Selling UC, Using UC
An inside look at how a systems integrator uses the enterprise communications products and services it sells
Life comes with a few simple rules: Be kind to others. Live purposefully. Learn from your mistakes. Don't buy a unified communications solution from a company that doesn't deliver unified communications to its own employees.
OK, you won't find that last rule in any self-help book, but for those of us who understand the power of presence, it's extremely important. After all, you wouldn't take financial advice from someone deep in debt and you wouldn't hire a personal trainer that was sorely out of shape -- at least I certainly wouldn't. So, doesn't it also hold true that you shouldn't trust your enterprise's communications future to a company that doesn't use the products it sells?
A couple weeks ago, No Jitter managing editor Beth Schultz challenged everyone to open up the kimono in her post, Enterprise Communications Managers: We Want You. Not being one to pass up a challenge, I wanted to share the communications world in which I live.
At Arrow Systems Integration (formerly Arrow S3) we eat our own dog food, so to speak. While we don't manufacture products, we do promote them. And so, by dog food, I mean the multimedia PC clients, mobile UC clients, enterprise conferencing, desktop video, room video, document sharing, and integrated UC applications we package up in our solutions. Best of all, we don't lock our users into specific hardware platforms, software, or even vendors. We give our employees choices that allow them to pick and choose what works best for their particular communications needs.
Avaya is at the core of Arrow SI's voice strategy. We have an up-to-date Avaya Aura system comprising a main site in Bloomington, Minn. (my home base), and local survivable processors in our larger branches around the country. Those of you familiar with Avaya will recognize this as a flatten-consolidate-extend configuration. This gives us a robust system that delivers reliable voice services to our 1,000+ employees.
We serve Avaya and third-party applications and services from an enterprise communications cloud we were able to create using Avaya Aura Session Manager, of which we were an early adopter. The services connect to the cloud with SIP and are accessible to both Avaya and non-Avaya systems.
Up until a few years ago, we primarily used H.323-based voice services for both office and home users (a significant number of our employees work from home). Our remote workers would connect to the voice core with VPN-enabled physical telephones or soft clients on their PCs.
That was then, though. These days, SIP is our protocol of choice and we use an Avaya session border controller as the ingress and egress point for our remote users, whether they are using a traditional desk phone, a soft client, or -- especially exciting, I think -- mobile clients on their smartphones and tablets. I run a SIP telephone client on my iPhone and iPad, and know of coworkers who run similar clients on their Android devices.
It's All About Choice
While Avaya still plays a significant role in our communications strategy, Microsoft is just as important.
Starting with Office Communication Server (OCS) before moving to Lync (I still can't bring myself to say Skype for Business), our users have had presence and instant message on their desktops for years. Every PC is installed with the Lync client, and most users have installed Lync on their Android, iOS, or Windows Phone smart devices. Some have fully immersed themselves in the Microsoft world and have jettisoned their Avaya telephones for Lync Enterprise Voice.
Since we are all about choices here at Arrow SI, you will even find users who have adopted UC solutions from Cisco and others who get UC software delivered as a service from the Genband Nuvia cloud platform. Our solutions are federated, so a user's personal preference won't affect the ability of every employee to communicate with every other employee. A presence jellybean will show that someone is on a call regardless of how he or she is taking that call. We have no communications islands around here.
Choice isn't limited to soft clients and telephones, for us. Arrow SI offers choices around voice, video, and data conferencing. Every user has the ability to have his or her own Microsoft or Avaya conference bridge. I personally use whichever one best suits the needs of my audience, but most employees have settled on one.
Can You See Me Now?
Want Polycom? We got it. Want Microsoft video? We got that, too. Are you an Avaya guy or gal and does Scopia do it for you? No problem. Like voice, we have implemented all the technologies our customers ask about and open them up to our own user population.
Now, unlike voice, video interoperability is still something of a challenge. You cannot make a Lync video call to a Scopia client and vice versa. This requires users of video to either install all platforms or selectively choose who they want to look at during the call. It's my hope that that is not always the case, but it's the world we live in today.
The Enterprise Communications Cloud
As I mentioned earlier, we use Avaya Session Manager to connect to our applications and access elements. This allows every user to have access to the same voice mail system, conference server, and SIP trunks. Arrow SI hosts some of these services on either dedicated appliances or virtual servers, but we're pushing more and more of our applications into the Microsoft Azure Cloud.
On top of the off-the-shelf applications, our enterprise cloud also supports the Avaya Engagement Development Platform for custom applications development. That has been fun for me, as I've written Java code that allows me to do some pretty clever call manipulation. So far, it has all been experimental work, but I see the power behind this platform and anticipate some exciting real-world applications in the not-too-distant future.
Additionally, we use the enterprise cloud to distribute SIP trunks throughout our entire network. This has allowed us to slash the number of local trunks at branch offices. In fact, we have reduced quite a few locations down to zero trunks. Everything comes from our cloud.
Those SIP trunks also give us extremely flexible applications scalability. For example, expanding the size of our conference bridges is as simple as adding more logical trunks to existing bandwidth. What used to require weeks and a capital expense can now be accomplished in minutes for practically nothing.
I hope this helps you form a picture of what we at Arrow SI are doing with unified communications. Again, our goal is to offer choice. We use every product we promote, and give our employees access to the platforms that make the most sense for their work styles. Geeks like me will probably choose to use them all, but that's certainly not a requirement. We are not a square-peg-in-a-round-hole type of company.
Are there other companies that choose to offer their employees as many options as we do? Doubtful, but as systems integrators, we have to be open and flexible. We believe what is good for us is even better for our customers.
Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.
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