Nov 23 2009

Implementing Unified Communications

Converged office capabilities boost efficiency and reduce costs at state organizations.

By Karen D. Schwartz


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Implementing Unified Communications

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In addition to keeping up with technology and becoming more efficient, the Missouri Department of Conservation must do so in a way befitting an organization dedicated to the environment.

That's one of the reasons why moving to unified communications -- a platform that combines voice, unified messaging, video, mobility, web/data collaboration, conferencing and presence management -- was so important for the organization.

Not only did the solution save money and boost productivity, but it reduced energy usage by replacing older network switches with more energy-efficient gear, says Missouri Department of Conservation IT Services Chief Doug Young, who was set to assume the post of Missouri CIO on Nov. 18.

Energy savings are becoming more important to organizations of all kinds, says Sara Radicati, president of The Radicati Group. Most implementers of unified communications seek to use the technology to improve user communication, productivity and efficiency while reducing human latency and decision-making time, she adds.

IP Telephony Adoption

Missouri started out relatively small, replacing an aging network and phone system with Nortel Communication Server 1000 with Voice over IP, along with Nortel IP phones and Nortel CallPilot for voice messaging. The system is integrated with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and uses Nortel Application Gateway 2000 for visual voicemail and a corporate directory.

"If I'm sitting in a meeting and need a piece of information, I can quickly see if the person I need is available, on the phone, or out of the office," explains Young. "If he's available, I can sometimes get the question answered right there in the meeting, which is clearly more efficient."

The agency is piloting the ability to view voicemail in Microsoft Exchange. The recipient needs only to click on the e-mail in Exchange to hear the voicemail message. And within a year or two, Young plans to add a multiple access gateway that will allow desktop interaction with its Polycom video-conferencing system, allowing employees to participate in conferences without leaving their desks.

For New Mexico's Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, the switch from a PBX system to IP-based Cisco phones coincided with a move to a new building more than five years ago. Since that time, the 350-employee agency has been using Cisco Call Manager in concert with the IBM Lotus Domino e-mail system and a fax server, and that setup has been working well, says Court Executive Officer Brian Gilmore.

"It does what we need it to do," he explains. "If someone calls and leaves a voicemail message, I can see the message as an e-mail in my inbox, with an attached voicemail."

The IT group plans to replace its aging Domino e-mail system. The department is currently piloting the Zimbra e-mail and collaboration system, which will offer out-of-the-box instant messaging and real-time collaboration and sharing of documents.

"It will be much less expensive, and it will give us the capabilities we're looking for," Gilmore says.

Moving Forward

As the unified communications market continues to evolve, Radicati expects even more state and local governments to take advantage of it. One example she points to is social networking. By combining the two, users might be able to access a click-to-dial feature while browsing a colleague on a business social network.

"There continues to be significant change in the unified communications market, and these changes are moving UC into more common use within organizations," she says.

75 million: Number of on-premises enterprise unified communications users by 2013, which represents an annual average growth rate of 20 percent.

A Good Call

Follow these tips for deploying unified communications:

  • Poll your users and department heads about their communication needs.
  • Prioritize your organization's needs (audio, video, collaboration), and choose a solution with strengths in those areas.
  • Build on what you already have. For example, if you have voicemail and e-mail, you can add video conferencing to the mix with the help of a good integrator.
  • Evaluate your current network and communication infrastructure and make sure it can support any systems you are considering.
  • Make sure the system you choose is fully integrated with your security infrastructure.
  • Deploy the system in phases by department or function to catch problems early.
  • Before rolling out the system, fully train your staff about how the new system works.