The Ultimate Guide to Unified Communications

Part 1
nec-unified-communications-ultimate-guide-ucWhether you’re thinking about deploying a cloud, premises-based or hybrid approach to unified communications, there are a number of factors to be considered. Gary Audin, president of Delphi Inc. has authored an eBook on the subject of how to evaluate which approach is right for you. We’ve summarized his recommendations and evaluation process, as well as provided a link to the full eBook below. As with most anything, there are pros and cons to each approach. For this evaluation, Gary focused on the items that make up the bulk of the expense and therefore, are most likely of greatest concern to you. Since communications technology is becoming more software driven, it should come as no surprise that IP Telephony and Unified Communications (UC) software expense makes up more than 40% of a solution’s total purchase price while hardware is becoming increasingly commoditized. As a result, for organizations to remain competitive, they need to consider today’s best practices in leveraging their software-based investments.
1. Realizing the importance of software architecture
PC’s, laptops, tablets, and smartphones have made their way into our daily lives as invaluable devices that not only enable access to personal information, corporate directories and email, but to specialized applications that facilitate communications in healthcare, financial services organizations, educational institutions, government operations and nearly every aspect of our lives. When you deploy the right communications software architecture you can enhance business agility by:

  • Easily growing to accommodate acquisitions, mergers and changing business environments
  • Providing common software services with multiple use cases
  • Leveraging pre-existing enterprise commodity infrastructure
  • Supporting the growing population of mobile workers and the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend
  • Delivering tailored solutions
  • Offering multimedia conferencing and collaboration capabilities

2. Explore a software-based approach with UC
Unified Communications is all about multi-media communications and collaboration. A few benefits of UC are that it improves productivity, decreases costs, and can make your organization more competitive. Implementing a successful and attractive Unified Communications system can provide:

  • A rich, consistent user experience that streamlines business collaboration
  • Enhanced support for enterprise initiatives involving BYOD needs
  • A service-oriented distributed software design that delivers agility and scalability
  • A single business application that is easy to install, manage, upgrade, and support
  • A software-based licensing model, which grants high value features and capabilities that enable agility, reduce complexity and lessen costs

3. Servers in the communications architecture
Communications and collaboration vendors have migrated from proprietary, hardware specific solutions to utilizing generic servers. Doing so reduces the hardware cost, supports a wide range of scalability, and allows the vendor to focus on enhancing features and functionality through the implementation of software rather than the design of hardware. Proprietary hardware is becoming a thing of the past. Enterprises today are looking for flexibility without having to be tied to a single hardware solution vendor. Communications servers are general purpose in operation and offer:

  • Carrier-grade systems that can be upgraded in a non-disruptive manner
  • Flexibility that is scalable and designed to support added functionality.
  • Openness due to the fact that the servers are based on industry standards, allowing different applications to be implemented as needed

4. Data center consolidation and virtualization
In any organization, the data center typically always has room for improvement and optimization. With no wiggle room in IT budgets over the past few years, IT departments are facing technical as well as financial constraints. There is a continuous effort to consolidate systems, thus reducing the costs of both the purchase and operation of data center functions.

Virtualization is one answer to this effort. Virtualization is the use of software that allows a piece of hardware, usually a data center server, to run multiple operating system images simultaneously instead of a server dedicated to each function and operating system. Studies have discovered that single application servers are commonly underutilized, with as little as 5% busy. Virtualization allows data center operators to increase the processing utilization and efficiency of a server. One server can operate in the same manner as multiple servers, thereby reducing purchase and operating costs. Whether you deploy premise-based, cloud or hybrid solutions for communications and collaboration services, virtualization can benefit your organization.

5. Adopting standards; benefits and limitations
An IT standard is an agreed-upon document that defines the performance, operation, interfaces, interoperability and measurement of a device, software, hardware, protocol, or language. It is typically beneficial to adopt a standard, but remember that a standard does not define the implementation of the technology; therefore there can be significant problems of design and financial issues that were not anticipated. For example, the standard can include so many options that vendors could each adopt a different subset of those options, making all the products unique and not interoperable. This happened with SIP trunking, where each vendor chose a different implementation approach. As a result, the SIP trunking providers had to customize their operation to each vendor. The solution: the SIPConnect SIP trunking solution that is now common for these implementations.

