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Unified Communications and Its Impact on IT and the Business from Delivery to a Year and Beyond

Communications Server 2007 R2

With businesses trying to cut costs and build on existing IT investments, vendors are keen to follow suit by educating their customers about Unified Communications (UC). More often than not, UC can take on many shapes and sizes depending upon the preferred flavor, but one thing remains the same: optimization of communication within the enterprise. This optimization often rationalizes upon end-user communication touch points by introducing easily accessible mechanisms for business collaboration. This article examines some of these new ways of working, specifically by deploying the Microsoft UC Suite (Communications Server and Exchange Unified Messaging).

Author: Adam Jacobs

Publication date: February 2010

Product version: Office Communications Server 2007, Office Communications Server 2007 R2, Exchange Server 2007, and Exchange Server 2010

As you might know, IT professionals are now likely to be responsible for delivering both voice and data infrastructure to their business. I say this because not so long ago they were separate functions. The person responsible for voice wouldn’t know much about routers and switches, and your data technician might look at you blankly when you told him you needed additional PRI cards for your PBX.

Of course, this has all changed, and while desktop VoIP has already been implemented by around 34% of enterprises*, the next generation of telephony technology is being layered on top of these former investments. Microsoft refers to this as "no rip and replace", which basically means taking your existing infrastructure and layering Unified Communications (UC) intelligence on top of it. This is a key point when trying to leverage funds from your CTO.

In my capacity as IT Service Delivery Manager for a medium size foreign exchange company, First Rate Exchange Services, I decided that by adopting UC, we could add several efficiencies to our IT provision. I could talk to you about how we went about deploying these systems, but I’m limited on space, so I will focus on our key objectives and the benefits of UC to both IT and the business.

Our initial requirements included:

  • Soft phone capabilities: A location independent phone that could be used not only within our already QoS enabled WAN, but also through VPN while users are at home or away on business.
  • Presence: Knowing people’s availability status (for example, on the phone, in a meeting, or out of the office).
  • Alternative handsets for users: Rather than using TDM or VoIP vendor-manufactured devices, we wanted to supply USB phones (Catalina-a personal favorite), Ethernet phones (Tanjay), or just a USB headset (which I always keep in my bag).
  • Opportunities: We knew that with the addition of Office Communications Server, we would be able to consider integrating with other mobile devices or even federation with other partner organizations.

The benefits from the previously listed requirements were realized early on, but after a year of running UC in company-wide production, we now recognize many more.

The following scenarios are just a few examples:

  • Senior executives demand a phone in each of their offices: While the deployment of additional phones is business as usual, delivering the same telephone number (without call forwarding) can be difficult or impossible. Well, not anymore. Because your telephone DDI is automatically delivered to where your Office Communicator logs on, by enabling the exec for Enterprise Voice and placing a Catalina in both office locations, your job is done!
  • The company is feeling the squeeze and starting to hot desk (a headache for every IT department): With UC, Communications Server can easily make the usually difficult task of telephony roaming straightforward, even when your desk phones don’t allow multiple users or easy log on/off capabilities. Catalina devices can be easily placed in hot desk locations with zero configuration or structured-cabling requirements.
  • The provision of additional staff: When you need to create active directory accounts and mailboxes, UC allows you to enable their voicemail and phone configuration within the same interface or MMC. This allows our IT to take the existing new users’ setup script and build these services into this task sequence.
  • We are now "greener" with our DDIs: This is because we have no idle handsets sitting on desks because we are now able to provision DDIs to all users once. Like most businesses, getting number ranges from your carrier can be difficult, and managing them even harder. By understanding the DDIs you require in advance you can plan capacity ahead of time and, where possible, get consecutive number ranges.

*Results taken from a Forrester survey undertaken by both SMBs and Enterprises in 2009.

Adam Jacobs is an IT Services Delivery Manager at First Rate Exchange Services (a joint venture between Bank of Ireland and Post Office).

 
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