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Living Well with Lync

Someone recently suggested that the title of my column "Living with Lync" sounded as if people were living with a disease. As such, I choose to entitle this article, "Living Well with Lync" in order to reinforce that the focus of this ongoing series has always been to share tips, tricks, obstacles and successes so that you can better understand the UC end-state that Lync represents for many organizations.

Certainly evidence suggests that more and more organizations are selecting Lync as both their UC solution and voice solution. According to Microsoft, 5 million Lync voice seats have been deployed. A significant number of organizations are looking to Lync as their IP telephony solution, according to Irwin Lazar of Nemertes Research. Whatever the exact numbers are, Melanie Turek of Frost & Sullivan concludes that Microsoft is significantly impacting enterprise communications.

With more and more organizations looking toward Lync as their voice and UC solution, exactly how do you "live well with Lync?" Quite simply, you focus on doing three things:

1. Determine Lync is the right solution for your organization.
2. Plan and execute a proper migration to Lync.
3. Ensure you have the right processes and tools to manage your Lync environment.

Determining Lync is the Right Solution for your Organization
Lync is a great solution for many, but not all, organizations. And even when Lync is a good fit, you need to determine if it should replace or augment your existing voice environment.

To "live well with Lync," you first must determine if Lync is "just right" for your organization. To do this, make sure you ...

1. Define and document your requirements, by interviewing or surveying actual end users.
2. Define and evaluate multiple viable options against your specific requirements.
3. Impartially document the pros and cons of each solution related to your requirements.
4. Provide budgetary costing for each option--Value for investment is important!
5. Make a recommendation. Based on the evaluation, if Lync is the best fit, great; if not, proceed with an alternative UC solution.
6. Pilot Lync (or your alternative UC solution) to ensure the "fit"--usage and adoption is the ultimate proof point.

After you have determined that Lync is the right solution or if Lync plays a role in a hybrid solution, you must migrate from where you are to where you want to be.

Successfully Migrating to Lync
In the past 19 months, I have led a team of professionals that has migrated 59 offices to full Lync voice and UC. Through this process, I have learned that migrating successfully to Lync involves doing these key things:

1. Ensuring network readiness
2. Having the right technology design expertise and experience
3. Appointing a project leader and securing strong executive support
4. Recognizing the importance of communications, training and change management

Lync, like all VoIP solutions, needs a network (LAN and WAN) that can deliver reliable, consistent real-time traffic. This is even more important if there are requirements or expectations to use desktop or room-based video (e.g. Lync Room Systems). Excess bandwidth is not sufficient; you must implement and test to ensure you have reliable end-to-end Quality of Service (QoS).

Lync is "sexy," and lots of IT personnel are thrilled to be involved in a Lync project. This means many internal IT experts in Active Directory and Exchange "raise their hand" and volunteer to act as technical lead on a Lync project. This might be fine for a pilot or proof of concept deployment; however, if Lync is to be your primary communication solution, you need to build a team that has both the expertise and the experience with previous Lync deployments. If you would like to "upskill" your existing resources, consider augmenting your team with some external consultants for a period of time.

All UC projects can be complicated because, by definition, they are tying together many systems. A Lync voice and UC deployment almost always integrates Lync, Exchange, Active Directory, SQL and often SharePoint, along with gateways, SBAs (survivable branch appliances), SBCs (session border controllers) and PRIs, and SIP. Sometimes Lync deployments further integrate with existing room-based video conferencing and other CEBP (communications-enabled business process) applications.

With all these integrations, there will be many technical and process decisions. To make the best decisions for your organization, you need an experienced project leader to run it. Note that I did not say a project manager. To increase the chances of success, you need a strong leader who can rally the team, make tough decisions, work through setbacks and act as the overall project manager (you can also assign a project administrator to deal with the "paperwork" associated with updating project plans and tracking down status updates). This leader will need and should have strong executive support.

If technical design and proper technical implementation represent 50% of success, communications, change management and training represents the other half. Not addressing either half of the equation is almost surely a path toward failure.

