UC challenges and lessons learned from CBC and others

It would be an understatement to say the unified communications (UC) deployment currently being rolled out by CBC/Radio-Canada is a massive undertaking. The national public broadcaster is trying to consolidate a vast array of PBXs–65 in Canada–into two: one in Toronto and the other in Montreal.

The broadcaster has embarked on a plan to roll out UC across the organization with the primary beneficiary being the corporation’s media alliance–a large number of news professionals and support people. A key element of the strategy, according to Jean-Pierre Bedard, director of telephony and UC at CBC, is to standardize the platform on which to deliver news across television, radio and the internet.

The reason, he added, is because the news gathering process has shifted. “It would be difficult to go to Libya and other places to collect the news with a big camera on your shoulder and a microphone. You’re going to put your life at risk. So today they have to shift the way they do things and they want to use iPhones, they want to use tablets and portable devices … so they can take the video and five minutes after, broadcast it over the air,” Bedard told a crowd at the Canadian Telecommunications Consultants Association’s Capitalizing on Collaboration event in Ottawa last week.

The key objectives for a UC deployment, explained Bedard, were: integrating wireless, improved flexibility to adopt new technologies, reduced network complexity and reduced telecommunications operating costs. To address these, CBC is focusing on a system that is user friendly, applications-based, vendor agnostic, has a service-oriented architecture, uses session initiation protocol and is commercial off-the-shelf.

The CBC has adopted a three-stage approach to its UC deployment. Bedard described the process as one that is “going to be done progressively, seamlessly, one step after the other.”

The first is to leverage the existing PBX by adding mobile extension, single number reach, Skype and other functionality. The second stage involves asset reduction by consolidating telecom equipment and collapsing the 65 PBXs to two. And the last step, once the new architecture is in place, will be to add new software applications such as click-to-call and tablet integration.

Combat Networks, an Avaya reseller, spoke about its experience in deploying a UC system internally. Greg Curry, director of converged services at Combat, explained that the telephone system and desktop messaging were two areas the company tried to improve. On the telephony side, it was about ensuring the proper functionality for specific departments because not all staff needed the same level of UC.

The administration staff, for example, didn’t require mobile extension or single number reach. But the IT and the sales staff did. “So we broke it down to a multi-layered unified communications model,” he said, adding the goal was “to limit the amount of calls actually going to voicemail if it should be able to be answered in real time.”

Curry explained that enabling wireless was also a critical part of Combat’s UC deployment. Because the reliance on portable devices is ever increasing, “it’s almost more important than the actual phone now,” he said.

At the end of the day, Combat deployed a solution that enabled all staff to enjoy the benefits of UC. “We’re trying to give the simplest technology to the user who didn’t need anything complex so they would actually use and see benefit from it,” he said.

Jack Gulas, executive vice-president and chief technology officer at Canadian systems integration firm Maplesoft Group, said there were a number of major objectives to deploying UC: secure data, centralize IT infrastructure, enhance productivity and incorporate standardized business applications.

The Maplesoft executive vice-president said there are a number of key takeaways from the company’s UC deployment. At the top of the list is engaging with staff who will be affected and getting their feedback. In addition to focus groups and lunch and learns, Maplesoft also made the UC strategy relevant to each staff’s role which went a long way to easing acceptance of a new technology and a new way of doing things. “So we were able to say, specifically, this is your job function, here is how you can use the technology,” said Gulas.

Another key lesson learned from the UC deployment was staying ahead of the technology curve. Like it or not, staff is going to have tools and the company must be proactive in dealing with them rather than reactionary. There should also be processes in place to quantify the return on investment for the UC deployment both from a financial perspective and on an employee satisfaction basis.

Gulas left the audience with one more piece of critical advice: executives have to take the lead on UC deployment. “If we don’t have the top guys using the technology that they’re deploying–practicing what we preach–I think it’s much harder for it to be adopted in the rest of the organization.” 

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