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Shoretel CEO: Complexity Blocks UC

IT EXPO — Complexity and difficulty of use are the main obstacles to the widespread deployment of unified communications systems, said John Combs, CEO of IP telephony provider Shoretel, in a keynote today at the IT EXPO conference in Los Angeles.

It’s an exciting time in our business,” said Combs, “because we’re about halfway through the transition from TDM communications equipment to IP systems.” But adoption is being slowed by end-user fears and the inability of IT directors to successfully manage the necessary transitions.

“A lot of people are experts in IP networking capability but not in telephony,” Combs added, “or in applications but not telephony, or in TDM not IP telephony.”

Combs listed the usual features and benefits of IP-based UC systems, including instant messaging, fixed-mobile convergence, remote access to corporate applications, and presence features. Then he went through a checklist of procedures to follow when evaluating new unified communications systems:

  • Use and test the system. “You’d be amazed at how many people don’t do an actual hands-on demo before they purchase a communications system,” Combs remarked.
  • Confirm the system’s reliability. Many IP-based systems are server-intensive, Combs pointed out, and the industry standard mean time to failure of servers is only three to five years.
  • Investigate the system’s availability. Combs defined reliability as the probability of failure, and availability as “what happens when failure occurs.” He recommended that IT directors ask, “What happens to our communications when the WAN goes down?”
  • Check the scalability. “Get a bill of materials, look at the diagram, and then ask for one that doubles the size of that system,” Combs suggested. “Compare the bill of materials – what’s not on the second one is going to go into the dumpster.”
  • Examine the system’s architecture. If the product is essentially an “IP wrap” around a legacy TDM system, the likely life of the system is not going to be long.
  • Figure out the total cost ownership. Upfront costs for telecom systems often represent only about 20 percent of the total cost over the system’s life, Combs commented.
  • Enquire as to the financial strength of the supplier. Combs cited the example of Nortel, which has the largest installed base of enterprise telecom systems in the world, and will be auctioning off that business unit later this month.
  • Finally, check the supplier’s references. “You’ll get good references, and you’ll get bad ones,” Combs remarked. “What you’re looking for are raving fans.”

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