The UCStrategies Experts share their expertise in bylined articles, opinion pieces, blogs, and podcasts, to define unified communications, educate you about unified communications technologies, and help you make informed decisions about unified communications solutions.
UCStrategies.com defines unified communications as “Communications integrated to optimize business processes.” The definition of unified communications narrows significantly when you can read and hear about real-world examples that other companies are implementing right now—and apply them to your situation.
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This section provides a practical, vendor-independent service to any Enterprise that is seeking the benefits of Unified Communications. How do you pull everything together to implement unified communications? Use the tools in this sequence to define unified communications for your business.
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In 2008, I wrote white papers on Master Data Management, CRM versus CIM and Business Intelligence. All seemed to have their unique perspectives, however all had lots in common. For example: Do you know what the Smurfs and BI have in common? They were both invented in Oct 1958 in Belgium! That makes them both 50 years old!
Customer Relationship Management and Customer Information Management both want to serve the customer better, yet compete for your dollars. So, as an Enterprise E911 expert I was equally surprised to find what E911 had in common with Unified Communications. In researching this paper, I came across a reminder of some older technology that could represent the beginnings of Unified Communications and resulting in true customer service. The operator!
In the earliest days of telephone technology, prior to the development of the rotary dial telephone, all telephone calls were operator-assisted. To place a call, the caller simply picked up the telephone receiver and waited for the telephone operator to answer "number please?" The caller then asked to be connected to a particular number, and the operator would make the required connection manually, by means of a switchboard. In an emergency, the caller might simply say "get me the police", "I want to report a fire", or "I need an ambulance/doctor".
It was usually not necessary to ask for any of these services by number, even in a large city. Indeed, until the ability to dial a phone number came into widespread use in the 1950s (it had existed in limited form since the 1920s), it was not even possible for many telephone users to place calls without operator assistance. During the period when an operator was always involved in placing a phone call, the operator instantly knew the calling party's number, even if the caller couldn't stay on the line, by simply looking at the number above the line jack of the calling party. In smaller centers, telephone operators frequently went the extra mile by making sure they knew the locations of local doctors, vets, law enforcement personnel, and even private citizens who were willing or able to help in an emergency. That sounds like good old fashioned “Customer Service” to me!
Now fast forward to 2009 and the E911 individual state legislation that has been introduced across several states (16 states to be exact) with more to become state wide E911 compliant in 2009 and 2010. Add into that mix VoIP, cellular, presence and some networked enterprise environments across 2 or several states and you get the beginnings of a very complex landscape. There is no recipe book yet on how to determine, build or fix these E911 issues. The UC recipe book is in its 2nd edition. So I thought I would point out some things that may strike a cord with some of you, many of you, even all of you about E 911 and how it is similar in challenges, requirements and benefits to UC and a UC Road Map.
First let’s talk about what E911 and UC have in common.
They both are about integrating communications into business applications for the purpose of better customer service, (a customer being internal or external in this case) as both require attention to, how do you interact with those customers in an efficient and an effective manner? A PSAP center requires that kind if interaction with the citizen and the enterprise. There is no room for mistakes.
Second, both require consideration of a customer or the employee’s safety. Enhanced 911 is a critical component of a corporate liability and risk management plan. Knowing the accurate location of your employees when they call 911 is critical to your emergency response. Enterprises are increasingly required to provide E911 to meet state and local regulations.
Third, both require attention to the people, process and the technology issues when implementing either E911 or UC. They both require that the organization fundamentally define the business goal to be achieved, determine if a business problem exists, address any business challenge, and then look to organizing people, technology and processes around it in order to solve issues effectively.
With any E 911 implementation there is the need to address both compliance and risk issues to the organization, the formal interaction with either the State E911 body and or the individual PSAP center for testing of the enterprise system and the information flow between the enterprise to the PSAP with the correct ANI displayed, the ALI address correct in the PS-ALI database, and the DID and or non DID station information displayed at the PSAP.
Fourth, both require and need to deliver real-time interaction and real-time collaboration with customers and employees. The formal testing of an enterprise E911 requires understanding the NENA policy, individual state legislation, multi jurisdictional issues, which can be either 2 or more states or 2 or more county’s. UC allows an enterprise team to do more collaboration in service to the customer.
Delivering reduced cycle times or improving response times is achievable and measureable through the implementation of UC. UC solutions typically shine when configured across geographically deployed environments.