6. Disaster recovery/business continuity for communications survival
In the days when communications systems were implemented using proprietary hardware, you could expect the cost of backup/failover systems to nearly double your expense. As a PBX backup, the second failover system needed to be co-located on the same site as the primary system. The move to IP-PBX solutions alleviates cost by allowing the backup/failover site to be remotely located, adding further protection against major primary system failures. A common server can backup communications and collaboration implementations, even while being shared with other applications.

While there is no right or wrong approach to implementing UC for your organization, you do want to be sure to implement the one that best improves productivity and decreases cost. Stay tuned for our second post where we will continue to summarize the pros and cons of each method. In the meantime, download the full white paper to learn more.

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10 Trends in Enterprise Communications & IT

Part I

nec-enterpirse-trends-uc-mobility-cloudCompeting in today’s business environment is about meeting challenges, making decisions and innovating rapidly while using the best and most current technologies, tools and information.

Cloud services, mobile applications and virtualization are just a few components of a rapidly evolving technology foundation.  Check out this list of trends and technologies that we believe will drive productivity and provide businesses with superior customer service, a more flexible work environment and a competitive edge.

I. Unified Communications and Collaboration Reduce Latency and Drive Productivity

With organizations becoming increasingly fragmented, departments more flexible and employees more mobile, collaboration is a means of enabling them to work together in real time. Unifed Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) is a major breakthrough in enterprise communications, as it will drive productivity and increase flexibility across an organization. Latencies in all areas will be reduced as well, from development to logistics and customer response, thereby creating an informed and connected workplace. Advanced collaboration tools such as shared workspace, calendar coordination, and rich presence will support many business processes. As a result, collaboration between individuals and teams will intensify and improve in quality.

II. Mobile Connectivity is Key

In today’s fexible and fast-moving business environment, employees are never in one place for very long. Workers can be just about anywhere: at the offce, between appointments, on business travel or working from home. In many business settings, it has become more important to reach a specifc person regardless of their location. Additionally, more employees need a mobile device that supports all business telephone features and provides access to the Internet as well as business applications. Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) capabilities offer communication services independent of the access technique. With FMC, employees can use smartphones anywhere in the world as an integrated extension of the company network, enabling access to the central directory and switching from a cellular network to a Wi-Fi network. In addition, personal devices can be used in conjunction with enterprise security credentials – securing enterprise information and supporting ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) policies.

III. Open Architectures and Standards (such as SIP) provide Greater Flexibility

Globalization of business and technologies leads to solutions being comprised of components from multiple sources. UC&C solutions should be built on an open architecture that lets organizations leverage existing technologies. SIP is the foundation for integration of media modes, network devices, and applications across a common infrastructure to deliver advanced services and applications. SIP is a core communication component, which integrates with other advanced protocols to support a multimedia architecture and supports advanced communications across any device. It also enables virtual applications to be delivered from the cloud to support conferencing, messaging, voice, and collaboration.
The move to SIP trunking is signifcant because it enables organizations to reduce costs and offer new services. SIP trunking is beginning to replace local PRI lines and route external traffic to centralized data centers, allowing enterprises to lower the operating costs of IP technology while using their existing network resources more efficiently.

IV. Beyond Virtualization

Many organizations are turning to virtualization as the solution to their IT challenges. Virtualization accelerates deployment of new capabilities without needing to acquire new hardware. A virtualized infrastructure can improve your business through the minimization of capital expenses and operating costs.
It also helps reduce application testing requirements and compatibility issues while simplifying disaster recovery and mission critical solutions. Virtualization provides components to address end-to-end scenarios, like datacenter consolidation, business continuity and virtualized desktop solutions – ultimately providing you the benefits of a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

V. Hybrid Clouds

There is a bright future in the midst of hybrid clouds. Cloud computing is changing the enterprise’s approach to IT and communications, with more fexible architectures and cost structures. Modular applications enable you to pay for only those applications your business needs for a specifc period of time. These on-demand services allow businesses to better manage costs. Businesses are also turning to the cloud to enable more scalable and flexible business processes. While they use public clouds for less sensitive tasks, they prefer to use private clouds for their most vital processing tasks.

