Five Steps for Implementing Unified Communications and Collaboration with Managed Services

Don’t let rapidly evolving technologies and multi-vendor IT and communications environments create havoc and confusion in your organization.

by Martin Schubert

Most enterprises implementing unified communications and collaboration (UCC) would struggle to handle the migration themselves -- they lack the expertise, speed, and agility to successfully integrate the many components of a comprehensive UCC environment. However, a managed services approach can significantly improve integration, enhance scalability, and alleviate security risks through ongoing management.

The shift toward managed UCC services for successful implementation is being fueled by several key trends:

  • Advanced skill sets required for integrating advanced technologies core to UCC such as IP telephony, unified communications applications, and virtualization
  • The recent economic environment negatively affected IT investments; resource constraints are the new norm and require companies be more flexible to future-proof investments
  • The convergence of voice, data, and video applications over IP networks is putting stress on the network infrastructure and siloed data and voice; IT departments don’t have the breadth in skills to handle them
  • Multi-vendor integration and management skills are a must to acquire best-of-breed point solutions that build a coherent UCC productivity platform
  • Rapid technology deployments and upgrades require businesses to be more flexible, scalable, and transparent in managing support and investment options

As enterprises assess how to build, deploy, and manage their UCC strategy, they are increasingly turning to managed services to ensure success. A 2009 Frost & Sullivan survey of C-level executives found that more than 50 percent of respondents intended to increase their usage of managed services over the following year (see Note 1).

Using a managed services partner to outsource non-core functions can significantly reduce the complexity of your UCC deployment. There are five key steps in building your UCC sourcing strategy.

Step 1: Evaluate Your Company’s Current IT Environment

Enterprise IT is becoming increasingly more complex and diverse as a result of mergers and acquisitions, downsizing, multi-vendor technology integrations, and a growing number of virtual workers. Many organizations aren't transparent or don't have an accurate assessment of their current IT infrastructure environment. They need to take stock as a first step in the planning process.

In the evaluation phase, a complete inventory of your infrastructure assets and network, staff skills and capabilities, and total cost of ownership is coupled with a detailed understanding of how your IT strategy aligns with current business directions. You may even consider engaging a managed services provider with a deep consulting practice to assist with the evaluation of your current IT environment.

Step 2: Set Clear Objectives

Chronicle the exact areas in your company that you’ll find to be most beneficial to outsource and align clear and measurable expectations. Objectives should incorporate answers to your costs and quality of service (QoS) requirements:

  • Cost transparency -- what do you want to pay for and where do you expect to save money
  • Define your service-level expectations
  • What business continuity, security risks, and security constraints should be accounted for?
  • What business processes would you need to integrate with network monitoring tools to resolve issues and network failures?
  • What are your reporting, review, and escalation needs?

Step 3: Create a Detailed Migration Plan

Implementing a UCC environment requires successful deployment, integration, and coordination of key functional elements. With a managed services partner, you need to focus on the implementation of the service through a well-constructed migration plan that will provide clear direction. For example:

  • What skills will you need?
  • What are the key milestones?
  • What is your preferred migration or cut-over path (geographical, functional, line of business)?
  • What are your escalation points?

Your outline of these criteria will serve as a formative guide when evaluating and selecting a managed services provider. The more you can uncover deficiencies in your IT and communications systems, the more you can leverage a partners’ strengths.

Step 4: Select a Managed Services Provider

As companies seek more flexible alternatives to manage advanced IT and communications solutions they need to take a systematic, structured approach to selecting the right managed services partner. Because it is imperative for streamlining their business processes, they must focus on core competencies and outsource other functions (such as IT and communication infrastructure management) to provide two key assets for growth: agility and a competitive advantage.

There are several variables to consider when evaluating vendors. Providers need to showcase their ability to handle extensive IP data networking and real-time communications skills with products from a variety of vendors. Experienced partners also need to offer a comprehensive product and services portfolio including advanced, scalable solutions your company can grow into.

Review a provider’s implementation history and track record to understand their key strengths and abilities. Large enterprises should search for providers with broad geographic coverage to manage consolidation across dispersed locations. Finally, the financial viability of a provider is important in guaranteeing the long-term objectives and requirements as your company evolves over time.

Making the right decision takes pre-planning and diligence, but the end result can be a forward-thinking, productive relationship essential for business-process success.

Step 5: Maintain an Effective Partner Relationship

Once you’ve chosen your provider, create a working group or task force to define the key collaborative processes that can be impacted by a UCC initiative. Take advantage of your vendor’s knowledge transfer -- look at similar projects implemented for other customers to help reduce lengthy project duration. Tap into your providers’ technical and customer service staff capabilities and keep the communication and feedback open to increase productivity and success.

The last and most important aspect in managing your vendor is to maintain predictable costs and quality of service. Your service-level agreement should be reviewed continuously to make sure you are receiving the quality of work your company has paid for.

Don’t let rapidly evolving technologies and multi-vendor IT and communications environments create havoc and confusion in your organization -- let a managed services provider lead the way in maximizing business potential and set a high standard of excellence. As a trusted partner they can provide a competitive advantage and a valuable resource in elevating your organization’s infrastructure operation and management effectiveness.

Note 1: Spending on Communications Technology and Services by Corporations in the Recession, and Beyond, May 2009; a Web-based survey targeting U.S. C-level executives in organizations with operations in more than 3 locales -- within or outside the U.S. -- with more than $100 million in revenue conducted by Frost & Sullivan.

Martin Schubert is SVP services for Siemens Enterprise Communications and is responsible for managed services globally. He has been working in the IT industry for more than 15 years and was CEO in three different Siemens IT solutions and services companies. Most recently, Schubert has held senior sales and services management positions within Siemens Enterprise Communications. You can contact the author at