And last but not least Presence. Presence is a powerful technology that indicates the status of an individual's current availability (online, busy, away, do not disturb, idle, offline, etc.) When used with Unified Communications, Presence information can be shared with multiple applications and devices such as phone, e-mail, voicemail and others. Presence exists in the E911 world as well. New individual state legislation says that the enterprise must provide ANI signaling, station identification data and updates to enhanced 911 data bases. Perhaps a basic form of presence, but presence never the less.
UC and E911 also have the same challenges. Consider your Workforce Mobility and Infrastructure – Based on the mobility of your employees and the type of voice network you have installed (traditional versus IP telephony,) Mobility is a huge factor and needs to be addressed in E911 policy. In Canada, 911 operators do not have the ability to determine the exact location of a caller who is using a cell phone, despite advances in Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. That has been mandated to change February 2010.
In the U.S., dispatchers use one of two methods – GPS or signal triangulation. GPS location uses the signals from global positioning satellites, provided cell phones have a special receiver chip and the network is set up to calculate that information, then provide the information to the dispatcher. GPS requires an unobstructed view of the sky, so calling from indoors or parking garages can create problems.
Triangulation calculates the location of the caller using the distance and direction of the signal to the cell tower. Towers must be outfitted with special receivers to do this. Triangulation becomes more reliable when there are more towers to draw from, but can be problematic in remote areas. The U.S. has been using this technology since at least 2005.
Mobility is a significant component in UC as well. IDC predicts the Mobility market in 2011 to be 1 billion users globally. One of the things that unified communications can do is provide things like single number access or extend calls to a cellular system. However think of the challenges this will create when mobile users want access to corporate applications and data. On the surface, these requests may seem easy enough to address — but without a clearly defined mobility policy in place, acting on them can lead to a host of problems ranging from data security breaches to excessive mobile device and support costs.
The rich and robust features of IP telephony offer great versatility and ease of operation; however, the features often conflict with the requirements for E911. The E911 legal requirements are ever tightening, and they vary from state to state, and sometimes city to city. To be in compliance with E911 regulations requires far more than simply providing a mechanism to dial 911; it also requires identifying the location of the 911 caller to the PSAP (911 operators). Many implementers of IPT systems overlook this crucial need to be compliant with E911 regulations, resulting in higher risks, and higher costs to get into compliance after the initial system deployment.
If 9-1-1 is dialed from a commercial Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service, depending on how the provider handles such calls, the call may not go anywhere at all, or it may go to a non-emergency number at the public safety answering point associated with the billing or service address of the caller. Because a VoIP adapter can be plugged into any broadband internet connection, a caller could actually be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home, yet if the call goes to an answering point at all, it would be the one associated with the caller's address and not the actual location of the call. It may never be possible to reliably and accurately identify the location of a VoIP user, even if a GPS receiver is installed in the VoIP adapter, since such phones are normally used indoors, and thus may not be able to get a signal.
Facility Location/Infrastructure and Complexity is another challenging issue for both E911 and UC. Based on the number of facilities (buildings) an enterprise is managing, the type of facility and if they are in states with legislation, posses a legislation challenge. We have been working with a client that has front gate in Vermont and a back door in New Hampshire that deal with completely different legislation requirements.
Organizations with multi-floor buildings, remote offices, home office workers or call centers tend to have a lot of movement or hundreds of employees at each site. Complex environments or remote offices increase the risk of improper location identification when a 911 call is made. Despite the advances in communications technology – or ironically, possibly because of these advances – business users are clearly experiencing a frustrating, complex and fragmented communications environment. While the multiplicity of devices and media give flexibility and choice, they also add to communication latency, friction and overload.
Although UC solutions tackle the virtual enterprise well, UC venders are just starting to understand, educate and deliver suites of products that address the “plumbing” part of UC. It will be interesting to see what the rest of 2009 brings in this specific area.
Before moving forward any organization should have the IT staff assess the readiness of real time communication flows across their IP network infrastructure. UC deployments may be multi-vendor, therefore, insure that your chosen vendor is committed to working with other key industry players and standards organizations. Most UC deployments will be built upon their IP telephony software, therefore, insure that your IP telephony vendor has a strong UC commitment and can execute against their UC vision. Consider developing a ROI (Return on Investment) and a TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) UC model for your organization as industry standards have not emerged. Individual productivity advances in the range of 15% to 20% have been attributed to UC. These figures should be independently calculated for your organization.