Then there’s hybrid clouds, which are designed to quickly scale to a company’s needs. It makes it the ideal solution to load heavy projects, which cannot be easily handled by a company’s in-house servers. Hybrid clouds can be operated at all times, from any part of the world.

In part two, we’ll cover additional technology trends.  Download the eBook now for more details on empowering your workforce with these leading technologies.

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3 Tips to Leverage Your Existing Communications Investment

nec-leverage-existing-investment-ucInformation speed is faster than ever – and continuously accelerating. Your communication stream needs to be able to keep up. Voice, data, chat, video, messaging, email; everything should be synchronized and easily available. Are you not reaping the full benefits of your investment because cost is a concern? We’ve put a few tips together to help you keep your technology current and your capital costs in check.

  • Reuse existing PBX with SIP

If you’ve never toyed with the idea of using tie lines or trunking to connect with your existing PBX infrastructure, consider the savings.   SIP trunking offers significant savings in reduced administration and infrastructure costs. It also allows you to leverage your current investment in gateways and other equipment purchases while extending your communications capabilities.  Technologies that connect to your existing PBX allow you to add video/web/audio collaboration and mass notification services without replacing your voice systems. You can leverage the telecom lines you already pay for, and reduce conferencing costs dramatically compared to engaging a hosted provider.

SIP trunking also gives you an opportunity to vary your communications.  Just because you’ve invested in a particular provider’s technology, does not mean you have to put all of your “eggs into one basket” when it comes to features or security within your organization. For example, if you’ve chosen Provider A for a solution but they don’t meet your desire for redundancy and security in times of crisis, you can implement a secondary provider’s solution – one that integrates seamlessly into your existing solution – for that extra layer of security.

  • Collaboration

With business impacts such as immediacy, simplicity and interoperability, collaboration is almost essential in any business environment. All departments and levels in a corporation interact regularly with one another to collaborate toward common goals, but utilizing WebEx or other hosted solutions for your conferencing needs can be costly. By using your existing lines for collaboration and notifications, you can eliminate ongoing service and connection costs. Since you are already paying for the lines, you might as well leverage all of their capabilities. Increased savings isn’t the only benefit – integrating collaboration tools into your existing infrastructure and communications workspace makes them easier to use and more effective.

There is a place for collaboration within every group of your business. For example, some organizations utilize in-house collaboration in the Human Resources hiring process to cut costs when it comes to fly-in interviews vs. video conferencing interviews. Hospitals and doctors use collaboration tools to increase the speed of consultations. Sales organizations use video collaboration tools to reduce the costs of travel and meeting space. In what ways can your organization use collaboration tools more wisely and effectively today?

 

  • Add functionality with UC

Unified Communications (UC) gives you the flexibility to customize your solution options, along with the ability to add additional features to meet specific needs, ensuring that you’re delivering a service that’s valued by the entire organization. Traditional UC elements typically consist of Unified Messaging/Voicemail/Fax, Text Chat/IM, Audio/Web Collaboration, and Video Conferencing. Each of these capabilities enables you to add functionality within your existing system so you can increase productivity without drastically increasing cost.

Video conferencing plays a vital role in the collaboration aspect mentioned earlier. A significant change we’ve noticed in recent years is the downturn in the economy and its effect on company budgets, and as a result, a greater emphasis being placed on the importance of expense management. This is of particular importance to the small and medium-sized business sector, and has contributed to the rise in digital alternatives over face-to-face meetings. A reported 45 percent of medium-sized businesses utilize some form of technology to conference in a virtual environment.

In addition to the cost savings, reduced travel results in making better use of staff time. By allowing executives and personnel at all levels to coordinate and actively participate in meetings around the world, you’re able to better maintain executive control and make critical decisions in a timely manner.

