How to ensure successful unified communications through a lifecycle management approach

Kevin Mcgowan


Last week, I had the privilege of presenting at the NLIT Summit in San Francisco, which gathered hundreds of tech leaders from the Department of Energy to discuss vital IT trends and topics, one of which was unified communications (UC).

We all know the UC story by now. Adopting a UC strategy is a must-have initiative for workforces that are becoming increasingly mobile and geographically disperse.  In fact, compelled by the prospect of reducing communication costs, enhancing collaboration, and raising employee productivity, 78% of organizations report they already have a strategic plan and budget in place for at least some components of UC.

Yet, many IT leaders continue to report less-than-satisfactory performance with their UC systems – some right from the point of implementation. According to Nemertes Research, only 45% of IT leaders rated their UC implementation as ‘successful’ or ‘highly successful,’ while 28% indicated their implementations were unsuccessful1. This finding highlights that despite having more than a decade to refine and perfect the UC implementation process, solution providers and partners are often falling short of enterprise customer expectations.

So why do so many UC implementations run into issues? And, subsequently, why might UC systems underperform? In this post, I will summarize how organizations can avoid such letdowns through a lifecycle management approach.

Defining lifecycle management for unified communications

What I frequently tell clients is that a UC practice requires more than great technology – it requires a lifecycle management approach to ensure the solution works when first deployed, delivers the anticipated ROI, and continues to give a high-quality experience as networks evolve. And it’s this centralized, lifecycle approach that was the focal point of my presentation at NLIT last week.

But just what is UC lifecycle management? You might have heard the topic thrown around a bit, so to better understand the concept, let’s break it down into its core components.

For starters, UC lifecycle management is:

  • Proactive: Your organization must constantly be in an investigative mode. Evaluate the current state of your UC network and consider ways to improve performance and utilization.
  • Driven by change: Unified communications is constantly evolving, so you must be aware of market trends and newer capabilities, leveraging them how and where they make sense within your network.
  • Standardized: When introducing changes to your UC practice, it’s imperative that you have standard processes for managing that change, particularly as it relates to maintaining the integrity of business workflows.
  • Focused on business and technical impacts: Similar to the above, how will rolling out a new UC system or making changes to your existing deployment impact your business and your employees? And does your current IT infrastructure support the UC change? A lifecycle management approach addresses these concerns to minimize business disruption.
  • All about the end-user experience: Putting the requirements of your end users front and center is the only way to obtain the adoption and utilization rates that will help you reach your anticipated ROI.
  • Rich in performance metrics: How can you make sure you’re delivering on all the above? A lifecycle management approach includes more data-driven and quantifiable ways for measuring how your UC system is performing, which allows you to more clearly articulate the ROI of your system.

Optimizing UC performance and utilization through 5 lifecycle phases

At Riverbed, we breakdown this lifecycle management process into 5 stages: plan, design, implement, operate, and optimize. Each stage has its own activities and requirements that must be completed and/or addressed before moving on to the subsequent stage. I cover these stages in greater detail within my full presentation (view it here or see the embedded SlideShare below), which also shares some best practices, lessons learned, and phase-by-phase requirements. But the basic premise is that each stage builds on successes and activities from the previous one, ultimately giving you more control, visibility, and confidence that changes to your UC network are properly deployed and managed.

Without navigating through this UC lifecycle management process, organizations will experience any number of hardships – underutilized devices and features, poor system performance, and frustrated end users, just to name a few. On the other hand, when properly leveraged within your UC practice, the benefits of this lifecycle approach are enormous:

  • Improved ROI: Standardized processes shorten implementation timeframes, accelerating time to value for new deployments, expansions, and other UC project types.
  • Higher adoption: Increased visibility into end-user usage offers valuable insights into new training methods or requirements that will help drive up adoption rates for key features.
  • Reduced costs: Mitigates unexpected end-user or service impacting issues.
  • Accelerated change: Provides the control and confidence to not only accelerate implementation rates, but also increase the number of changes you can introduce to your network.
  • Superior user experiences: Enables organizations to deliver positive end-user experiences and reinforce business objectives of raising employee productivity and enhancing collaboration.

The concept of lifecycle management is at the heart of our SteelCentral™ UCExpert solution. And to complement the powerful UC management capabilities of SteelCentral UCExpert, our Professional Services organization offers a full suite of consulting solutions that are designed to support and optimize your UC systems throughout their entire lifecycle. So, whether you’re getting your UC practice up and running, or you need to smooth the transition to newer systems, or you’re looking for ways to more effectively manage larger UC deployments, Riverbed is prepared to guide you through the lifecycle.

How is your company currently managing changes to your unified communications practice? Let us know in the comments below. In the meantime, feel free to review my presentation from last week in more detail, and be sure to check out the related reading links below.


Related reading:

1. Irwin Lazar, ‘The Critical Factors for UC Success,’ Nemertes Research, December 16, 2013


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