With unified communications (UC) optimization, you’re not just enhancing your company’s business communication, collaboration and productivity. You’re helping each and every employee succeed in their work. You’re making your customers happier. And you’re contributing to your company’s bottom line.
However, to fully realize these benefits and achieve maximum ROI on your UC investment, it’s critical to optimize your UC environment. That’s where UC best practices can help and why we’ve developed this guide.
In the pages that follow, we'll take you from understanding your UC needs and setting your goals, to reducing your environment’s risk and migrating to the cloud or hybrid path. We'll look specifically at the big vendors – things to watch out for and putting your plan B in place.
We choose the best ways to keep your finger on the pulse of all things UC and guide you on deciding which platforms are right for you. We'll even teach you how to troubleshoot your UC like a ninja.
We'll help you benchmark your performance today so you can easily see the gaps, fill them in, and measure the impact. We discuss empowering your network team and even ponder the notion of whether they can wear the digital transformation cape. Lastly, we take a look at market trends, share expert insights, and look to the future of UC.
Why read this guide?
Ever wanted to reach higher? Do more than business as usual in the network tower? Cut out the time consuming, mind-numbing tasks that fail to propel the organization forward? Then keep reading.
This guide is for every frustrated Network Administrator, under-appreciated UC Ops Manager, and overworked CTO. It's geared toward large enterprises, but there are plenty of takeaways for smaller players too. If you want to get the most out of your unified communications and collaboration systems, this read (or skim read) is for you. It is jam packed with high-level and detailed UC best practices.
Download a PDF copy of the UC Optimization guide for Pros
Table of Contents
01 | Living in a collaborative work environment
Disrupt or be disrupted
Work is no longer a place that we go to, but something that we do. This means there’s a growing need to enable workers to effectively collaborate with each other, with customers, and with partners, regardless of location. UC collaboration solutions are rapidly evolving to reflect this shift.
In the past, we relied heavily on face-to-face meetings, which often required expensive travel. Today, using the latest collaboration tools, we are able to bring together remote teams in real time at short notice using rich media including video and web conferencing as well as digital whiteboards. This allows us to gain access to expertise, bring stakeholders together, make decisions, and move business processes forward faster and more efficiently. Better collaboration tools take cost and time out of the cycle, which effectively adds margin into the business in the form of principal or shareholder value.
The rise of connected work
The collaboration trends we’re seeing are leading to agile organizations that promote the open flow of information, meaning that people don’t have to spend unnecessary effort looking for people, expertise or content. Users want to leverage these resources easily so that they can bring teams together, make decisions, and move projects forward. This often involves the new trend of self-forming teams that disperse after completing a task in a short amount of time. Ultimately, we’re moving toward a landscape that’s mobile, people-centric, contextual, collaborative, innovative and customer-driven.
Collaboration tools influence knowledge retention
If we want to bring teams together to reach their goals quickly, the work environment should enable the highest level of knowledge transfer and retention. Better collaboration tools directly lead to a higher level of execution. When we’re given the ability to watch and listen to a video or web conference, knowledge transfer rates jump to 70% – from 20% for audio only (Human Productivity Lab).
Team performance is necessary for growth. In the past, we gave employees the capability to grow their individual performance. Unfortunately, tools and individual effort can only lead to so much value before reaching a plateau. A study from a survey of CIOs shows that if you invest in optimizing both individual and team performance, it will result in higher overall growth in terms of revenue per employee. By allowing people to access the resources they need in real time, your organization will have a significant competitive advantage.
Changing customer communication preferences
It isn’t just the way we work that’s changing, but also the way people buy in the marketplace. If your revenue stream depends on a target market comprised of Generation Y/Millennials, picking up the phone to make a call is their fourth choice in communication behind electronic messaging, social media, and smartphone apps, according to recent research. As we look at enhancing our collaboration architectures, we need to make sure that we have a multichannel strategy because the way our customers want to reach us is changing.
New ways to work fundamentally impacts how a business operates, which adds velocity to decision making. When leaders join together in real time to make a decision that affects a customer, event, or market penetration plan, they are able to execute at a higher level. Executive and technical talent can be leveraged anytime, anywhere.
Using the latest collaboration tools is critical to your employees, your company, and your customers. Integrating and managing them effectively – and optimizing your unified communications environment – is equally important.
02 | Why does your business need optimized UC?
