Howard Feingold
Howard Feingold is President of Technology Plus, Incorporated, a 25-year-old independent consulting company specializing in technology solutions. His previous engineering...
Read Full Bio >>

Howard Feingold | October 04, 2016 |


Adopting Unified Communications as a Lifeline

Adopting Unified Communications as a Lifeline The replacing of aging telephone systems with poor feature sets by a Midwestern blood bank shows how UC provides a lifeline to employees, donors and patients alike.

The replacing of aging telephone systems with poor feature sets by a Midwestern blood bank shows how UC provides a lifeline to employees, donors and patients alike.


Every two seconds, someone needs blood, yet less than 10% of those eligible to give blood do so. Providing safe, pure, and potent blood products and laboratory services is the mission of a Midwest-based, non-profit blood bank organization. Ranked among the top 10 blood banks in the United States, this organization employees over 700 workers and has a network of thousands of volunteers and blood drive coordinators.

Every day, employees must contact hundreds of blood donors, schedule appointments, and communicate with hospitals and other staff in headquarters and in far-flung facilities throughout the state. Distances between facilities are often over 200 miles. With thousands of patients depending on the safe, timely delivery of blood products and lab services, maintaining access to reliable and cost-effective telephone services is critical.


The organization's existing telephony equipment fell short of meeting its communications needs. It had a mixture of aging PBXs and key systems from a variety of different vendors. This resulted in few functions beyond the most basic voice service. Donation centers had volunteers answering calls, but phones were not manned at all times. There was no unified voicemail system between offices, and some locations had to rely on answering machines to record incoming calls. There was no systematic way to identify missed calls, and simple functions, such as call forwarding and message management, were difficult.

The old phone systems also proved unreliable, subject to parts shortages, skill set issues, and downed service. The organization processes over a thousand calls each day. Many remote site managers were responsible for two locations with independent key systems, often making communications difficult. A missed call could jeopardize a life.


The organization's senior management realized that moving to a unified communications (UC) solution could help them unify and enhance phone communications across the enterprise. More specifically, UC could improve reliability and lower maintenance costs, and leveraging a IP-based network could dramatically reduce toll costs.

My consulting practice helped the blood bank select and implement the right solution by first identifying the benefits, challenges and costs of UC. We performed an enterprise-wide assessment and analysis, which enabled the blood bank organization to identify the features and functions that were most important to satisfying their unique, life-critical services.

Several feature sets of UC were well received, but implementing presence was identified as one of the most important, as it would allow an employee to quickly communicate with a colleague wherever that person was located. Many surveys have shown that presence and instant messaging (IM) gives employees the same feeling as a quick impromptu meeting at the water fountain. Issues could be quickly discussed, decisions made, and action taken.

Mobility also was deemed business critical. With enterprise mobility, calls to supervisors and staff could be seamlessly redirected regardless of the type of device: desk phones, soft phones, or mobile phones. Management liked this feature because it effectively unified the highly distributed organization. Mobility allowed connecting employees to volunteers, blood drive coordinators and medical staff -- anytime, anywhere.

Lastly, if users could not get to their UC applications, productivity and lives could suffer. To this end, reliability and redundancy was integrated into the system. For example, if a WAN link went down at a remote facility, employees could still use some subset of their UC tools to communicate with each other on- and off-site via a backup connection, whether by using the public Internet or PSTN.

The UC architecture additionally included taking steps such as moving to SIP trunking, connecting all sites with fiber, and upgrading to higher speed network connections. Implementing centralized management allowed for ease of expansion, including simply and immediately adding soft phones and extending UC features to remote sites. It also provided staff with services such as voicemail monitoring and recovery, as well as the assignment of calls/messages to staff. This enabled the added benefit of standardizing the customer experience when it came to on-hold messaging, phone trees, and after-hours service.

What was the return on investment of all this? We determined that payback on the new UC system would be about four years, but there was also soft dollar savings. UC, for example, allowed remote training, which cut costs associated with travel and time.

Critical Success Factors

Throughout this whole process, I kept thinking about best practices for how organizations should proceed when investigating UC. I recommend the following three success factors that could be helpful for enterprises to follow:

  1. Do your homework -- This includes a technical, economic, and organizational feasibility study, followed by a risk analysis. The key deliverable should be a requirements document focused on the future ("to-be") business and user needs. Include a review of the current ("as-is") situation in terms of the phone systems, infrastructure, and reliability.
  2. Focus on providing more redundancy -- For business-critical communications, the UC network should be architected so it has no single points of failure.
  3. Plan for training and change management to maximize adoption -- UC deployments can fail simply because staff cannot break their old telephone habits. Organizations need to be proactive in training users on new UC feature sets. More importantly, UC planners must interact with users to understand what they need to support their work from the start of the project. Full use of UC technology cannot take place otherwise.

UC is becoming more pervasive with the increasing "smartness" of devices to support UC applications, which is leading to an increase in use of video and cloud services. In this scenario, UC provided the blood bank not only with business telephone savings, and increased reliability, but also it unified the geographically dispersed organization with common voice features and functions. It clearly met the organizations mission to provide life-critical blood products and services.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.


September 26, 2018

Join Kevin Kieller, Microsoft UC&C expert, along with Ribbon Communications and Polycom, for an update on Microsoft Ignite, and a focus on critical things you need to know about your voice depl

August 29, 2018

Moving your voice services to the cloud introduces new challenges for 9-1-1 services. These include the need to serve multiple locations, and the increased mobility that comes with having a phone t

August 8, 2018

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a reality for your contact center. But to turn the promise of AI into practical reality, there are a couple of prerequisites: Moving to the cloud and integr

March 12, 2018
An effective E-911 implementation doesn't just happen; it takes a solid strategy. Tune in for tips from IT expert Irwin Lazar, of Nemertes Research.
March 9, 2018
IT consultant Steve Leaden lays out the whys and how-tos of getting the green light for your convergence strategy.
March 7, 2018
In advance of his speech tech tutorial at EC18, communications analyst Jon Arnold explores what voice means in a post-PBX world.
February 28, 2018
Voice engagement isn't about a simple phone call any longer, but rather a conversational experience that crosses from one channel to the next, as Daniel Hong, a VP and research director with Forrester....
February 16, 2018
What trends and technologies should you be up on for your contact center? Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center & Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2018, gives us the lowdown.
February 9, 2018
Melanie Turek, VP of connected work research at Frost & Sullivan, walks us through key components -- and sticking points -- of customer-oriented digital transformation projects.
February 2, 2018
UC consultant Marty Parker has crunched lots of numbers evaluating UC options; tune in for what he's learned and tips for your own analysis.
January 26, 2018
Don't miss out on the fun! Organizer Alan Quayle shares details of his pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon, TADHack-mini '18, showcasing programmable communications.
December 20, 2017
Kevin Kieller, partner with enableUC, provides advice on how to move forward with your Skype for Business and Teams deployments.
December 20, 2017
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, shares his perspective on artificial intelligence and the future of team collaboration.
December 20, 2017
Delanda Coleman, Microsoft senior marketing manager, explains the Teams vision and shares use case examples.
November 30, 2017
With a ruling on the FCC's proposed order to dismantle the Open Internet Order expected this month, communications technology attorney Martha Buyer walks us through what's at stake.
October 23, 2017
Wondering which Office 365 collaboration tool to use when? Get quick pointers from CBT Nuggets instructor Simona Millham.
September 22, 2017
In this podcast, we explore the future of work with Robert Brown, AVP of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, who helps us answer the question, "What do we do when machines do everything?"
September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.