The convergence of voice and data networks is gaining more widespread acceptance and adoption, as the technologies are improving to deliver seamless communications. The trend is called many things including Fixed-Mobile Convergence, IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), or Unified Communications . Essentially, these different terms all refer to the same technology.
Adding voice and video to corporate data networks involves a fundamental re-architecture of existing systems and software, since streaming audio and video require instant transfer of data, and there can be no tolerance for delay or lost information. The benefits of the new infrastructure are many, from saving an IT department the cost and effort of running old-fashioned telephony cabling, to allowing completely new features via a VoIP system that can provide a productivity boost and easier access to information.
Deciding whether to switch your network to VoIP, and how to go about the migration process, involves careful planning. Many companies want to reap the immediate cost savings of VoIP, but because of their existing infrastructure or technical shortcomings, VoIP will not live up to their hopes and standards. Your plan should involve a careful assessment of your needs, which will help you select the right consultants and vendors that will help you make the transition smooth, effective, and efficient.
Here are the steps to take in planning your migration:
1. Create a Business Plan
You'll need to determine why converged communications are right for your organization at this time. A common reason to migrate to a VoIP system are the cost savings that can result from bypassing the tolls and fees of a traditional service plan, and from the cabling and infrastructure needed to run one. Additionally, the lifecycle requirements and productivity features may also help make the case, since they can save you time and boost productivity.
Next, you'll need to determine what your time frame for switching is -- in some cases it may make sense to switch the entire infrastructure at once, or to roll out convergence in phases, starting with key departments that can benefit the most.
If you're setting up a new call center, for example, you may want to go all VoIP, but keep your plain old telephone service for the rest of the organization for a while. Plan into your time frame a deadline for when you expect to be completely migrated.
2. Identify Key Features
You'll want to identify the infrastructure requirements for your system, based on your productivity and scalability estimates. For example, what are your average and peak traffic statistics, and how much will these grow over time?
Then, you'll want to identify the what it needs to do. Depending on your business focus, you may need certain CRM tools or certain functionalities to help you maximize your productivity or efficiency.
You will also need the capability to measure and analyze the efficiency and effectiveness of your new system. To choose which metrics and reporting features are most essential for your organization, consider what your organizational goals are for each department and how you can measure them.
3. Select Your Vendors
Even if your organization lacks the resources in terms of time, knowledge, or expertise to fully evaluate the market, many industry reviews and a good deal of information is available to help you choose the right professionals to get you started. You can start by comparing vendors on the market, and narrow the field down by the scale of the deployment, and your features list.
Other things to look for include vendor experience and expertise, their reputation with other industry analysts such as Gartner Group, and what their time frames to deployment are, as well as the ongoing support they provide. When in doubt, you can also bring in an independent consultant to help assess your needs, or ask potential vendors for customer references.
4. Test the Network
Before a full out network deployment, take the time to implement a pilot project with VoIP, in order to test out its capabilities and shortcomings. This will help you identify areas for improvement in the broader deployment and discover challenges that you had not foreseen.
You will want to compare the converged network performance against your traditional system, analyze network usage patterns, and traffic issues such as delays and bottlenecks. Don't forget to conduct a user survey to find out how your employees interact with the system, and the shortcomings they perceive.
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