If you’re ready to leverage your existing communications investment, NEC’s Meeting Center can help. To see how NEC is helping businesses become more efficient and productive by leveraging their existing PBX, download the info below. For an in-depth look into the system configuration, mass notification settings and reports, check out the demo presentations below.

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To SIP or not to SIP?

nec-sip-trunkingHave you ever wondered what all the fuss is about with SIP trunking? Well, for starters, not only can SIP trunking improve communication and collaboration, it can also significantly lower your IT costs – so much so, that some organizations have taken advantage of the savings to justify additional investments in Unified Communications.

Traditionally, an enterprise’s private branch exchange (PBX) is connected to the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) over a “trunk”, which is a hard-wired connection of the enterprise to the rest of the world. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking is an alternative to that model, in which third-party Internet telephony service providers (ITSPs) connect the PBX to the Internet and then to the PSTN, allowing communication with fixed and mobile devices worldwide without the hassle of a physical wire trunk.

Why Switch to SIP…THE BOTTOM LINE

Switching to a SIP trunking solution can yield significant communications savings and offer a quick return on investment, especially if your company has multiple locations and often uses international calling.

So what are the benefits of SIP trunking, and how can SIP help your organization? SIP trunking will better utilize your bandwidth because telephony and Internet lines are combined, allowing for optimization based on average consumption rather than peak usage. Additionally,call speed is increased because all data, voice, and media is passing through carrier systems as IP traffic rather than analog signals. The risk of implementing new technology is mitigated by using an ITSP, as the ITSP keeps you current with technology updates without recurring costs. By using multiple ITSPs and least cost routing (LCR) to always make the most cost-efficient call, a company can realize substantial savings – especially with regard to international calls. What’s more, SIP reuses HTTP ports so it can be easier for end users to work with. Plus, billing is bundled, making things easier on you, the end-user. These aren’t the only benefits; check out the list below for more.

BENEFITS OF SIP TRUNKING

 

  • Reliable delivery of communication applications such as instant messaging (IM), presence tracking, video conferencing and application sharing.
  • You will no longer need a costly PSTN gateway.
  • Long-distance charges will be reduced.
  • Voice, video, and data are combined in a single line.
  • SIP trunking can be a cost-effective delivery option for external communication.

There’s an ongoing debate questioning the value of SIP trunk costs savings as justification for migrating your PBX. Some believe the value is an overstated reason to migrate, while others point to real cost savings. Which side are you leaning toward?

SIP as Part of Your UC Considerations

sip-unified-communicationsToday IT professionals and businesses in general understand the importance of unified communications (UC). Information speed is faster than ever – and continuously accelerating, so your information stream needs to be able to keep up. Whether it’s presence, voice, data, chat, video, messaging or email, everything needs to be synchronized. Using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)as a part of your UC deployment is something that should be considered during the planning process – if you haven’t already jumped onto the SIP bandwagon.

SIP trunking isn’t new, but it has seen a considerable increase in adoption in recent years. Initially used as a form of business continuity or redundancy to traditional T1/PRI lines in the enterprise space, SIP trunking is now commonly viewed as a secure way to reduce costs. These cost savings, along with the productivity gains, are often considered as part of the business case for UC. Of course, traditional benefits such as improved customer service and satisfaction, along with reduced travel are often sited too.

The addition of SIP end point applications enable benefits like single number reach and extending enterprise communications to mobile employees. SIP provides a way to identify and set up various forms of communication sessions among endpoints capable of supporting a simple software client, over any kind of wired or wireless link. The value in SIP is that it enhances interoperability, provides alternatives, and promotes portability across telecommunications and applications. Combining mobility with presence and availability information accelerate collaboration and problem resolution. These are often key elements in the user-specific requirements in a UC deployment project.

As you consider your UC deployment, and define the goals of the project, take care not to overlook the flexibility of SIP applications and lower costs of SIP trunks. Not only do SIP trunks play a valuable role in building a justification based on cost savings and the business value of UC, they add to executive buy-in and user adoption, which is key in any successful project.