When it comes to finding the right Unified Communications solution for your organization, there are a multitude of critical factors that must be considered. Of course, obvious mentions would be the overall cost of the solution, included features and functionality, and possibly even the provider's quality of customer service. But your cross-shopping shouldn't end just there -- there's quite a bit more to an entire UC platform than just a packed feature list or low cost.
Without the proper procedure in place to prepare for the transition from existing applications to a new UC solution, the process can end up becoming very complicated, requiring both a heavy time and capital investment. That’s why it is absolutely crucial for any organization that is searching for a UC platform to not only understand what features and functionality the system provides, but to establish a rigorous testing period and process.
Without an organized approach to UC testing and implementation, it can be easy for departments to become overwhelmed or frustrated with the migration, or even worse; have a major issue pop-up during that critical transition period. With both proper pre and post-deployment testing, your organization can be sure that any kinks are ironed out, and that the solution purchased is the right option.
Before You Get Started
Slow and steady wins the race might not be true in all of life, but it absolutely rings true when it comes to adopting a new UC platform. The faster an organization attempts to transition to a new application, the higher the chances of failure or unexpected road blocks. Now, it is normal for a business to want to quickly adopt any new solution that would provide them with a competitive advantage, especially when we take a look at UC specifically.
In fact, in their Unified Communications Market Analysis and Segment Forecasts 2018-2024, Gartner concluded that global end-user spending on unified communications will grow at a 3% compound annual growth rate from 2016 through 2021 to reach approximately $44.2 billion in 2021. There is an absolute fear-of-missing-out effect, causing organizations to jump into an adoption process without the proper planning.
Before your organization even begins searching for a solution, it's important to slow down and layout a plan of action first.
There is a lot that needs to be tested when adopting a new major solution. Of course the overall cost is probably the biggest concern on most buyer's minds, but its just one piece of the puzzle. When it comes to testing a new UC deployment, your organization will need to:
- Become familiar with what it is your organization is purchasing, including price, features, customization, flexibility, scalability, integrations, and more.
- Carry out network testing. Can your existing network support the new UC application, and its specific functionalities? UC applications may be lightweight themselves, but the functionality can require a lot of bandwidth, specifically when discussing VoIP and Video Conferencing.
- Measure your organization's existing resources to understand what needs to be scaled up or down. As I already mentioned, internet bandwidth is just one metric that needs to be considered. There are other hardware factors that come into play, such as a BYoD environment, or existing conferencing solutions already on-premise.
- Engage in both pre and post-deployment testing to ensure your organization is ready prior to implementation, and that issues can be handled and resolved after the implementation.
We'll walk through the process a bit more in-depth, as there's a lot of ground to cover. The correct testing and implementation period will enable your organization to get up and running even quicker, with less headaches and potentially less capital investment.
Understand What You're Buying
The first step for any implementation and testing process is of course to familiarize yourself with the solution. Within an Enterprise organization, it might be necessary to create a sub-department of the IT team to research and fully understand the buying process along with the transition. Experts focused on the introduction of a new UC environment should be aware of exactly what it is the company will be adopting, in order to know what to test for.
Some basic questions to consider when beginning the process can include:
- Is the solution available in a hybrid deployment? Is it cloud only, or on-premise only?
- Is the system open or closed source?
- What level of customization and scalability is available?
- What specific features and functionalities are included in the platform?
- Does your organization have the necessary hardware to handle these features?
These basic outlines can help experts determine what solution would work best to fit into the specific needs of that company. For example, if your organization is already utilizing an on-premise solution, it might be worth adopting a hybrid approach to ease the transition to the cloud. If your organization's employee count changes during seasons and peak times, scalability and flexibility is of course a necessary aspect.
The last thing you want is to end up with a solution that just does not fit your needs. Before any testing even begins, its important to lay the groundwork for the right platform by understanding exactly how your business already utilizes similar technologies, along with the specific requirements your organization has.
Once your deployment team is familiar with the platform, and the possible requirements of the platform, it's important to set forth a plan to test for these prerequisites. Pre-deployment testing is mostly about stress testing your existing hardware and network to ensure it can handle the new solution
1. Network Stress Tests
Network tests of all kind can help your organization evaluate any delays or hiccups and identify any trouble spots before deployment even begins. Lets say your team is looking to introduce video conferencing specifically. It'll be important to perform a network stress test in this case to ensure the existing network and internet service are capable of handling this form of communication.
Overall, network testing will also enable your organization to understand what kind of load it can support. Just because your network can handle the video conferencing needs of one specific department does not mean it can support company wide usage. Network testing enables your team to understand the limitations of the existing network, platform or technology. Some basic tools like internet speed tests exist, but organizations can also search for Network Performance Monitor tools to gain a deeper understanding.
