UC) solutions.
Depending on the project scope, budget available and nature of the company, it can make sense either to build on infrastructure or to rip everything out and start again.
It was possible for companies to access some UC functionality without having to make major changes to their networks or work practices, according to Rob Davies, presales manager, Ergo IT Infrastructure. "The days of separate voice and data networks are not necessarily over; it all depends on the requirements of the business," said Davies.
"Some UC solutions will happily co-exist alongside an already installed phone system. Training is not really required, as packages come with an intuitive interface that users are generally familiar with," he said.
Davies said that providers can make some use of in-place networks and infrastructure, however some improvements or upgrades may be required to get the full benefit of UC."
"As a UC solution can co exist with legacy phone systems existing or aging investments can be leveraged," he said. "Some users may prefer to keep their old phone or migrate to a new UC-enabled phone."
"New servers or additional hardware installed onto existing virtual servers may be required. Larger, faster network infrastructure may be needed to support audio or video conferencing and application sharing."
Although this gradual approach can be made to work, most organisations looking to get the full productivity boosts and cost-effectiveness delivered by UC will discard their legacy copper wire phone lines and go 100 per cent IP.
Given the potential business benefits involved, many organisations decided the extra effort to implement a new state of the art network was justified, said Stephen Mulligan, unified communications principal, Eircom.
"If you are moving from a legacy environment, to 'do it right' you would look to swap out the old kit," said Mulligan. "I would normally say, start with the network and get that ready, perhaps do instant messaging and presence as a toe in the water."
"Depending on where you are starting from this can be a capital intensive effort, but there are ways to finance this and out task much of the cost around networking changes."
Businesses often decided to work with a trusted partner when switching networks, said Mulligan. "Companies rarely embark alone on a UC project," he said. "Bringing all the elements together to create a UC environment takes specialist skills and knowledge. Also, much of the kit required cannot be purchased direct and must be bought through a partner who is certified and specialises in that kind of work."
Mulligan said that once the technology is in place, some user training was usually required to make sure staff got the full benefit. "Beyond the technical challenges of a UC project, it is primarily a change and adoption programme," he said.
"You are asking employees to make some significant changes to the way they do their work. Training is definitely required for some users. Others will just get it intuitively. Cultural changes can also result which will need to be managed and monitored, as they would with any major change."
On completion the new UC enabled network should provide clear benefits for both individual staff members and IT administration staff, said Mulligan. "The typical IPT device provides a far superior user experience, simply exposing complex functions to the user using on-screen interfaces or one-touch buttons as well as desktop integration for click-to-call applications," he said.
"There is also the ease of administration - adds, moves and changes which were previously the bane of the life of the admin staff - are as simple and straightforward as moving your PC from one desk to another. You simply unplug at one place and plug in at another."
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