Determine how each business unit uses the communications tools at its disposal and identify any communication problems, then consider how each unit might benefit from unified communications.
In 2004, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein had run out of room in its then-telephony set-up, one of Nortel's Norstar key systems. The San Francisco-based law firm's three offices were expanding, so IT director Dario Mileto looked at traditional phone systems, pure VoIP and VoIP hybrids (which let legacy PBXs work with IP systems). Lieff Cabraser segmented out just one line before settling on a pure VoIP system from Avaya.
But it took the firm's partners some convincing to make the decision. "They were concerned that voice quality would not be as good with VoIP as traditional TDM," says Mileto, referring to time division multiplexing, the older method whereby voice and data share the same space on a public-switched telephone network. "But we learned that voice quality is perfectly fine if your infrastructure can support it." Still, the firm hedged its bets just a bit: The firm's main number was left on a traditional telecom line. "We're a plaintiff's law firm," Mileto explains, "and if that number ever went out, we would lose all sorts of business."
The firm fully integrated some 300 phone lines across offices in New York, San Francisco and Nashville, for a total cost of about $100,000. Voicemail and e-mail are stored on the same server. Lieff Cabraser is weighing instant messaging, which Avaya offers, but opted to forego a fax server. Company policy is to maintain a hard copy of all documents in its records. The firm added a bridge for conference calls. By switching from a teleconferencing service, the firm will cut its conferencing costs in half and the bridge will pay for itself in six to eight months, Mileto says.
Unified communications vendors are quick to assert that implementing their systems does not mean ripping out legacy systems and the investment that was made in them. Their systems are software-based, they say, and can be layered on top of existing set-ups.
Vendors say their systems play a role in protecting investments in other ways as well. Users' phone directories are preserved on the main system, for instance, so if an employee loses a cell phone during a business trip, for example, that employee's contact list remains accessible. Also, one compliance system applies to all the tools in a unified communications system, simplifying compliance and saving on costs.
Before you can decide which, if any, unified communications system to implement, ask your firm's employees how they use real-time communications. Are they at their desks all the time, or on the road? Do they telecommute from remote offices? Do they get frequent high-priority or emergency calls? Are there gaps in workflow that can be closed only with real- time communications?
It was that last problem that pushed Global Crossing in the direction of intelligent, unified communications. When Michael Fuqua, senior vice president for global information systems at the IP-based network operator, analyzed the company's workflow, what immediately jumped out at him was its execution of exception processing. But the right tool to close the communication gap would have to be something that did more than ping the right problem solver. To Fuqua, it needed to operate from within the application the employee was using. And that ability to communicate and function with a core application is the difference, for many, between simple unified messaging and true unified communications. "We had the view that unified communications is more than just a standalone tool set; it's embedded into an app," Fuqua says. "We wanted to have users have the same experience regardless of the app."
After evaluating unified communications options from Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft and Nortel (elements from all four were operating within the company), Global Crossing went with Microsoft, starting in 2005 with Microsoft Live Communications Server, which it integrated with Cisco CallServer. Microsoft announced a big push into unified communications last year and Global Crossing has since moved up to its Office Communications Server, a session initiation protocol server that can handle IP-based voice traffic, instant messaging and Web conferencing. Global Crossing spent $25 to $30 a seat on the changes--the investment will save the company 30 percent on its telecom costs, Fuqua says. It includes a secure instant messaging structure for the entire company.
Ask your IT unit heads:
Is the equipment more important to the company's strategy, or are the applications?
Ask your business unit heads:
What do you aim to accomplish with unified communications?