Benefits of UC and E911
Complex communication systems that support multiple geographic locations, multi-story buildings and campus environments benefit the most from Enhanced 911 and are at the most risk without a proper system in place to capture and manage location information. An effective plan for E911 compliance must address business issues, business process and change management as well as technology solutions. Boy that sounds like a checklist of requirements for UC!
Complex communication systems that support multiple geographic locations, multi-story buildings and campus environments benefit the most from UC. Business communications affect people both inside and outside the organization, which means that the benefits of UC will be realized both at the business process level and at the individual personal productivity level. Getting the job done as well and as quickly as possible is a particular challenge for teams that need to coordinate efforts on a particular task or business process. The ability of groups to communicate efficiently allows tasks to be completed more quickly, with better coordination and less effort.
Now that national and global networks (IP or TDM) are so economical, most multi-location companies are removing the many small voice mail systems from their branches, power generation plants, distribution sites, etc. and routing call answering traffic to one or two centralized locations. Just the savings in maintenance alone can justify this move. TCO makes it even more attractive. Of course, E-mail is already in that mode and voice mail is now moving as networks enable economical call coverage to the central sites. Some companies leave the auto-attendant functions on the local IP PBX gateway, so that only the actual call answering and call recording go to the central site.
When implementing a complete E911 solution, there are a number of details that need to be addressed. These details require coordination among many parties including internal departments, the dial-tone provider, the PBX vendor and ALI database providers. In years past, these components were often not considered a critical part of telephone system design except when working with larger system installations. Today, this has clearly changed as more and more organizations are purchasing systems and enabling sophisticated networking features, enabling centralized trunking, tying multiple disparate sites together, supporting remote users, and supporting the fluid move/change environment enabled by IP phones.
These capabilities have the potential to affect the integrity of 911 calling. Today’s IP telephone systems and current carrier offerings allow enterprises the flexibility to architect systems to join sites, share trunking, and create a single virtual telephone environment like never before. But these capabilities challenge consultants, system designers, and customers to fully understand and plan through the implications these can pose on emergency services notification. It is important to determine answers to key questions before a system is deployed.
When implementing a UC solution, there are a number of details that need to be addressed. These details require coordination among many parties including internal departments, all vendors, IT, desk top applications, network providers, capacity planning and you’re the internal UC communications team. Enterprises do have actionable steps available to greatly reduce the quantified pain, frustration and incremental expenses.
Today’s business market demands that professionals have the ability to reach colleagues when they need them, use what-ever contact media is at hand, and collaborate from wherever they happen to be working. Today’s built-in delays to the execution of business processes begin to disappear. The process efficiencies and resultant competitive advantage in customer satisfaction and revenue generation are indeed exciting and available today.
How does UC affect an E911 implementation? In years past, this question was often not considered a critical part of telephone system design except when working with larger system installations. Today, this has clearly changed as more and more organizations are purchasing systems and enabling sophisticated networking features, enabling centralized trunking, tying multiple disparate sites together, supporting remote users, and supporting the fluid move/change environment enabled by IP phones. These capabilities have the potential to affect the integrity of 911 calling.
Furthermore E 911 is product specific on how it works. Nortel ESA is different from Avaya Communication Manager/Directory Enabled Management to NEC E911 Alert to Mitel’s Emergency Response Advisor to Cisco’s CUCM/CER.
The best way to begin is to look at what processes are already in place before implementing E911. Call flows between UC set up and workflows may be in conflict with E911 state requirements. Remember there will be a need to deliver the correct ANI name and number and match the correct ALI address at the PSAP center. Things as simple as Class of Service or Class of Restriction may be in conflict. If the UC flow crosses many sites, that may be an issue. Assess network requirements that do not undo the UC design but provide the correct E911 information. Check to see if the PBX manufacturer provides detection and routing. Understand the state legislation required of the organization. They vary considerably from state to state. Decide if there is a need for internal security alert, also known by different names depending on the PBX manufacturer. There are many more questions to consider but you get the idea. Walk carefully; hire an expert to guide you.
I think that was an AHA moment!
Kane-MacKay & Associates are a leading practice in Enterprise E911 compliance and implementation planning. The firm is also a senior practice leader in Business Process Management and Human Centric Process necessary to the planning and success of any UC Road Map implementation.
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Communications Integrated to Optimize Business Processes.
UC integrates real-time and non-real time communications with business processes and requirements.
Uses presence capabilities for coordination, and presents a consistent unified user interface and experience across multiple devices and media types.
Learn more at What is Unified Communications all about?