How to Build a Successful Unified Communications Strategy

It seems like everywhere you go these days, businesses are talking about unified communications. Many companies are interested in all those unified communications promises: streamlined processes, enhanced productivity, reduced costs and improved customer experiences, but most businesses are still in the planning stages. A successful unified communications implementation involves an intense focus on planning and testing. Knowledge Center contributor Jamie Ryan explains how to build a successful unified communications strategy, from the planning stages to deployment.


The unified communications planning and implementation process is one that can change course over time to accommodate a maturing strategy. It should include an in-depth review of technologies-such as network investments and integrations to instant messaging and presence engines-to help build a cost-effective UC infrastructure.

At Aspect, we've embarked upon the UC implementation process and have learned a number of best practices. Rolling out a UC deployment successfully must involve four distinct but equally important steps:

Step No. 1: Evaluate and plan

Evaluating the technology necessary for a rollout and developing a timeline are key to the success of any UC strategy. In our case, our legacy and disparate PBX architecture was becoming unwieldy and old, and therefore difficult to support. We initially compared the risks and rewards associated with traditional PBXes versus IP PBXes and decided to move toward IP PBXes.

At the time, Microsoft had just introduced Office Communications Server. We spent a lot of time pondering whether it would make more sense to introduce yet another technology and press forward with unified messaging, or to adopt OCS and develop and implement a true UC strategy.

We ultimately settled on UC and using OCS as a central part of our strategy. This would give us an opportunity for streamlined collaboration internally and externally, and it also would help us down the road with future deployments with software-powered communications as opposed to hardware-based technology.

Once we decided to move from the PBX to OCS, the planning process helped us to identify and address two main challenges. The first was to determine the best way to phase in the new technology so that it could happily coexist with our current technology-a rip and replace just didn't make sense.

The second was to come up with a way to facilitate the monumental cultural shift resulting from the disappearance of the traditional desktop telephone. Our UC strategy encompassed specific plans to address these issues, including detailed timelines for preparing the infrastructure, completing internal beta testing, preparedness and piloting activities prior to organizationwide implementation, educating employees, and completing the actual UC rollout (beginning with our corporate headquarters and largest satellite offices and finishing with our smaller offices).

Step No. 2: Upgrade the infrastructure

Every UC strategy requires certain infrastructure upgrades to enable the voice and data networks to be truly merged. Our strategy involved the purchase of a new SAN (storage area network) that could support Microsoft Exchange in addition to the OCS and voice mail environment. It could also provide more flexibility in our ability to store both voice and e-mail messages.

We upgraded our LAN (local area network) and WAN (wide area network) structures so that our IT department could further support voice and data on one network. We did this also so our employees could place voice calls across the network using SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) technology. We also upgraded our Microsoft OCS client so that we could take advantage of enhanced functionality for chat, IM, presence, peer-to-peer and enterprise calling, and eventually video calling and conferencing.

There are a few other items you should consider when you're thinking about UC-related infrastructure upgrades and costs. As with any software purchase, be sure to budget for the purchase of OCS licenses. Also, be prepared to renegotiate some of your contracts with existing voice and data service providers. If you deploy SIP and begin using SIP trunking, you potentially might no longer need PRI/BRI (Primary Rate Interface/Basic Rate Interface) connections, or two separate connections for voice and data. In addition, you can gain the ability to outsource your PSTN (public switched telephone network) connectivity to a third party.