In today’s business world, communication matters more than ever. People want to communicate in new ways everyday: more channels, more devices, more flexibility. But these demands rely on a new generation of technology, operating in real time. What happens if the technology isn’t reliable? What if digital services to customers are unreachable, phones stop working, or video conferences crash? A small outage can have a big impact. You need to react quickly and get to the root cause to find a solution. You need to ensure you have reliable and optimized unified communications.
Unified communications are the arteries and veins of your organization and its connection to the outside world. Internally, you can’t function properly when problems exist. Externally, you’re paralyzed when there’s an outage. Unified communications keep the heart of the organization pumping.
Optimized UC keeps the communications pulse steady and channels unblocked. Ineffective communications and collaboration capabilities slow product development and decision making, putting your employees at a competitive disadvantage. Reliable communications and collaboration infrastructure that helps employees work efficiently allows your organization to breathe.
Optimized UC is the best kept secret. Why? When UC is humming in the background, nobody pays attention– it’ invisible. End users simply do their work, as it should be.Don't just aim to fix - aim to optimize
03 | Transform your organization’s operations
Achieving your operational efficiency goals
Spending all your energy and time on urgent organizational demands, as opposed to strategic objectives, hinders your ability to drive your organization, impact your department, or build your career.
Operational efficiency is the journey to operational maturity, where UC is a well-oiled machine and doesn’t break down. The journey involves stages: survival, awareness, committed, proactive, service aligned, and business partnership. The aim is to always be reaching for the next stage.
The journey involves stages: survival, awareness, committed, proactive, service aligned, and business partnership
Which operational efficiency goals should you set?
Companies are on varying levels across the operational maturity spectrum. In some cases, their initial UC goals should be to get out of fighting fires in their UC environment. You need to get ahead of issues before they are noticed by users. Move from reacting to problems after they happen to proactively preventing them before they cause any damage. The goal is to gain real time UC monitoring and troubleshooting and not solely depend on historical reports.
Operational goals are sometimes based on minimizing downtime, achieving high user satisfaction scores, achieving high rates of adoption of provided UC apps, or trying to ensure operating expenses are in line with, or lower than, industry benchmarks.
Some companies focus on connecting the dots of disparate systems into a unified view, a single pane of glass. When this level of visibility is available, IT teams benefit from much faster turnaround on incidences. The overall resolution time is dramatically decreased. The other common category companies can fall into is when they are overseeing the deployment of or migration to a new system. As you can imagine, if you implement a new system and it performs worse than the existing one, the consequences can be severe. Having clear goals on what success looks like during and after migration makes it easier for everyone involved.
How should these goals change over time?
If a company starts in a chaotic environment dealing with constant outages, their initial goals will shift to be more proactive: focus on stopping the outages, preventing repeat outages, and getting early warning alerts. Then they might move into rolling out these goal changes to other regions.
When organizations are satisfied with day-to-day operations, their goals might change to be more strategic: they may start to future proof their UC management or focus on intense customization of key health dashboards.
Another goal associated with mature UC management is using UC as a vehicle for driving digital transformation. Digital transformation takes many forms, as we discuss later in this guide, but it requires the foundational technologies such as UC, cloud, infrastructure, etc. to operate smoothly to be successful.
How can achieving operational efficiency goals transform your organization’s operation?
It’s not uncommon for the UC team to be known as the ones employees go to when there’s a problem with the phones or other communication channels. When things go wrong, the UC team fixes it; they’re the “firefighters.” But they should be known for more than that.
Although firefighting is often where the operational efficiency journey starts, it is not where it ends.
If the UC team is fronting strategic changes that reduce cost, speed up the implementation of new technologies, and help employees be more productive, they’re no longer just the firefighters. They’re the peacekeepers, the problem solvers, the insights team, the optimizers. They could even be the team responsible for transforming your business.
What has this got do with operational efficiency goals? As the UC team achieves their goals, they are transitioning from the “fixers” to the “optimizers.”
This mindset shift is an important piece of transformation. If everyone only talks to the UC team when they’re frustrated due to a system being down, the outlook will be negative. But if you can be more proactive and strategic about outages and the team is focusing on improvements, the dynamic changes.
Tapping into the power of optimized UC management
You can optimize your UC management by first aligning the right people, processes and technology.
Expert team (in-house): In-house resources are familiar with the day-to-day fluctuations and will notice irregularities faster than outsourced help.
