There’s an adage that goes “Out with the old; in with the new.” In the world of IT, that clearly fits. Our industry is constantly innovating, and there is always a shiny new object to catch the interest of the IT staff.
Unified communications are certainly a part of that IT innovation trend. From those early days of moving voice traffic over IP networks, we have advanced to today’s unified communications with a full suite of voice, video, instant messaging, presence, audio/video/web conferencing and collaborative workspaces. What could be better than using the latest collaboration tools?
The latest and greatest might seem the obvious choice, but let’s take a more careful look. Do the latest unified collaboration systems provide everything that you need? In fact, do they even provide some of the mandatory functions that you already have? For instance, does it handle vital services like E-911? Does your new system interface seamlessly to the public switched telephone network to make calls outside your enterprise deployment? Is there a mechanism to ensure that the most important calls can be guaranteed to complete? Last but not least, are the new systems capable of securing against growing cyber threats?
These questions are related not only to functionality but also to an important IT goal — cost savings. The Time-Division Multiplex (TDM) technology that powered central office switches and enterprise PBX’s for decades is nearing the end of its life. To save soaring maintenance costs, enterprises, government agencies and service providers are all completing migrations away from their remaining TDM equipment.
In order to decommission a TDM switch, many issues beyond simply making a phone call have to be addressed. The new system must be capable of handling complex dial plan integrations. It must have the ability to handle alarms, integrate analog phones and even fax machines, and provide location for emergency calling. These are mundane, perhaps, but absolutely necessary.
If we have ensured that our shiny new collaboration system retains all the needed functions while saving us costs, is there anything else we need to watch out for before we throw out the old system? I’m glad you asked. Yes, the user experience is key. Users should get a better experience, not worse one, when the new system arrives.
Consider this strategy: Replacing all hardware-based phones with software-based clients. It sounds like a common-sense approach, but does it improve the user experience? In the old system, the phone on your desk is always there, and it always rings when someone calls you. The new software client on your desktop, though, may not. Your machine may reboot, or the app might not work correctly. Perhaps you’ve just logged out for the day. Whatever the reason, you’ve missed a call, and the new system has provided a worse user experience than the old.
A better approach would be to have a software client that augments the capabilities of an IP phone or video endpoint. This gives the user the best of the old and the new.
This principle applies to any modernization project. When you bring in the new, make sure you don’t lose any of the reliable (and mandatory) capabilities of the old in the bargain.