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UC Implementation Options

Last Monday, February 28, we had well-attended session on implementation options and approaches for Unified Communications (you can download the slide presentation here). We began with an overview of UC, UC applications, and a review of the three UC options (extend voice, extend desktop, extend applications). Then our panelists provided excellent insights on deployment of four major UC building blocks--IM/Presence (Microsoft); conferencing (Cisco); mobility (Avaya); and CEBP--Communication Enabled Business Processes (Siemens).

However, we did not have time to answer all the questions from the audience. As promised, the unanswered questions and our answers are provided below. Please feel free to extend or to comment on the answers by posting discussion comments to this post.

Here are our Qs and As:

Q: For customers that have existing investments in Microsoft Lync, Avaya Communication Manager AES/SES, how can true ROI be realized when it comes to mobile call routing and reducing carrier charges? (From ESPN attendee.)

A: The essential answer for achieving ROI when it comes to mobile call routing and reducing carrier charges is to focus on how to avoid cellular minutes, or how to reduce the cost of those minutes. In your case, you could approach this with either or both of your suppliers' products--Microsoft Lync or Avaya Communication Manager with the one-X Portal and one-X Mobile clients.

Also, for other attendees (and readers) with different installed systems, this is possible with products from our other panelists (Siemens OpenScape UC, Cisco Unified Mobility Advantage and Personal Communicator) and with products from the vendors reviewed in the UC Options: Who's Offering What? session held on Tuesday, March 1, at 2:30 PM.

Essentially, you can reduce the cellular bills and produce ROI in any or all of the following ways:

* When the mobile employee has access to the Internet (e.g. home Cable/DSL connection, WiFi hot spot, WiFi guest access on customer premises), the employee can use the softphone function on their PC to receive and place calls and to participate in conferences and meetings. This will have no or little incremental cost, depending on your company's policies.

* If you provide presence connection to the employee's mobile smart phone, you can reduce costs in two ways: (1) the mobile employee can check presence before placing a call, thereby avoiding wasted minutes just to leave a voice message; and (2) if the employee maintains their presence manually or automatically (e.g. via calendar synchronization and/or via GPS interpretation), then software can interpret that presence before extending the call to the remote employee, either routing the call directly to voice mail or, even better, by offering alternatives to the caller to speak with other team members, specific backup skills, or experts. If the presence functions are federated with partners and customers/clients, then additional wasted calling minutes can be avoided.

* Instant Messaging (IM) functionality on the mobile device can avoid wasted calling minutes for those tasks that can be simply resolved through text messaging. Of course, e-mail from mobile devices is already proven (e.g. as shown by BlackBerry adoption rates) to avoid cellular minutes for some purposes.

* If, after all that, calls still need be made to and from the mobile user, then be sure those calls are routed through your enterprise infrastructure. In those countries with "caller pays" cellular billing practices, you can avoid billable minutes by having the mobile user enter the number or click on the name they want to call, rather than just calling from their phone. This signals the UC system to place both legs of the call, first to the mobile employee and then to the called party. In countries where both parties pay for cellular minutes, such as the US, you may want to consider placing cellular termination cards in your servers, in which case a call from the UC server to the employee looks like a non-billable "friends and family" call on the cellular carrier's network.

We hope this answer provides several suggestions for how you can get the ROI from your investments. (Answer by Marty Parker with inputs from Frank Fender, Siemens)

Q. Marty spoke about the importance of metrics and the ability to measure to validate the effectiveness of integrations. How is each vendor approaching this? Are they UC channel [note: assume this means the media channels and related clients]-specific? Trends? Futures? (From Dell attendee.)

A. The point about metrics and measurements was to measure the effectiveness of the UC solutions, some of which will involve integrations. Similar to metrics in a call center, the important metrics are those that measure the desired outcomes, such as prompt time-to-answer, low abandonment rates, expected holding times for each transaction type, and high post-call satisfaction survey scores. In the UC applications that were described, you might want to measure contact completion rates for "contact management" UC applications; to measure the elapsed time to completion for sales proposals or new product launches for "collaboration acceleration" UC applications; or time to satisfactory problem resolution for "resource identification" UC applications. Case studies on each of the five application areas were mentioned in the presentation (which you can download here).

