How to Avoid the Unified Communications Pilot Trap

How to Avoid the Unified Communications Pilot Trap

By Blair Pleasant January 16, 2013 3 Comments
How to Avoid the Unified Communications Pilot Trap by Blair Pleasant

The Pilot Trap – When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough

Ask any enterprise customer, reseller, or system integrator what’s the biggest challenge when it comes to deploying a unified communications (UC) solution, most of them will say multivendor interoperability. UC is not a single product, but a solution comprised of many different elements and components from various vendors, which at times may not play nice with each other. Choosing the proper hardware and device elements, trying to get all the moving pieces to work together, while managing and maintaining the different vendor relationships, can be a nightmare – if not properly managed.

It’s not uncommon to find very capable CIOs and IT Directors, leap into the UC pool somewhat unprepared. Often it starts as a simple trial of Microsoft Lync, deployed for Instant Messaging and Presence (IM&P) only on the existing network and with existing workstations.  Productivity improves with IM&P and the pilot expands – more people and more features.  

The true value of UC comes with voice-enabling Microsoft Lync, bringing voice features to the workstation with headsets or IP Phones. The IT decision makers scour the certification lists on Microsoft’s Lync certification site TechNet – using word-of-mouth and social media to help them choose the voice-enablement devices.

As the voice trial expands, issues start to arise with features, compatibility and voice quality – often causing many organizations to put their deployment plans on hold, sometimes indefinitely. The result is what AudioCodes calls the “Pilot Trap” – when companies get to the pilot stage of a UC deployment, but get stuck because they didn’t do their homework upfront to really understand what is needed to make a successful UC deployment.

Multi-Vendor Environments – The Importance of Playing Nice With Others

When presenting my UC Market Overview at conferences, I generally include a slide titled “No One Vendor Does It All,” which shows the various elements of a UC solution, and the many best-of-breed vendors and products in the market. There are some “all-in-one” packages for SMBs, but for mid-size and enterprise-level UC deployments, best-of-breed multivendor solutions are generally the norm. This is especially true in a Microsoft Lync environment, as Microsoft does not provide its own desk phones, contact center application, SBCs, gateways, etc., and works with partners to provide these capabilities. Microsoft Lync is the most widely deployed product for IM and presence, but the majority of Lync customers still use their existing IP PBX/PBX for call control and voice capabilities, which means that a majority of enterprises deploying UC will need to ensure interoperability with their existing switches and networks.

While multi-vendor solutions will continue to be the norm, there are some key challenges for both enterprises and resellers:

  • Vendor management – working with multiple vendors becomes much more difficult as the number of vendors grows. In addition, it becomes harder for channel partners to leverage their volume discounts and/or programs;

  • Training – getting fully trained in the various types of equipment with different interfaces and management systems is very time consuming;

  • Maintaining current certifications can also take a lot of time;

  • Getting technical support from the appropriate vendor generally leads to “finger pointing” between vendors trying to resolve issues.

Channel partners selling Microsoft Lync solutions face even more challenges, since Lync solutions by design require multiple vendors’ products. AudioCodes, which provides SBCs, gateways, and other products for a Lync environment, recognized that for its channel partners to be more successful, they need something to take away the complexity of multivendor environments, while offering a solution that is easier to deploy and manage. AudioCodes introduced One Voice for Microsoft Lync, which lets reseller partners build voice-enabled Lync-based solutions using AudioCodes gateways, SBAs, and AudioCodes IP phones.

AudioCodes One Voice for Microsoft Lync

The company describes AudioCodes One Voice for Microsoft Lync as “a comprehensive program that encompasses the major network elements and application solutions required to successfully implement voice communications with Microsoft Lync.” One Voice includes not just the hardware pieces, but also professional services and customer support packages offered through AudioCodes reseller partners, helping to reduce the time it takes to deploy a UC solution. The network elements of One Voice include a variety of AudioCodes products, including a new line of Microsoft Lync-certified IP phones, Mediant Enhanced Media Gateways, Mediant Enterprise Session Border Controllers (E-SBCs), SmartTAP Recording, and AudioCodes Session Experience Manager (SEM), which are all tied together with professional services, including a network assessment, planning, design, implementation and optimization services, as well as support services provided through AudioCodes partners.

According to Alan Percy, AudioCodes Senior Director of Strategic Marketing, NA, by working with AudioCodes IP Phones, gateways, E-SBCs, SBAs, and application software for Lync implementations, end-customers can reduce the number of vendors that need to be managed, making Lync deployments easier for both end user customers and channel partners. 

Percy states that working with AudioCodes’ common and unified products reduces the time and effort to gain and maintain technical competence, and channel partners don’t have to learn the various user interfaces, technical details, terminology and diagnostic procedures for a number of different vendors. The AudioCodes phones, gateways, etc., all have common management interfaces and protocols, using essentially the same management system across all the products. By using a common software core of the various AudioCodes products, interoperability issues are reduced, especially with management and QoE systems that would otherwise have to integrate to numerous different vendors. Also, by working with one vendor for all the hardware components in a Lync deployment, third-party conflicts, incompatibility issues, and vendor finger pointing are reduced.

Avoiding the Pilot Trap

By providing access to not only a set of integrated network elements needed for a Lync deployment, but services such as network assessment, network planning, optimization services, etc., AudioCodes hopes that customers will be better prepared before doing Lync deployments, increasing their chances of success. Reducing the challenges of multi-vendor environments, particularly interoperability issues, is a huge step toward helping to grow the UC market. UC is still not simple nor plug-and-play, but by reducing the number of vendors and network elements, especially for a Lync solution, AudioCodes is helping partners and customers reduce the complexity, while increasing the likelihood of moving from UC pilots to full-blown successful enterprise-wide deployments.


3 Responses to "How to Avoid the Unified Communications Pilot Trap" - Add Yours

Joseph Williams 1/17/2013 2:27:37 PM

Blair is spot on with her comments. However, more to the point about the "Pilot Trap," enterprises are going into these pilots with no clear about what to do once the pilot is complete. It isn't just a technology issue, it is a serious lack of strategy regarding what the enterprise is trying to do with UC. Too often these pilots do little more than simply test whether the UC solution can provide PBX-like functionality. Too little thinking about how UC can enable / ignite ogranizational change.
Alan Percy 1/24/2013 5:41:37 AM

Joseph makes an excellent point - we too see a misguided preception of UC as PBX replacement, often ignoring the way UC changes the way people work. Examples are simple ad-hoc multi-party conferencing and desktop sharing. Impossible with PBX systems, these UC features allow coworkers to collaborate across great distances in a moment's notice.

With that said, I believe the point of the article is that without proper training, planning, equipment and the support services, the average IT director stands little chance of implementing UC across a large organization.
Dave Michels 1/24/2013 8:58:01 AM

I think part of the problem is the "free" licensing. I don't want to criticize part of the strategy that is so effective, but in this regard CIOs feel compelled - obligated to evaluate Lync. The have the impression it is free, and it is part of their fiduciary responsibility to evaluate it before writing a check for whatever system they have in place (maintenance or upgrades). The reality is it is't free - esp as a PBX replacement. Too often we see organizations do their research and evaluation by pilot instead of understanding the product fit and cost before hand.

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