Trusted technology solution partners: Channel partners are a valuable resource for providing expert advice on new technologies in the marketplace, helping in new rollouts, and recommending best practices.
Buy-in from the top: Ensure your UC champion is communicating the challenges and strategic vision of an optimal UC effectively to C-level executives.
Network reliability: Your network will always be efficient if network capacity is correctly provisioned to meet required demands. If network demand increases, so too must your bandwidth.
Trusted vendors: It is twice as hard to optimize your UC if you rely on building tailored solutions from scratch. A vendor that integrates with a variety of platforms and vendors will make your life easier when you want to tap into higher performance.
Monitoring and troubleshooting tools: Most UC environments are made up of technology from multiple vendors, across call management platforms, networks and session border controllers (SBCs) – you need to gain end-to-end visibility of the entire ecosystem to monitor and troubleshoot UC effectively. The same rings true for troubleshooting.
UC optimization plans: To optimize UC, get comfortable with changing the process of “this is how we do it.” Start your plan by writing down a list of things you wish you could do; e.g., finding certain information in two clicks, reducing the time to produce weekly update reports, and so on. When you’re happy with your wish list, prioritize the tasks in order of impact. Expand the wish list with ideas from other team members and peers in other companies. Asking an online community of UC users is a great way to generate optimization ideas. Design a plan around your final wish list and get started!
Threshold alerts and automatic fixes: Set up threshold alerts (if you haven’t already) when standard levels of fluctuation are exceeded. Better still, if you can, put in a failover procedure that automatically fixes the problems and prevents an outage from happening. Keep track of your alert settings; update them periodically and as changes occur. Don’t set up alerts and leave them to rot. When rotten alerts are triggered, you’re unnecessarily disrupted from other work or worse, outside of business hours. You do not want to be investigating a non-issue in your free time.
04 | Optimizing your UC management and reducing risk
Every implementation of new technology comes with some level of risk. In addition, each existing technology in play can pose a threat if left unattended. UC is crucial for day-to-day operations and digital transformation initiatives naturally make their deployments high risk. The price of failure is high. A poorly executed UC strategy can hinder an organization’s very basic ability to function by impeding both internal and external communications and collaboration.
A successful deployment or optimization, on the other hand, brings better ways to connect with coworkers, customers and partners – and enables an organization to conduct business faster and more effectively.
With so much on the line, you need to get your UC implementation right. Here are some of the biggest UC risks you face and how you can overcome them.
1. Choosing the wrong vendor for your organization
Every UC vendor is different, so you should understand the various platforms and how they align with your business objectives. Some solutions, for instance, are all about the cloud, but still lack a robust feature set in comparison to on-premises UC tools. Some on-premises solutions may not provide the consumption flexibility that cloud and managed service providers offer. Other solutions may have lots of great features, but are one-size-fits-all products that don’t allow for easy customization. Make sure the solution you choose is well suited to where you are today – and where you plan to be tomorrow.
2. Failing to get executive buy-in
If the C-suite doesn’t support the UC initiative from the top, you risk losing the support of the broader organization. Because if and when the deployment takes a wrong turn, it will require a team effort to get it back on track and this can only happen when leadership is fully invested in the project. What’s more, UC deployments are typically long-term initiatives that take place in increments, so you need the continuing confidence of your executive team.
3. Neglecting to pilot
Before fully deploying your new UC solution, you need to conduct a thorough, well-executed pilot. This pilot should involve the entire organization, because different parts of the business will be using different parts of the UC system for different purposes. The pilot should also test your network environment to ensure readiness and quality. Test for what your usage will look like now and in the future when you’ve added headcount.
4. Not having an available system
You’ve completed the pilot and now you’re ready for production. At this point, many organizations encounter a critical problem: their existing infrastructure isn’t prepared for the new demands, which results in an unreliable system that’s not highly available and stable for users. Call quality will be suboptimal, phone calls won’t be routed correctly, and customers won’t be able to reach your sales and support staff.
If these issues do arise (and they probably will), you need visibility and insight to immediately figure out what’s wrong and how to fix the problem. This, in turn, requires that you have the capacity to continuously monitor the health of your new technology infrastructure.
Where do you get that? You deploy an experience-management solution on top of your UC system.
This will give you the ongoing management, comprehensive reports, and helpful analytics you need to maintain a 24/7 holistic view of your network. You can gain immediate insight into issues that need to be addressed so you can fix them. An experience-management solution provides an end-to-end view of your networks, systems and users. This helps you maximize the benefits of your UC deployment and deliver a positive user experience long after initial Implementation.
