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8 Steps to Moving Collaboration to the Cloud

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Many large enterprises today are moving their collaboration solution from a dedicated in-house infrastructure to a cloud-based solution, such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, or Zoom. The cloud transition causes changes for users, network teams, video collaboration teams, and IT metrics reporting. Collaboration is often used across the organization and by top management, so getting full visibility into an organization might be difficult, which can create problems when transitioning. Collaboration is often used across the organization and by top management which means hiccups that occur after rollout get high visibility. Avoid these with good planning and pre-rollout execution.
 
There are many issues to consider when an enterprise takes on a transition, which I hope to outline in this article. So, think of this article as a guide that outlines the questions and identifies which teams need to be in the room when you plan this change.
 
1. Choosing a Solution
Vendors are knocking on your door and showing you the value of their solutions every day. The real challenge is to define the needs of your company. What are the capabilities that will best serve your organization? A good collaboration solution can accelerate the pace of business within your company, but some companies will have to grow into an understanding of how to use it.
 
Here are some other questions to ask before choosing a solution:
  • What collaboration are you hoping to enable? Employees within departments or across departments and wide geographies? Are you hoping to collaborate with customers, vendors, or outside services that support your business?
  • Where are your users doing business (office, home, on-the-go)? These questions will drive the type of devices that have to be supported (phones, laptops, room systems).
  • What types of interactions will you be supporting? A distributed meeting is different than a joint working session. A teaching environment needs additional capabilities. Do you need language translation services in your meeting? Do you need automated note-taking?
Think broadly about your business and which portions can be enhanced by collaboration technology. Have a conversation with enterprise business leaders to see how they could use collaboration to help drive revenue, reduce costs, reduce time to market, or whatever other parameters. Even if it isn’t possible to support all the opportunities you uncover, you will have an ongoing roadmap of how the solutions should evolve over time to better support your enterprise. And you can tackle the capabilities incrementally based on which uses show the biggest returns.
 
2. Choosing a Vendor
Determining who to work with will largely be based on the solution itself and the flexibility of it to meet your specific needs, plus the usual parameters of reliability, cost, and business relationships. Think about users when making this choice as well – users hate abrupt transitions. They might not care who the vendor is, but they will care about the tool. New technologies are adopted more quickly when they look and feel like old technology. For example, you can drive a new car off the lot because the steering wheel, directional blinker, accelerator, and brakes all work the way they did in your old car; you don’t need three weeks of training to start using it.
 
Then, there are the technical challenges to ensure the vendor solution is compatible with your environment, including your existing video conferencing rooms, equipment, monitors, laptops, and phones. Test out how well these pieces work both inside and outside the corporate network. Learn what modifications will be required to the corporate firewalls to support the solution at scale and discuss those changes with your security team (see security below). This is where a proof-of-concept test is needed, followed by a beta test on the corporate network. Don’t skip either step, or the surprises will slow you down.
 
3. Keeping it Secure
The corporate security team must be an integral part of the conversation and the transition. If you bring them into the room and outline the goals in concert with the rest of the team, they will work with you to find an acceptable solution that allows the collaboration and keeps the company safe.
There are numerous parts of the security challenge, including:
  • Collaboration equipment must be kept secure to make sure it isn’t picking up viruses or isn’t open to external attack. Also, make sure users aren’t reconfiguring it or unplugging cables, preventing the room from being operational for the next meeting.
  • Communications between the collaboration equipment and the cloud provider must be secure, so you know who is in your meetings and who is listening. Make sure all network connections are operating with encryption, especially older SIP or H.323-based rooms.
  • The corporate network security must be maintained, while the collaboration solution wants many ports opened on the firewall. Collaboration solutions require audio and video streams initiated both inside and outside of the firewall to be allowed. But we don’t want nefarious third parties taking advantage of those ports to gain access to the corporate network. Work with the cloud provider to get a detailed and limited set of subnets that can make collaboration connections in and out of your organization and determine the appropriate set of rules to support them.
  • Lastly, think about the personally identifiable information (PII) created as a part of your collaboration solution. Individual users doing collaboration are using their email address as an identifier. Room systems may be named for the executive who owns the conference room or personal system. Call data records created and stored by your cloud vendor can be used to identify who is talking to whom, how often, and for how long. This information may allow third parties to guess about business processes or business plans you would rather not get out. IP addresses can potentially be used to identify where users live or work. The GDPR laws in Europe mandate protecting this information, and U.S. states are starting to require this as well.
4. Understanding Network Challenges
When moving from an in-house to a cloud-based service, we change the network paths used by our collaboration traffic. Analysis must be done to determine how these new paths will be impacted (primarily, by bandwidth consumption) and how we can maintain a high quality (low loss) transport for the collaboration traffic.
 
Implementation of additional Internet connection points or a transition to an SD-WAN strategy can have a key impact on these paths, their quality, their manageability, and on the network costs. Reducing network costs with the right design can be a big benefit of the cloud transition.
Using the Webinar features of some cloud-based collaboration solutions may have yet another impact on the network design and needs to be carefully considered. This is an area where surprises tend to have high visibility we prefer to avoid.
 
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