Is the channel really ready for Unified Communications?

The Fox Group team have invested a substantial amount of time and research in the past year on Unified Communications (UC). We have also had the opportunity to lead the implementation of two UC projects. One for a corporate client on an Avaya platform, and one for ourselves during the recent deployment of our own Mitel UC environment.

A couple of interesting issues and challenges have arisen from these projects that have us, as consultants and analysts questioning the readiness of Telcos and various channels to lead and manage the deployment of successful UC projects.

As previously discussed, UC is more than Unified Messaging which allows emails and voice mails to share a common delivery platform.

UC integrates voice communications, email, messaging, collaboration and presence together across computing and mobile devices. It also needs to be tightly entwined into different business user profiles and processes throughout an organization.

It has been our experience that UC deployments require technical integration with very deep understanding, knowledge and experience across all layers of the OSI Seven Layer model. These types of capabilities and experience have not traditionally been available within most carriers and channels, hence our question about vendor readiness.

Is Unified Communications an IT or Telco solution? It is a solution or a product?

UC requires a unique understanding of the inter-relationships of all the aforementioned, combined with ability to apply across various business roles and processes.

Regardless of whether a IT organization or Telco group leads the deployment, it is also critical that the solution is predicated on the understanding current business processes. The project team then has to be able to determine which UC solutions will allow businesses to operate at an optimum level, disregarding where the information or staff are located.

The project team has to be able to effectively design, plan and manage the implementation of the various UC applications and monitor the business process effect to ensure success to the corporation.

Typically, a deployment will have to integrate with either Microsoft Enterprise or Lotus Notes applications and connect with a variety of traditional telecommunication devices such as PBXs, voice mail systems, cellular phones, desk phones, across corporate LANs, WANs and various wireless or mobile networks. This combination is a broad range of technologies that require knowledge about many areas of technology; a lot of diverse areas to be responsible for putting together.

Telco standards that may affect UC success

While working on a recent client UC deployment, an interesting telco issue with the digit “1” arose. The standard voice delivery vehicle for PBX’s is a Primary Rate ISDN (PRI) services. This has been a standard, and very effective delivery vehicle for voice and data services for over 20 years.

The configuration for a PRI is to consolidate the communications “overhead” such as digits dialed, on-hook/off-hook conditions and call display on a single channel.

Interestingly, the call display on a PRI does not allow for the leading digit “1” on incoming long distance calls. In a UC environment the call display information can be used for a variety of purposes including ‘click to call’ for call backs. Without the digit “1”, long distance call backs will not be processed. There are ‘work arounds’, but this is a symptom of an outdated telecom world trying to integrate into an IT applications driven environment.

So, why do we need “1”?

The digit “1” was originally created over 50 years ago as a method to define a long distance call for an electromechanical telephone system that needed a method of routing long distance calls for billing and routing purposes. In today’s technical environment this is an outmoded concept. In fact, cellular users have probably noticed that their long distance calls are processed without the digit “1”.

This brings us to think about this question……why would the telcos care? Well, frankly, they don’t. This puts the onus on the manufacturer and customer to try to figure out how to do some type of ‘workaround’ in order to have calls completed successfully with a good customer experience.

How could this affect Customers?

Customers seldom have the internal resources available to be able to troubleshoot or even identify these type of complex network telephony dialing issues.

This is one of the areas that we have identified as a potential issue for future UC applications. Email applications can be potentially modified and customized to integrate with the UC applications, but the customization and integration issues are not clear cut related to the parts that are provided the telcos, such as dial requirements.

It is also not clear if, how and why they would modify their network dialing requirements to meet the individual client requirements.

So, what is the answer?

Not surprisingly, the answer is not simple or clear cut. For voice users who have no requirements for any integrated services, the traditional telco carrier grade services work well.

As requirements for unified communications evolve and become mainstream, telecom providers and other UC channels will become leading service integrators or they will become edge players relegated to providing low margin products and services.

Based on our time with UC having leading edge unified communications solutions available on a daily basis, we encourage end user organizations investigate the possibilities and try a pilot of some of the UC applications to determine the challenges and benefits for their company.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, feedback and comments. You can contact me at Roberta.Fox@FOXGROUP.ca or 905-473-3369 x 1001.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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