When UC systems work well, they’re great. When they don’t, they can result in lost productivity and squandered opportunities, and can cause customers to question your business.
The cost of UC downtime
How much is UC downtime costing your business? UC downtime is when your unified communications channels – websites, phones, emails, video conferencing, instant chat, collaboration tools, etc. – are not up and running. When these channels are down, productivity gets hammered and worse yet, your customers might not be able to contact you.
It’s not unusual then for operations teams to pride themselves on uptime levels of 99.9%, but what about the 0.1% of downtime? By focusing on uptime, the cost of downtime gets downplayed.
What’s the value of the 0.1%? What if the 0.1% affected happen to be in the 20% most valuable customers – or the top 5%? In a recent report, Nemertes Research outlined an example scenario: An organization has 10,000 employees and 4,500 of those are affected by downtime each year. At 99.9% uptime, that equates to 525.6 minutes. If the average knowledge worker salary is $70,000, then the annual cost of downtime per employee is $301.
Could be worse, right? If you multiply the annual cost of downtime by 4,500 (the number of employees affected), the sum jumps to $1,352,894... per year. Not such a small number anymore. Remember this figure doesn’t take into consideration if they are one of the top 20% or 5% most valued customers – but you can see how it could quickly snowball out of control.
What adds insult to injury is some CFOs discount these as “soft-dollar” costs, because they don’t show up on the balance sheet. Dismissing $1.35 million, or $1.73 million if contact center folks were affected, is concerning. The problem is that there shouldn’t be a 99%. It should be 100% all the time. Systems shouldn’t fall over; your customers should always be able to talk to you. To meet this need, you must focus on preventing UC problems from occurring through UC optimization.
WALTER MONASTERIO DISCUSSES DE-RISKING AND OPTIMIZING UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS
Operations teams pride themselves on UCC uptime levels of 99.9% - but what 14 UC Optimization Guide for Pros about the downtime?
Ask the Expert
Damien Margaritis is the Practice Manager and Principal Consultant for Modern Workplace with Insync Technology, an award-winning Microsoft Gold Partner. He is also a MSFT Certified Master in UC.
Q: How are your clients’ performance objectives for UC different to other environments? How does that impact your client management strategy?
A: At the heart of any UC deployment are real time communication protocols. The key phrase here is “real time”. Whilst it may be acceptable for non real time traffic to take an extra second or two to traverse a network, with real time traffic milliseconds can make the difference between a good experience and a bad one. Tools used to manage a UC environment need to be able to identify real time traffic flow issues, overlaying data from multiple environments to give a true “single pane of glass” overview of what’s really going on.
Q: How are IT/UC/Network/Ops teams getting it wrong in managing UC?
A: This is primarily an organizational question. Speed of adoption correlates with establishing specialist UC roles and teams. Assigning traditional specialist roles in telephony, VC etc. to a single manager is only a step towards this. Meanwhile, the world of IT continues to change. Many more services are being consumed from cloud providers than ever before. Services are no longer being provided from within the corporate firewall. With this shift, organizations need to take a fresh look at how their network is architected: How do you users get access to the internet (and ultimately SaaS offerings)? What devices do you have within your network that may impede this traffic (accelerators, proxies, etc.)? Are the network team actively involved in your move to SaaS offerings?
Q: What is the risk of a client not having thorough UC Management in place?
A: Many things need to come together and work inharmony for a UC deployment to be successful. Real time UC traffic behaves differently from conventional network traffic, so can fall outside the scope of conventional data network management tools. It’s important that you have full end to end visibility of what’s happening in your environment. If you don’t have the right tools in place, you’re not getting the full picture.
05 | Managing your UC migration strategy
Growth of cloud and its challenges
If you’re migrating to the cloud, a successful cloud migration is vital to achieving an optimized UC environment. Yet many IT teams are still anxious about the consequences of migrating to the cloud and are uneasy about maintaining the quality of the user experience. This isn’t surprising. Cloud migration is not without its hazards. You must consider your internal network performance and the network connecting you to your cloud provider (i.e., the ISP’s network and the public internet, or a dedicated connection), which sit between you and your cloud vendor’s UCaaS service.
