• Carefully analyze the potential impact of a VoIP or UC system to your current network infrastructure to determine if it can handle the increased voice and video traffic.
• CIOs should go beyond feedback from IT and ensure that users are polled to discover what types of communication applications are currently in use and how they’re being used.
• To ensure that your needs analysis is a success, determine what benefits you ultimately want to realize from a VoIP or UC system.
Wading into the complex waters of voice over IP and unified communications can be a harrowing experience if you don’t come prepared. Smart organizations will step back and determine their communications needs from every possible angle before forging ahead with a VoIP or UC system, but that process demands a certain level of structure and diligence to ensure success.
“It’s important for enterprises to first have a strong understanding of where their UC/VoIP challenges lie,” says John Del Pizzo, program director for IBM’s Unified Communication & Collaboration Software group. “From speaking with customers, these are commonly identified as slow business processes and response times; expensive travel; and complex, disparate technology platforms.”
The process of evaluating VoIP and UC needs should also extend beyond the current point in time, as enterprises can be well-served by positioning potential systems against future business needs and goals. An overall effective evaluation plan will ultimately take a close look at existing infrastructure, the benefits desired from a VoIP or UC system, and the requirements of the business users.
Eye On The Network
According to Peter Eisengrein, senior vice president of network operations and design for Evolve IP (www.evolveip.net), it’s essential to consider the impact to your LAN/WAN when considering any large-scale change, whether it’s adding a VoIP system or adding a new enterprise application. After all, the network is the foundation for all of your communications, so it’s important to ensure that it’s in solid shape to avoid disappointing results with the change.
This network evaluation requires answers (from your IT staff or your data integrator) to several questions, he says. For example, is your physical cable capable of carrying 100Mbps? Is it at least CAT 5 or better through the building(s)? Are your network elements capable of carrying high-priority traffic, such as voice? Can the network be configured for QoS (quality of service)? What is your network’s busy-hour utilization? What is your network topology—single-broadcast domain or is there logical separation? Do you have sufficient Internet bandwidth to support the additional voice traffic?
Though the condition and topology of the network is certainly key to determining what kind of system would work best, it’s also critical to look at the users themselves. Jeremy Littlejohn, chief analyst with RISC Networks (www.riscnetworks.com), notes that analysis of needs for UC and VoIP systems typically falls to the IT or telecom group. However, those groups don’t spend enough time collecting business intelligence about their users, so they’re often left in the dark about what employees use to communicate—and, more importantly, why they use those tools.
“One indication of this is the fact that in well over 60% of the voice and video readiness analytics engagements that we run, the IT department does not want us to evaluate their Microsoft Windows environment. ‘This is a network readiness assessment for voice; it doesn’t have anything to do with our desktops’ is their normal response,” Littlejohn says. “They are flat-out wrong. UC and even VoIP have everything to do with their users’ desktops, their servers, the applications in use, and the potential opportunities to transform the way a company communicates. These applications are the components that users interact with, not a router or a switch, and they must be part of the needs analysis.”
CIOs, Littlejohn continues, must challenge any and all assumptions about VoIP/UC needs analysis that comes from IT. For example, he says, if IT says it requires presence, the CIO needs to ask why and how many users are currently using applications that provide that type of information. In many cases, the CIO and IT staff won’t know the answer, so it’s valuable to discover what apps are in use and spend some time talking to users of those apps to see how and why they use them. Most enterprises realize they need reliable dialtone service, but this analysis can help them determine whether they need desktop video, for example, Littlejohn explains.
“Think outside of the IT box,” Littlejohn says. “Use a holistic approach and involve groups other than IT and telecom. And within IT, make sure that the project has C-level sponsorship. This allows the team that is doing the needs analysis the ability to access the information that is critical to success. Without this sharing of data, UC or VoIP becomes a network project and is destined to be a lukewarm success at best, and more likely, a failure.”
Keep The Goal In Sight
IBM’s Del Pizzo stresses that enterprises should keep in mind their end goal when analyzing their VoIP and/or UC needs. These systems can impart a wide range of benefits, but knowing which of these benefits is most important to the business and other factors of the organization is a fundamental part of determining exactly what technology is required.
For example, he explains, you can increase productivity through the use of collaborative environments, reduce costs by streamlining networks and network management support and improving communication capabilities, support a mobile workforce and distributed operations, improve customer service by transforming legacy call centers into multichannel contact centers, and drive new business processes and revenue streams by enabling enhanced communications.
by Christian Perry
Be Inquisitive |
Like needs analysis for other systems, evaluating VoIP and UC requirements typically boils down to a process of detailed information gathering. John Del Pizzo, program director for IBM’s Unified Communication & Collaboration Software group, suggests finding answers to the following questions to help with the discovery process:
• What is your current telephony infrastructure? Is there a mix of PBX vendor types? Are there legacy phone systems and/or IP telephony?
• Do you prefer to standardize on one PBX vendor or multiple vendors?
• Will you migrate all at once, or would you prefer to migrate over time to IP telephony?
• How will you deliver a common set of functionality to users during migration?
• Do you want to build a centralized model, or does the organizational structure require decentralized implementations?
• What is the current state of the network? Can it handle the additional voice and video traffic?