A Nationwide Switch to Unified Communications

AT&T has been talking to regulators, quietly, about ending POTs telephony in the USA (Article) with filings in December 2009 and comments to the US Federal Communications Commission as it considers a new broadband plan. That makes this an essential time to plan for your company’s next communications platform. It also means your business has more options available from a greater variety of service providers. But is your tech team ready to take on the responsibility, is it even a part of their role, and what is Unified Communications?

The New Telecommunications Paradigm embraces Unified Communications. Phone systems now integrate with company email, send and save voice mail messages to client folders, link to your website, and let you use your smart phone to call from your business extension among other options. The Unified Communications story is about options and access. It allows a “work from anywhere” mentality and embraces the “stay connected” theme that has played out during the information age.

It changes a lot more than how we interact with our telephone, which you can now dial through clicking a link in Outlook rather than hitting buttons. It also changes the way technology gets chosen and blurs the line between communication services and systems providers.

Internally, evaluating technology traditionally left the system to the IT team and the service to Administration or Finance. However, when your phone system comes as part of the service, either your IT team will have to evaluate service costs, your Finance Team will have to evaluate systems, or they need to work together to find the best solutions providers. Obviously most companies expect the latter, but defining roles and determining a collaborative approach can be difficult to manage. A best practice is to clearly define and evaluate needs, and what constitutes a successful outcome at the onset and stick to those key points as you initiate discussions with potential providers. Ensure that each team member understands their role, responsibility, and that they are held accountable.

Meetings will be important. Emphasize diversity in solutions providers to get the best understanding of your options. Make sure to have all solutions providers layout their role and any limitations, licenses, or requirements so you can compare apples to apples. Have them accurately access the risks in their system. Is there a failover server or service in place?

Though a single bill can be a major motivator, Unified Communications is a combination of voice and IT that requires networking experience and VOIP service experience. So a single bill is not the only motivation in finding the right provider. Phone providers really need to take a look inside the point of access, which they have traditionally avoided. On the other hand, you will need to depend upon your system provider to understand connectivity as your phones and computers no longer need to use different “pipes.”

At this stage, the most experienced providers may still be small companies who have stuck with VOIP from the start. The reason for that is the complete level of service. Companies need someone willing to monitor and field questions for both the inside and outside of the point of access.