Transitioning to a cloud-based unified communications and collaboration platform includes many moving parts. To ensure success, start gathering data and making decisions early in the process, and include client-side project management to oversee the project.
With any cloud UCC implementation, as the vendor selection process winds down and contract negotiations are in progress, your organization can take steps to reduce risk and cost -- not to mention ensure that the project proceeds quickly once it gets under way. Some of these steps can, and should, start well in advance of implementation kickoff. Here are some key points to keep in mind on your cloud UCC journey.
Taking Advantage of the New Solution
If one of the goals of the new solution is to improve upon the old system, implementing “like for like” replacements of endpoints, call flows, and integrations will fall short of that goal.
Before the programming and cutovers begin, thought should be given to how you’d like the new solution to operate. For example, are staff who currently use a hard phone better served by a softphone? Are all those miscellaneous analog ports really needed? Do you know what’s plugged into them?
Database Programming: How to Begin
Many cloud-based providers’ preferred method for gathering endpoint information is to require the client to complete vendor-formatted spreadsheets, which are then uploaded to the vendor’s UC platform. When this method is used, errors in station programming become the responsibility of the customer rather than the service provider.
If your organization does not have the internal resources to perform station reviews and develop this documentation, consider requiring the vendor to oversee station reviews, meeting with each department to ensure endpoints are programmed correctly. Alternatively, outsourcing this part of your project to an experienced consultant can free up your internal resources to focus on your core business.
Are you planning to use Active Directory integration on your new platform? If so, is the Active Directory database “clean”? If not, now might be a good time to “sweep the forest.”
Don’t Forget About the Contact Center
Do you have a map of your current call center call flows? Do they work the way they are intended? If you are moving from a call center only to omnichannel, what changes in process are required?
Setting up new communications channels in your contact center, such as text and email, requires extensive planning. Should phone calls automatically take precedence in the queue or will emails and chats be comingled in precedence? Would you like to take advantage of new capabilities such as skills-based routing? If so, these features require not only technical programming, but operational changes as well.
These are a just a few examples of the myriad decisions that will need to be made and documented prior to the contact center going live -- for which planning can, and again should, start immediately.
Evaluate Your Infrastructure
Another necessary step in the pre-implementation process is to verify your LAN and WAN are configured to support voice traffic and ensure Quality of Service (QoS). Has your network team been engaged to take a closer look at your infrastructure? Do you have enough PoE switches? Are they in the right locations? If you are deploying analog gateways, do you know which closet the analog station cables terminate into so you can determine where the analog gateways should go? Will DIDs be ported as stations are brought live, or moved in bulk at the beginning, middle, or end of the project?
Do you have the correct cabling in place everywhere a voice endpoint will be located? Are you planning to use one jack for both the phone and the PC, with the PC plugged into the phone? Or a separate jack for each? Will the new endpoint be plugged into the same jack as the current endpoint? Are the cable runs well documented and labeled in the closet, allowing for easy connection to the new desktop device?
The outcome of these decisions create radically different approaches to how cutovers are staged. For example, if the new endpoint will be plugged into a different jack than the existing endpoint, it may be plugged in and staged on the desktop in advance of the cutover. If the new set will be plugged in where the old set is currently located, the cutover will involve unplugging the old device, plugging in the new device, and possibly moving a cross connect.
A different level of resource is required for these two options, and naturally impacts how many new devices may be deployed at once. If the PC and phone will share a jack, this further requires that the PC be unplugged, the phone plugged in, and then the PC plugged into the phone.
What level of testing will be required once the PC is plugged in? Will you test for dial tone only or will the installer also verify the PC connects to the network? What happens to the boxes the new phones arrive in and who is responsible for picking up and disposing of the old sets? Do you have a place to stage the new phones prior to deployment? What method will be used to identify which phone goes to which location? In short, there are many questions that need to be answered that will inform your implementation process. Get your answers early to avoid any back-pedaling or rejiggering down the line.
Getting Staff Buy-In, Considering Training
How are you planning to get end users involved? Early involvement in the planning process ensures project success. How will the implementation schedule be communicated to them, so they know when to expect the new device? Will training classes be scheduled for all staff?
Training should be conducted as close to the actual conversion as possible, either a few days before or a few days after. Training must, therefore, be coordinated with the cutover schedule. Is the preference for drop-in lunch and learn style of training or formal training sessions, or is providing links to online videos enough? Will someone be walking around on the go-live date to answer questions, note issues, and set everyone at ease? Or will you go with a “train the trainer” approach, allowing a few super users to be trained in advance and available to answer questions for their group.
Will there be brief instructional handouts left with end users? How much information should be in the handouts? Will training videos be customized to your organization or are the generic vendor’s videos acceptable?
Diving into Project Planning
When viewing the long list of considerations and dependencies, it becomes patently obvious that a comprehensive, detailed project plan must be developed before services or equipment are ordered. We’ve seen rollouts where stations were cutover before the entire core and integrations were complete, with most users on the system before critical integrations were brought live, creating risk for those already on the new platform.
To ensure all issues are addressed, your project plan should include everything from circuit ordering and DID porting, to network assessment, core components, integrations, and group-by-group roll-out plans including training, set placement resources, go-live and day-two support.
Ensuring a Customer-Driven Project
To ensure the project is driven by your business, rather than by the vendor, it’s imperative that a knowledgeable customer project manager be given authority for the project. While it’s equally important that the vendor assign a qualified project manager to coordinate the vendor-related resources, the customer-side project manager will be focused on ensuring the project best meets the organization’s needs, rather than vendor’s needs. The customer project manager will also have a high-level view of how the pieces fit together and be better able to direct internal customer resources.
If your project is complex or large, negotiations should include a vendor project manager who is on site a minimum amount of time throughout the course of the implementation. If your internal resources are limited, considering outsourcing data gathering and project management to qualified independent consultants.
"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.