As to how the metrics are produced, today it is mostly by custom reporting from the logs that are written by each of the vendor's software products. For the raw data, all of the panelists’ products post activity to a set of logs; Avaya, Cisco and Siemens write logs for each media type (voice, video, IM, etc.) while Microsoft Lync writes all communication events to a single logging server (if deployed). However, if you create any CEBP (Communications Enabled Business Process) custom software for your UC apps, then that software module can probably post all the data that is needed for metrics and measurements of that application.

The trend is that the UC application modules will come with reports or dashboards, as suggested above and as already proven in contact centers. Also, we would expect the vendors to provide some basic UC usage reporting, which may be applicable to analyzing the benefits and ROI, much as the basic contact center reports or least cost routing reports have been provided for those communication functions. (Answer by Marty Parker with inputs from Frank Fender, Siemens)

Q. Finding a UC resource is important. To make it work, users must go to a particular site (e.g. SharePoint) and manually enter the areas they are skilled in (so as to be visible to the search algorithm). Keeping that up to date is a manual and error prone challenge. Any solutions available to automatically get the information based on user’s history of meetings and attended discussions? (Microsoft attendee.)

A. First, the presumption is not always true. In many applications in manufacturing, transportation, government, healthcare and others, the search for an appropriate resource can and will be based on assigned responsibilities and shift status--e.g. finding a member of the care team for a specific patient is quite feasible by inquiring of the hospital’s electronic health record where each person authorized to care for the patient is at the moment (i.e. within nursing shifts and based on Physician on-call and on-service assignments, which are maintained zealously based on privacy regulations and patient safety concerns). In this type of resource locator UC application, identification of the expert comes from the operational data already available in the enterprise software applications.

For less formal resource locator application, it is possible to use two other sources:

* Use information collected by the standard UC applications. Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft and Siemens each offer various levels of aggregated information about what the user is doing. Some are mostly based on the current use of the communications devices; others can also collect information from calendars, users’ PC status, participation in meetings, logged in status to workspaces, etc. A key point is that more is not always better; try to determine the business needs as the basis for product selection and deployment.

* Some software from each of the panelists’ products can also search through data files, e-mail folders, workspaces (such as Microsoft SharePoint or Cisco Quad), to "Tag" users for more sophisticated resource locator searches. For examples, Microsoft can Tag based on search algorithms for SharePoint, Exchange (e-mail and voice mail text rendering) and Office; Cisco can Tag based on search algorithms in their Quad social community product to search specified data sources, which can include users' files as well as the text rendering of video sessions and of voice mail. Avaya Flare has search algorithms to look for recent documents and messages relevant to a communication session, but does not yet automatically Tag the user based on those results. Siemens OpenSOA SDK enables searching any number of LDAP-compliant directory services structures and any ODBC datastore and allows for the next step of specific customization of your enterprise workflow.

(Answer by Marty Parker with inputs re Siemens from Frank Fender)

Q. You mentioned that many companies solved many communications problems and gained efficiencies with UC. What new problems did they generally experience? IT costs up? License costs up? Server and hardware costs up? (Anonymous)

A. First, of course, new UC investments were made in order to solve the problems. The benefits of the cost reductions, as reported in the hundreds of case studies, paid for those investments and went on to provide significant ROI. And, since the benefits kept on coming based on the business process improvements, the support costs for the new UC software and servers, as well as any help desk increments, were well justified.

The new problems (or new functions, since they really aren’t problems), fall into categories such as:

* Training and Change Leadership: Users are being asked to do business in a new way. They will need to be supported. This is also the case when you are introducing new, unfamiliar UC software clients to employees. However, if it is possible to embed rich UC functionality into already familiar clients and applications (e.g. into a application or into office applications or workspaces), adoption barriers can be reduced.

* Support for new devices or services: If you are supporting apps on mobile devices or starting up new carrier services (such as mobile device data plans), you may require new policies and have new support roles. The ongoing costs will need to be included in the justification and assigned to a budget, often the budget of the operating department that is getting the benefits.

* Maintenance of the UC applications: If the UC application has custom elements (database integrations, new search algorithms, bots, etc.) you will need to budget resources to maintain those application elements, both due to business changes and/or to changes in the UC technology platforms from the vendors. (Answer by Marty Parker)

You can download the slides from this session here.