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Living with Lync Part 5: How UC Makes a Difference

Whether you choose to implement Microsoft Lync or another UC solution, the measure of ultimate success is that the deployment improves the communication and collaboration efficiency within your organization.

Recently I had a tangible example of just how Lync can do this.

One evening we were migrating three offices from a legacy PBX for telephony to Lync-powered-telephony connected to the PSTN via SIP trunking. Two main teams were engaged: The "telco team" consisting of six or seven people with PRI, SIP, and other general telco skillsets along with the telco project manager; and the "Lync team" consisting of Lync, Exchange, Active Directory and SBC-experienced individuals along with the overall project leader (which was me).

We started at 6 PM but by 7 PM it was evident that the telco process for moving DIDs from the existing PRIs to the new SIP trunk (both provided by the same telco) was taking much longer than anticipated. (See Eric Krapf's "More SIP Trunking Gotchas" article for a list of some of the things that can go wrong with SIP trunks.). Further, even those DIDs that had been moved were routing differently depending on whether they were dialed from a mobile phone or a landline phone. Compounding the confusion was the fact that calling from different area codes caused the DID to either ring on the old PRIs, where they should NOT have rung, or the new SIP trunk.

By 9 PM, things were looking very confused, and the while the telco team was bringing additional people into the mix, the source of the problem and possible solution was not clear.

As it passed midnight I was contemplating "rolling back" the migration, but at that point was concerned about the telco's ability to undo the "half migration" they had done. And we had already collected 800 old telephones from people's desks. It would take hours to put them back.

So it was that, in the early morning hours, two committed and tired teams continued working towards a solution. At this point, the value of UC became apparent as I joined "conference calls" with both teams. The dialog went something like this:

Telco Team - Not using Lync (or any other UC solution)
"Who just joined the call?"
"It's Kevin."
"Which Kevin?"
"Kevin Kieller."
"Is Bob on the call?"
"I'm not sure. He was a while ago. Bob?"
Joe: "Can you now try 555-121-3471"
Alice: "Was that 3417?"
Joe: "No. 3471"
Alice: "555-121-3471?"
Joe: "Yes. Does it work?"
Alice: "Wait. Let me try."

Lync Team--Using Lync
"Hi Kevin. We are just completing the testing"
(Lync had showed other participants that I just joined.)
"I see Bob's not on the call. He shows as Available. Let me add him to the conversation."
(Drags and drops Bob into conversation. Lync calls Bob and he is now participating in IM, audio conference and web conference.)
Sue: "Can you try the number I just IMed to you". (Sue types "555-121-3471" in shared IM window)
Steve clicks on number in IM window to dial. Lync dials and places current call on hold.
Steve: "Seems to work."

The "Real" Real-Life Benefits of Lync (and UC)
All UC vendors talk about a multitude of benefits that a UC solution can provide:

* Reduced travel costs
* Faster time to decision
* Reduced overall telecom costs
* Ability to work effectively from anywhere you have a network connection
* Ability to attract and retain staff

I've seen examples where all of the above are true except for the last one. I do not believe that having a specific UC solution ever is the primary reason people join or stay at your organization, despite what all the UC vendors seem to claim.

But lost in those big UC benefits are often simple but important benefits, as I was reminded by the recent scenario I detailed above:

* The ability to quickly know who is on a call without doing roll call or the incessant repeating of "who just joined?"
* The ability to exchange detailed information (often URLs or code snippets) instantly without talking and without error via IM
* The ability to securely transfer files even when the file sizes exceed the imposed corporate email size limits
* The use of IM as a "back channel" even while simultaneously engaged in a group discussion
* Simply dragging and dropping contacts into a group IM, audio or web conference
* Being able to instantly mute someone who is creating noise on the call or someone who put the call on hold and is now causing "music on hold" to be shared with all the other conference participants

Likely none of the above benefits would be part of a successful business case to invest in a UC solution; however, once you have a UC solution such as Lync, these small communication improvements will make you more effective and efficient almost on a daily basis.

A caveat however is that you don't get benefits simply by having Lync. You need to actually use Lync, and to use it effectively, this typically means you need to properly train people. The importance of including training and communications as part of your implementation was emphasized repeatedly by the panelists from this year's Enterprise Connect Living with Lync session. And this was proven out in the example recounted above. It turns out that while the telco team did not have Lync, they did have OCS (the name of Microsoft's UC solution prior to Lync) but they didn't use it effectively for three reasons:

1. Not all the UC features had been implemented; it was primarily an IM and presence implementation;
2. The team members had not been trained on using it;
3. The organizational culture did not encourage or promote the use of even the IM and presence features; groups of people did use it, but this was not true of all the members that were trying to collaborate that evening, and so they defaulted to the "lowest common denominator" of simply using an audio conferencing bridge and email for collaboration.

Concluding Remarks
Lync has proven itself as an effective UC tool that can greatly improve the speed, quality and ability to make decisions, especially across multi-functional or ad hoc teams.

However to be effective people must know how to use Lync (i.e. be trained) and they must be encouraged to use it. In the next Living with Lync article I will explore techniques to drive and monitor usage and adoption.

Previous Living with Lync Articles:
Part 1: Rules to make living with Lync more rewarding.
Part 2: Common trouble areas when deploying Lync.
Part 3: Lync switchboard and reception functions.
Living with Lync--Lessons Learned: Recap of lessons shared by the panel from Enterprise Connect 2013.
Part 4: Interoperability options and opinions

Has UC made a difference in your organization? Are you looking for UC to make a difference? Share your experiences in the comments below or via twitter @kkieller. I will respond to each and every comment.

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