2. Interoperability Testing
Chances are that your organization will not be abandoning everything at once to make way for a new platform or solution; this is a recipe for disaster. Like I said, slow and steady wins the race. Beyond testing the limitations of your network, its also imperative to ensure interoperability between existing hardware and services, and the new software, applications or platforms your organization will be adopting.
Your organization needs to formulate a plan to assess if and how existing platforms will be maintained going forward, and how to replace them if they will not integrate with the new solution or service. Especially when adopting a hybrid approach, with new solutions in the cloud working alongside existing on-premises tools, its imperative to ensure that there will not be any compatibility issues, which would slow down adoption or even halt it completely.
3. Quality of Service Testing Tools
Its very easy for any organization to set out to purchase the best of the best solutions on the market. In fact, if your organization can make the investment, it is generally worth paying extra for a well-known provider with solid customer experience and decades of experience. However, just because your business shells out the cash for a super expensive solution does not mean the quality of service will be incredibly high. That's where our testing comes into play.
Many cloud service providers offer their own sets of Quality of Service testing tools. Take full advantage of these numerous tools to gain a stronger understanding of just how well the service will operate on your existing network and hardware. Look for tools that can test voice quality, video quality, call volume, and more. These tools will directly focus on the specific requirements of different UC applications.
So let's say your business has done their homework; from researching different solutions and providers to performing pre-deployment stress tests. Your IT department is ready to make a recommendation on a provider and a platform, and its time to begin the lengthy adoption process. It might seem like smooth sailing from here, but in reality your testing should be far from over. In fact, pre-deployment testing is just one piece of the puzzle.
1. Test the Platform Team-By-Team
Post-deployment testing is exactly where the Slow and Steady adoption approach will come into play. The key here is slowly roll out the new platform to select teams or departments at a time, as opposed to one giant sweeping change across the entire organization. With only select teams utilizing the new platform, it will be much easier to identify potential issues or pitfalls of the solution, without having to slow down the entire business. With just one team utilizing the platform, issues will be recognized and addressed on a much smaller scale.
Your organization should test out functionality and features within control groups, and use what was learned from those groups as larger departments adopt the new solution. Of course, try to utilize the departments and teams that will take most advantage of the new platform, and try to diversify which teams are involved in the testing process to gain a more well-rounded understanding of how the platform will function within your organization. For example, one time might never use Video Conferencing, and another team might never use persistent chat or file sharing.
2. Set Short-Term Achievable Goals
Similar to slowing down the adoption process, set shorter term goals that are much more achievable in a smaller scale. For example, do not attempt to set an incredibly specific, giant goal line for business wide adoption. It would make sense to have an estimation in place, for example plan to have business wide adoption by a specific quarter, or year.
However, placing a hard deadline on company wide adoption can lead to a rush process, and money lost. Attempt to break the larger scaled targets into a smaller, easier to deploy projects. This might also require a multi-step process. For example, the introduction of a new UC platform might also require the introduction of a BYoD policy. Trying to wrangle both in at the same time can be a mess, but slowly transitioning to BYoD first will help lay out the groundwork for the next transition.
3. Proactively Monitor Ongoing Performance
As the deployment process is ongoing, your organization will want to proactively monitor the performance of not only the platform itself, but also of your entire workforce. When monitoring the solution, your organization should be looking to see that there aren't any roadblocks, network delays, compatibility issues, or unused resources. Many, if not all, UC applications will include in-depth monitoring and analysis to gain a deep understanding of how the platform is being utilized, and by who.
But it is equally important to also monitor your teams, as well. You will want to gain insight into exactly how the solution is being used. Is it enabling departments and individuals to be more productive and efficient, or is it adding in extra hoops to jump through and slowing everyone down? The metrics to consider and track will be different from business to business, but some important measurements can include customer satisfaction levels, employee satisfaction levels, the number of closed leads for a set period of time, call volume testing, IVR load testing, and overall application usage.
The Bottom Line
Unified Communication solutions are revolutionary in that they can offer a dramatic transformation to a business' overall efficiency and productivity. Part of their power comes from the flexibility found in the cloud, enabling organizations of all sizes to adopt these feature packed platforms.
But despite the simplicity offered by the cloud, and months of research and planning, adopting a new Unified Communications solution can quickly become far more complicated than necessary. Rushing directly into implementation without the proper testing protocol in place can open the flood gates to potential roadblocks. For starters, it is imperative to ensure that your organization's network and hardware is capable of supporting the new platform.
Taking on a slow-and-steady approach is the first step to ensuring a smooth adoption process, enabling teams to discover potential issues before they impact the entire organization. Just like any other major decision, by following an organized and structured process businesses can achieve the highest ROI on their UC investment.