The secret to UC success: a proven partnership

by Joseph Williams

All too often we hear about a stalled, canceled or diminished unified communications (UC) project at some large multinational company. It really doesn’t matter which vendor platform is involved, the truth is that global deployments of UC are complicated. But some of these global UC deployments do go pretty well. As often as I hear about the stalls, I also hear about the successes. What makes the difference? Experience. And that experience is most likely going to come from a partner that has had success

But some of these global UC deployments do go pretty well. As often as I hear about the stalls, I also hear about the successes. What makes the difference? Experience. And that experience is most likely going to come from a partner that has had success at a global scale and is able to reproduce that success. 

UC is effective, but naturally complex

UC is attractive because it offers more power and flexibility for companies to move into the all-digital era. It’s all about enabling new work styles that emphasize collaboration while not sacrificing corporate accountability. And it offers a lot of interesting options that can work with almost any company’s operational and security requirements.

But the simple truth is rolling out UC across the globe can be challenging. Most multinational enterprises moving to UC are doing it for the first time, and it may have been years, even decades since they had to do the global planning for their incumbent PBX/VoIP platforms. And there are many unknowns when adopting UC, as a lot of these enterprises don’t know how their systems will work.

Adding to the technical complexity of UC is the whole set of operational and economic decisions that must be made:

  • Does the enterprise operate UC itself or use a managed services provider (MSP)?   
  • If it does operate its own UC platform, will it do so with its own employees or with contract employees in some or all markets?
  • If it uses an (MSP), how will that work?•    Do the economics favor a license/purchase regime or a subscription model?
  • How is support going to be handled globally?
  • When things do go wrong in a complex global environment with dozens, if not hundreds of moving parts, how will activities like root cause analysis or even platform upgrades be handled?

Now start thinking about all of the switches, routers, and session border controllers (SBCs) that exist or must be deployed into the infrastructure. All of the various implementations of MPLS, SIP trunks, edge devices, monitoring and reporting systems. All the different desktop devices and endpoints that have to be connected and managed. And all the security and performance issues that must be addressed, and even more.

It is no wonder that UC projects so commonly go off the rails. Microsoft has just tried to address this complexity by issuing its Skype Operational Framework (SOF) to provide guidance and tools that aid in planning and deployment. Cisco also offers a broad library of similar help guides. And still many UC projects, particularly the large global ones, falter.

A trusted partner who thinks globally is imperative

I recently had the chance to talk with Tony Gasson, AT&T director with responsibility for UC internationally. AT&T has had a number of notable successes helping their multinational customers deploy UC globally. According to Tony, what helps AT&T to be successful is their global design perspective. As an experienced global enterprise architect myself, I appreciate how much easier it is to scale down into a local solution than scale up to a global one.

Tony also confirmed that global enterprise deployments have their own nuances that benefit from having a UC provider with the business agility and technical expertise of AT&T. AT&T has relationships with the major UC vendors that run deep at the engineering core. And a global scale provider like AT&T understands regulatory environments, as well as the unique requirements of specific verticals. All that experience and capability matters.

I also think it is the ability to abstract the platform from the service that really differentiates a UC provider, which can help enable a successful global UC deployment. The typical modern enterprise wants to focus on its core business and the benefits of UC, not on discovering and managing all the potential ugliness of the UC deployment. A good UC provider de-risks the platform for the enterprise.

Conclusion

A common element in these successful global deployments of UC is the good UC provider. One last thing I’ll mention about global UC providers like AT&T – they have the business depth to do more than just react to product releases. They have the ability to invest in strategies and solutions that go beyond the UC vendor’s product vision to increase the likelihood of success. As good as Microsoft’s and Cisco’s UC products are, these vendors also need help getting it all figured out at scale.

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