Although voice is still king, employees and customers are expanding the range of methods they use to communicate across enterprises. These days, people communicate with companies and inside companies using text or instant messaging, e-mail, Skype, social media, conferencing, and more.
An effectively implemented Unified Communications (UC) structure integrates all of these communication approaches (generally using a Session Initiation Protocol-based [SIP] architecture). And, according to research by Ovum, around 78% of IT decision-makers have both a current strategic plan and a budget for at least some components of UC.
The more widespread the adoption of Unified Communications across a company’s internal and external audiences, the greater the benefits. But the first step is to ensure that the IP infrastructure has adequate resources to intelligently integrate all the required voice, video, and data sessions. UC systems must reach hundreds of thousands of endpoints and it is critical that every customer contact, whatever the mode, be straightforward and easy-to-use.
Getting a UC environment up and running smoothly is easier said than done. UC environments are complex, composed of many layers of technology developed by multiple vendors. Specific environments can include any combination of session control and management servers, presence servers, application servers, media servers, private branch exchanges (PBXs), gateways, SIP-based endpoints and more.
Security in this environment also becomes more complicated. With a traditional voice-only system, there is a dedicated circuit for communication. Now data and voice are sharing the same IP infrastructure and the number of places where possible vulnerabilities may reside increases radically. (For instance, a denial of service attack or oversubscribed data services can ultimately result in poor voice and video quality.) Understanding traffic variances, as well as vulnerabilities, helps to reduce the chances of encountering issues that can affect customer satisfaction.
Testing: The Critical Piece
Companies often take for granted that individual network components that have been tested in isolation using a “silo” method will work as required when they’re placed in the organization’s environment. Equipment is rarely tested over shared infrastructures, especially since there are so many variations in the environments in which this equipment can be deployed. Yet systems and applications often encounter issues when placed in a fully integrated, multi-vendor network.
Internally developing a home-grown system for testing an ever-changing network can be costly and time-consuming. It’s hard to generate the high call volume and traffic needed to fully test a network in an automated and repeatable fashion.
That’s why it’s imperative that organizations invest in a detailed, in-depth end-to-end testing and monitoring strategy. It must be logical and thorough enough to analyze the entire environment and provide assurance that users will receive the highest quality experience.
Invest Now or Pay Later
There is no doubt that utilizing a comprehensive, end-to-end testing and monitoring process is a worthwhile investment. Issues discovered and remedied early in the deployment process help organizations save time and money.
According to a survey by the Customer Experience Foundation, companies that do not follow best project practices and test systems before making them live experience delays and additional costs that are four times higher than their best practice counterparts. Also, project costs resulting from delays can expand to more than double the original budget. Moreover, organizations forced to handle problems in a live environment experience additional pain in the form of loss of reputation, revenue and customers.
As you can see, a company can either invest in a testing process early on or later pay even more to fix glitches – or worse, major failures – once the solution has gone live. Do you test your communications environment before roll-out? Let me know about it in the comments below.