For the 59 offices we have migrated, we had a staged communication plan that started well in advance of any planned office migration, a number of targeted training sessions, Q&A sessions along with a commitment to conduct a survey of users post-migration (usually 4 weeks after), then incorporating any feedback into improving the process for the next office we migrate.

Managing Lync
Congratulations, you have reached your desired end state, your destination. Rejoice. But get ready, because now the real challenge begins.

Because many Lync professionals focus on the design, architecture and implementation of Lync environments, I find that the ongoing operations of a Lync environment, especially when it includes full Enterprise Voice, are often underestimated.

To manage a Lync environment so that all of your end users "live well," you need to do many things, including:

1. Institute application, server, gateway, and network monitoring
2. Conduct proactive and reactive voice quality investigations
3. Provide ongoing training (and on-boarding training)
4. Monitor and continue to promote usage and adoption
5. Control and track user profiles

In each of these areas, you need to define clear roles and responsibilities (who does what, and when) and ensure that all the appropriate people and groups in your organization have the tools, training and system access to do their jobs. Managing a Lync environment successfully is as much about process as it is about tools.

Network, device and application monitoring is something most IT organizations are familiar with, and there are many strong tool vendors in this area. As such, most organizations do this well. Less well, is the assignment of responsibility (who does what) if an issue arises. Clear roles and responsibilities are required, since diagnosing a Lync issue might involve network, application, server, storage or telecom areas of expertise--most likely a team effort will be required to quickly and accurately deal with an "alert."

The Lync Monitoring Server role and associated reports (built on SQL Reporting Services) provide a strong foundation for reactive voice quality investigations. Becoming familiar with the reports (and limitations of the reports--e.g., call metrics are only reported at the end of the call) and having someone on your team with VoIP experience is a definite asset. Proactive voice quality investigations--for example, using the reports to identify users who are using built-in laptop microphones during calls (a bad idea) or using endpoints which are not Lync certified--can greatly reduce the number of reactive investigations you need to undertake.

I have seen many organizations implement great initial Lync training programs only to forget that people come and go, change roles, and need refresher training materials and courses. A multi-part training program delivered over a number of months is often a good way to allow typical end users to "digest" all the features Lync (and Exchange UM) have to offer.

Usage (quantity) and adoption (breadth of users) metrics for the various features is a great way to track how your training and service quality are meeting end users' needs. If users are "living well," then you should expect to see continued usage and adoption without any significant downturns. Abrupt decreases in usage or adoption should cause you to look for a root cause and/or a persistent unmediated problem.

User profile management, including the provisioning and de-provisioning of DIDs (direct inward dial numbers) and/or extensions, is something telecom professionals are very familiar with but an area with which few IT Lync professionals have experience. On top of this, Lync introduces the need to manage voice policies (e.g. local calls, long distance, international restrictions), dial plans and routing rules (typically based on "home office" location), and response group agent assignments. You also need to track and keep updated special call forwarding rules, outbound caller display name/number rules, 1-800 to DID mappings, etc.

When users leave, you typically want to leave a previously used extension or DID "dormant" for a period of time. If you are growing, you need to make sure you acquire and manage a block of unassigned DIDs. Retired members of your organization may request that they "take their number" with them. The voice and voice mail accounts for employees on maternity leave or other personal leaves need to be managed.

Perhaps a small organization can manage these user profile details in a number of spreadsheets, but almost every medium organization and certainly most large organizations are going to need some user profile management tools and documented processes in order to continue to "live well" with Lync.

I have covered lots of ground and several of the listed items could warrant a complete separate article. To this end, I plan to explore a number of these topics in more detail between now and Enterprise Connect 2014.

Want to learn how other organizations are living well with Lync? Please join me at my Enterprise Connect 2014 "Living with Lync" session on Wednesday, March 19 at 1:30 PM to hear more tales, tribulations and triumphs.

Use the comments section below to ask your question or comment on my answers. I will review and respond to each and every comment. Or, follow me on twitter @kkieller to interact in real-time.

Use the comments section below to ask your question or comment on my answers. I will review and respond to each and every comment. Or, follow me on twitter @kkieller to interact in real-time.

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