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Unified Communications - a case study

For a while now I have been observing the development of Unified Communications (UC) and considering the value that this presents to the business. With the advent of maturing technologies (both software and hardware) and the development of standards, we are closer than ever before to realising the potential that UC can deliver. A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to listen to Steve Kennedy from SunGard whose role is the IT Director for Corporate IT, APAC Operations and is based here in Christchurch. In his presentation Steve presented a case study of their implementation of UC, highlighting a balanced perspective of this implementation. As a person interested in the current state of UC, I found this presentation highly informative and relevant.

This blog posting summarises Steve’s presentation, which I hope you will also find of interest.

Firstly, before I summarise Steve’s presentation, what is UC? Wikipedia’s definition is a great starting point:

Unified communications is "an industry term used to describe all forms of call and multimedia/cross-media message-management functions controlled by an individual user for both business and social purposes". This potentially includes the integration of fixed and mobile voice, e-mail, instant messaging, desktop and advanced business applications, Internet Protocol (IP)-PBX, voice over IP (VoIP), presence, voice-mail, fax, audio video and web conferencing, unified messaging, unified voicemail, and whiteboarding into a single environment offering the user a more complete but simpler and more effective experience.

… And along with that, a definition of the business value of UC:

An evolving communications technology architecture which automates and unifies all forms of human and device communications in context, and with a common experience. Its purpose is to optimise business processes and enhance human communications by reducing latency, managing flows, and eliminating device and media dependencies.

So what is there not to like about a business and technical solution that can deliver on that promise?!

The SunGard UC Implementation Experience

Late last year, the Sungard Christchurch (NZ) team was moving office and had the opportunity to replace the existing end-of-life phone system. This presented them with an opportunity to consider a UC platform that would provide the benefits touted by a number of different vendors – in this case primarily Microsoft and Nortel. Along with the potential benefits there were also significant risk due to the timing of the move, a major software release proposed for the same time along with some of the UC stack components not existing at that point or having being delayed. Balancing benefits with risk, SunGard decided to use the opportunity to make the jump to UC and forge ahead.

The following benefits were considered when assessing UC and ultimately were also realised:


  • Money saving through less infrastructure
  • Enhanced communication and collaboration
  • A phone system that worked, coupled with an easy to use user interface
  • The provision of a UC platform for the future
  • Single set of tools for managing communications

End User

  • Device options: wireless, wired and desk
  • Collaboration and communication benefits

IT Group

  • Central management through Active Directory
  • Known technology set
  • Instant VOIP
  • Single and central mailbox, security and control

Implementation detail
The implementation set consisted of:

  • Nortel handling the PSTN and handsets
  • Exchange 2007 handling voicemail and auto attendant 
  • Office Communication Server handling the communication services,
  • Instant messenger and presence
  • Office Communicator as the key desktop communication management software
  • Outlook Office 2007 for client email and voicemail

This implementation set provided services which can be categorised into three services groupings:

  • Communication Services
    Instant messaging, presence, contacts, video and local calling
  • Telephony Services
    PABX, Voicemail, auto-attendant, speech recognition, external calling
  • End user devices
    VOPI Handsets, USB headsets, USB handsets and mobile devices

Issues with the implementation
During and after the implementation, a number of issues were observed and addressed; these included:

  • As Sungard were utilising cutting-edge technology, not everything worked initially as planned and a lot of external support was necessary. Sungard had strong links with Microsoft and a significant investment in Microsoft technology. They were supported considerably by the vendors and they needed it.  Vendors included Microsoft, Nortel, Gen-I, Jabra/GNNetcom and Dylogic.
  • There was an initial noticeable issue with call quality (echoes and delays). A number of devices were trialled and this was addressed.
  • Sound quality was impacted because of the building design.
  • When the computer was busy, noticeably around high disk activity, performance issues of the software phone were observed.
  • VOIP latency delays were observed.
  • If the operating system had locked the computer when a call came in, having to unlock the computer led to missed calls and frustration associated with this.

Social change
As with all new systems implementations, an element of social change is required. Observations included:

  • Cultural shift to using a headset and the computer – staff were offered both wireless and wired. Wireless provided good range away from the computer.
  • Computer interface was well received to make and manage calls.
  • The use of presence was well received.
  • Having multi-channel communication mechanisms, i.e. email, instant messenger, calls, video etc, was overwhelming at times.
  • Always present – as your presence is accessible by anyone in the organisation, there is no hiding from distraction!

Overall there was greater acceptance than was originally anticipated and the speed of adoption and comfort was better that expected. There was limited training which proves the ease of use of the desktop applications.

In summary
The SunGard UC implementation was a success and realised the majority of the expected business benefits and resulted in positive end-user adoption. The implementation was complex and required specialist support to overcome technical hurdles (mainly around the cutting edge technology set), but is now a stable and effective solution.

A case study such as this one reinforces the reality of implementing a UC solution. Thanks, Steve, for an informative and balanced presentation that enabled us to evaluate and appreciate what it takes to implement a UC solution and the benefits that such a solution can provide.

As Intergen starts to roll out our UC infrastructure, I am excited by the potential benefits that this will present for us over the coming months.

Posted by: Tim Mole | 21 August 2008

Tags: Unified Communications

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