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Preparing to Implement UC Technology

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After months of discovery, presentations, demos and decision-making, a client has selected a unified communication solution and implementation team. Throughout the process, the client's telecommunications consultant has run point, ensuring that requirements, logistics, assessments and information flowed smoothly across teams, departments, channel partners and geographies.

It's time for that engagement to pay off.

"The value of a consultant really shines during the project implementation phase," says Communications Engineering LLC Principal Jim O'Gorman. A good consultant will have so thoroughly assessed the client's situation and matched it with the best possible unified communications solution that no (or extremely few) surprises should surface during solution roll out.

"Because consultants have in-depth understanding of the client, they can short-cut questions and provide insight" to both the client and the implementation team as UC technology is deployed, adds O'Gorman.

While project implementation might appear to be mostly about solution installation, Sperco Associates Managing Partner Diane Halliwell sees preparing to implement technology as often not being about technology at all.

"I used to be a pure technologist," she says.  "I thought tech was cool.  But cool technology is only five percent of success."  She found that her perspective changed as she observed deployments that met the specified technical requirements but did not thrive in a day-to-day environment.

"Something was not working," she continues. "And I found that being ready to implement is not just about the technology. Readiness is also the end -user and customer's readiness. It's every department in the entire enterprise's readiness."

"The worst type of deployment is when IT implements a change and then tells people what's going on,"  says J.R. Simmons, president and principal consultant of COMgroup, Inc.  A consultant can help create "a good communications plan, describing what's being done and why, involving everyone in the process," he says.

In fact, to prepare for implementation Simmons often gets many of his client's staff involved in the evaluation and selection of the final vendor.  "We'll have the two finalists come in and demo for a day," he says. "The client brings the departments to a technology fair to touch and feel the solution, place calls, look at the call controls, see features and how it works, so they can get a feel for what's coming."

With this approach, a consultant will gather opinions from the employees, and while that input is not the sole decision-maker, "it will weigh heavily in the mind of the technologists, because IT does not want to deploy something unpopular."

Simmons cites a situation in which this type of employee involvement did not occur.

"It was the worst implementation ever," he says. Rather than fully utilizing the combined skill set of the consultant and channel partners to explore requirements, propose solutions and engage the entire enterprise as part of the process, "IT selected the system and a single phone type, defined the deployment, rolled it out to the organization and then sent everyone to training.  The hue and cry was overwhelmingly negative."

This top-down approach undermined the implementation of a major unified communications solution and eroded its adoption by employees.

Halliwell shares a story about a healthcare client who had become convinced that IVR was the "greatest technology in the world." The client wanted customers to "call into my system and just talk" and let the voice response software take care of their business. "It turns out that the client never looked at the fact that the population of her customers was aged sixty-five and above," says Halliwell.  "That population had no idea what to do with that kind of technology."  This application of the wrong technical solution to a problem "almost brought the company to its knees."

So preparing for implementation begins at the beginning with a thorough analysis of the organization's internal and external processes and workflows to generate a well-crafted needs assessment and project plan.

A key aspect of that plan should include comprehensive internal communications. "We do extensive client education and training sessions for department representatives," says Simmons. This work  ensures that employees know how to take advantage of the solution's features, particularly those that specifically address the enterprise's unique needs.

And Halliwell stresses the importance of communication after the implementation. "We do lots of surveys and gather feedback about the implementation itself," she says.  "This is very advantageous for our channel partners. Because if an implementation fails, clients are quick to blame the technology" but by tracking responses the client often discovers holes in their internal processes. For example, better customer information and education can make the difference between failure and success.

Implementing a new or upgraded unified communications solution can be a very logistics-intensive project, requiring detailed project planning, inventory management, and database modification. But don't lose sight of the ultimate goal: fast adoption by both internal and external stakeholders. Take a tip from these industry experts, and start planning for your project implementation early.

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Our sources for this blog, members of ShoreTel's Consultant Liaison Program Advisory Board:

James O'Gorman has background in both common carrier and private consulting and is the Principal of Communications Engineering LLC. He has been an independent telecommunications consultant since 1980, providing consulting advice to legal, financial, publishing, health care, entertainment, governmental and educational institutions. He plays a key role in the design, selection, and project management of state-of-the-art telecommunications systems and infrastructures. He is a Past President of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants.

J.R. Simmons is President and Principal Consultant of COMgroup, Inc., with 37 years of experience in the telecommunications systems industry, including 28 years as a consultant providing planning, design, analysis, and implementation management skills. Currentprojects include strategic planning, data networking design, systems analysis, IP telephony, and call centers. J.R. was elected to the board of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants in 2011 and to the Executive Board of the STC in 2012.

Diane Halliwell is a Managing Director at Sperco Associates, leading the Contact Center practice.  She has consulted in the telecommunications field for over 30 years and in the Contact Center arena for over 20 years.  She provides strategic direction for the evaluation, design and implementation  of voice systems including contact center solutions. She also identifies problematic workflows, processes, and gaps in communication within an enterprise and provides recommendations to address these issues.