Unifying unified communications

As adoption of unified communications grows, so does the management, complexity and potential harm to the infrastructure.

Integrating enterprise communication tools -- from telephony to e-mail, conferencing and instant messaging -- is the key to delivering a richer collaboration environment that increases productivity. But deployment and management of unified communications systems can be daunting.

Research shows the average organization today supports more than six types of communications devices and more than four communications applications. It takes IT an average of three days to complete the provisioning and configuration of devices and applications for each new employee.

And the pain doesn't end with deployment. The ongoing management of the complex ecosystem of directory, e-mail, mobility, instant messaging, VoIP and other unified communications applications is time-consuming and expensive, often managed in silos rather than as a centralized solution.

As adoption of unified communications grows, so does the management, complexity and potential harm to the infrastructure, making it essential to find a way to streamline the management of these applications.

Centralizing administration is key, giving the enterprise the ability to provision and manage collaboration and communications applications through a single platform. By using the same tool to manage multiple environments, IT can improve productivity and attain the fastest ROI when deploying applications.

Automation is also crucial. As noted, getting a new employee online takes an organization an average of 72 hours (from the time human resources requests the provisioning to the final activation) and often requires multiple touch points to configure applications such as Outlook and smartphones. By automating the process, organizations can reduce the provisioning time to seconds. IT managers can decide to provision employees themselves or delegate the task to other groups, such as human resources or regional managers.

Automating the provisioning, deprovisioning and management of users, applications and devices enables organizations to significantly reduce errors, downtime and cost of administration, while greatly increasing productivity, security and control enforcement.

As each application is tied to a directory, many administrators end up having access to servers in order to make changes to user creation, deletion or any other IT task. The proliferation of unauthorized changes is the No. 1 reason for downtime, primarily due to misconfiguration of servers by inexperienced IT employees. Providing a "proxy" solution that ensures the correct procedure for each action will dramatically reduce ongoing costs and human errors.

There are an increasing number of products on the market that promise to help enterprises reduce the costs of delivering and maintaining unified communications applications. However, not all of them provide the range of capabilities required to effectively unify unified communications. Here are the key features to consider.

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Provisioning automation: By using software that automates the deployment of applications, organizations can save time and cut down on errors. Look for a solution that offers the following automation capabilities:

  • Identity (user) management across multiple applications.
  • Predefined templates for quick provisioning.
  • Deployment/import tools for bulk provisioning.
  • Application health monitoring.
  • Efficient capacity allocation and tracking.
  • Analytics and business intelligence.

Delegated administration: The best communications management solutions enable administrators to delegate administration and control to other administrators based on their location or function. A system that can offer automated self-management options via Web portals allows for the creation of multiple types of administrators based on role, location and user access rights.

Self-service: Self-service Web portals automate and simplify common operations, giving users a convenient and cost-effective way to troubleshoot and manage their own services. Junior IT administrators can take over the management of mission-critical applications without interacting directly with back-end servers, while employees can manage basic tasks, such as changing passwords, configuring Outlook or mobile devices, installing new applications and overseeing their own distribution lists. A user-friendly, Web-based management portal with online support also helps eliminate the need for extensive training.

Device management: A unified communications management solution should offer device management capabilities to ensure control and safety as well as increased efficiency and less device downtime. Some solutions allow device updates to be done "over the air," without requiring time or effort on the end user's side. They also allow the contents on a lost or stolen device to be "wiped" so sensitive documents do not fall into the wrong hands.

Security: The best solutions do not require disruption to the enterprise infrastructure, but rather sit on top of the existing infrastructure, leaving it unchanged. Furthermore, it is critical to provide IT administrators, managers and employees with a comprehensive yet user-friendly management user interface that automates tasks and ensures that the proper IT policies are followed.

Extensibility: With continually evolving technology and changing company requirements, it is critical to utilize a solution that will easily grow with changing needs. It is best to choose one that is extensible to third-party front-end and back-end applications, preferably using industry-standard API and SDKs, which allows the customer to make additional extensions if necessary.

By deploying a single solution that unifies unified communications applications, enterprises can improve productivity, lower cost of ownership and reduce strain on the IT department.

Depayras is vice president of marketing and alliances at Ensim in California.