Industry insight

7 steps to unified comm – and control over mobility services

In the three years since passage of the Telework Enhancement Act, government agencies have been spending a significant share of their time and budget to make sure they have what they need to support their exploding mobile workforce.

Even so, all too often, agencies have launched mobile and collaboration technologies irregularly and without coordination, largely because new requirements popped up or budget became available.

One approach to gaining more control over an agency’s mobile development path is through the use of unified communications (UC), which can provide a centralized, comprehensive solution to the integration of tools such as VoIP, chat, telepresence, collaboration portals, personal videoconferencing and social media.

And to simplify the process, agencies might consider a unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) solution, which uses a private, hybrid or public cloud infrastructure to deliver a cost-predictable service to users at headquarters, in field offices, their home offices or even while on the go. UCaaS eliminates the need for multiple platforms and applications by integrating data, voice, video, desktop and file sharing, as well as mobile computing services into a single platform.

Although as-a-service models provide many benefits, including ease-of-use and minimal startup time, agencies still need to have the right mix of people, a strong infrastructure and a number of other standards in place in order to realize the full benefits. This guide is a “to do” list for UCaaS, which will walk through the steps agencies must take before and during the launch of a UCaaS solution.  

1. Assemble a reliable IT team. IT personnel need to be involved at a variety of levels including help-desk response, incident management, change management and engineering support. These employees need to be trained in the UCaaS product they will be providing support for as well as in the management and operational tools they will be using. An agency might also outsource the help-desk and related IT functions to the company providing the service or to another qualified vendor.

2. Ensure a strong IT infrastructure. A well-developed network must support Session Initiation Protocol, integrated with active directory and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. These provide the foundation for traditional UC elements such as VoIP, presence and audio conferencing. With a strong network, technologists can easily add on UCaaS services, such as personal and conference room virtual meetings, mobility, social media and business process integration. 

3. Prepare for, and conduct, an audit. Next, the agency needs to be evaluated and audited. At a high-level, a typical site UCaaS evaluation should include an assessment to determine technical readiness. After a successful evaluation, an agency or organization should be audited, checking for network robustness, a consistent quality-of-service (QoS) policy and a security policy.

4. Build in redundancy. The principal best practice for building a UCaaS solution is redundancy – the service must always be available. Essentially, organizations need to ensure that if a terrestrial network is down due to weather or a disaster, the system has adequate back-up protection to seamlessly shift to another connection or power source to ensure users are able to utilize UCaaS. 

5. Establish QoS. To ensure QoS throughout the network infrastructure, all UC products need to support the Differentiated Services Code Point (DSCP), and all network products need to queue traffic in a predefined manner. QoS needs to be provided to all customers with private lines to ensure they have a first-rate user experience.

6. Enhance security. To achieve a high level of security for the UCaaS solution, the infrastructure should be protected with layer 1-7 firewalls that are able to detect any compromises to the infrastructure. Likewise, security can be strengthened by only allowing customer sites, and the ports they communicate with, through Internet-facing firewalls.

7. Find an expert.  While UCaaS has many benefits it can also be very complex. Initial implementation requires deep domain expertise in video, voice and network systems to leverage existing investments. A UCaaS expert will be able tohelp agencies integrate existing video and voice end points and systems with dozens – if not hundreds – of interface and interconnecting devices that are not standardized in form, fit or function.

A full UCaaS rollout can optimize agencies’ control of communications systems by putting everything in a central, reliable and predictable environment to increase efficiency and maximize the return on investment.

UCaaS allows employees to communicate wherever the mission may take them, on any approved device, in a way that is inherent to desktop, tablet and smartphone users. And UCaaS can help create cost savings and reduce travel requirements; all while using a single solution. Although it seems complex, real benefits will be gained.

About the Author

Chris Ackerman is vice president for unified communications solutions engineering at TWD & Associates, Inc.

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