Managing migration is a big undertaking for IT departments. They’re switching entire strategies for providing communications and collaboration solutions to their employees and mission-critical communications simply can’t go down. If the user experience isn’t acceptable or interferes with their productivity, they will find an alternative solution or simply stay on the old system – delaying the ROI, driving up costs, and negatively impacting IT Operations.
Moving to the cloud doesn’t eliminate the need for proactive performance management. Customers can’t rely on the UCaaS provider for troubleshooting, as the UCaaS provider likely won’t have visibility into the customer network. If there is an issue, the UCaaS provider might say “it’s in your network,” but the customer will have to do further analysis themselves.
It can be difficult to decipher differences between vendors and solutions. One way to get an objective perspective on what’s available is to seek analyst opinion and recommendations. For example, Gartner has evaluated Cisco and Microsoft from a cloud PBX perspective. Gaining an understanding of analysts’ expert views on the capability set of these solutions is important, especially if you will become an early adopter. Because each cloud UC solution will have a specific set of trade-offs, you must decide which features you are (or aren’t) willing to live without in the short term as the market matures.
In the enterprise market, ensure your chosen cloud UC solution supports requirements such as survivability in the event of outage or service interruption. If you have an IVR, receptionist or executive assistant, determine all their requirements will be adequately met as you move into the cloud. Newer solutions like Google Hangouts, Slack and Microsoft Teams are designed as cloud-only solutions. They don’t support a hybrid journey, and they don’t allow for an easy migration path. If you have a large existing CAPEX investment in a telephony system, these solutions may not be an ideal choice.
If you’re migrating to the cloud, a successful cloud migration is vital to achieving an optimized UC environment.
Hybrid UC is the new normal
Many UC environments are a mix of vendors and solutions, and moving everything to the cloud becomes a daunting prospect. But is this even the right approach to take?
Transitioning to the cloud doesn’t have to be a hard-line plan. Many enterprises embrace a hybrid approach, moving some systems or users while continuing to run others on premise. It might be ideal for some users to move to the cloud right away. Others (like contact centers, for instance) may need to stay on premise. Some companies have long-term contracts with telecom providers for PSTN connectivity. Hybrid solutions take advantage of on-premises infrastructure and successfully marry it with cloud services. A hybrid approach lets you move gradually to the cloud at a pace that best suits your organization, while maximizing your investment in existing on-premises infrastructure.
Hybrid gives you the flexibility of testing various aspects of your environment without having to migrate everything completely to the cloud. This gradual approach also mitigates the risk of moving entire systems to the cloud all at once. By moving one application at a time, you can effectively troubleshoot any issues that occur without losing your entire environment and impacting users.
A hybrid approach also gives organizations more features to use, as they can leverage the benefits of both on-premises and cloud applications. Many cloud systems are still building out their services, while on-premises systems still offer more feature-rich services, especially for advanced users.
UC cloud migration – what not to do
Migrating UC to the cloud is usually part of a larger digital transformation initiative, so it’s critical to get this process right to see return on investment. Here are five key mistakes to avoid during your migration project.
DON’T: Move everything to the cloud purely on principle
This can be a huge mistake. By taking a “move everything to the cloud regardless” approach, you’re failing to recognize the intricacies of individual applications. It might make more sense to keep some apps on-premises. Adapting a hybrid approach is a smart move.
DON’T: Fail to assess or test your UC environment
Testing identifies the quality, availability and readiness of your UC environment, which is critical for a successful migration. It will help answer important questions like: “Do you have enough bandwidth at peak load?” and “Can we scale as the business demands?” Test for usage today and for the future.
DON’T: Move too fast
By taking a slow and steady approach, moving team by team, branch by branch, you can use the learnings from smaller moves to improve the process, identifying potential issues before they erupt. A gradual approach lets users get familiar with new systems without experiencing network disruptions, which will impact user adoption and ultimately ROI. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
DON’T: Fail to monitor ongoing performance and quality
It’s not uncommon for organizations to run into issues even after extensive testing and a successful deployment. Ongoing proactive UC monitoring and troubleshooting should become part of day-to-day UC management to ensure cloud benefits are realized continuously.
DON’T: Assume all applications are cloud enabled
All UC environments have connected apps. But can they all work in the cloud? Not all apps are cloud enabled and for those that are, generally, their app settings need to be updated when migrating to the cloud.
Download a PDF copy of the UC Optimization guide for Pros
Unified Communications helps enhance communication within your company to better support collaboration and productivity. To read more about UC and how it can work for your business, read the rest of our Pro guide series here: