Unified Communications: A Practical Approach
Each year, billions of dollars are spent by enterprises across the globe to ensure a single call does not go unanswered, an e-mail does not get lost or a conference is not missed. In fact, society’s current emphasis on free and easy connectivity means the number of communications devices will eventually exceed the number of people using those devices.
The organizations that will succeed in this environment are those that harness the power of this hyperconnectivity. That’s where unified communications solutions come in.
Unified communications (UC) solutions remove the barriers between voice, e-mail, conferencing, video and instant messaging, thereby allowing for instantaneous people-to-people communications. This means reduced time to decision, increased productivity and the ability to provide a simple and consistent user experience across all types of communications.
UC has particular appeal for business executives since it integrates business applications and processes with existing communication channels to open the door for substantial process improvements. It represents a new way of doing business, enhancing individual, work-group and organizational productivity.
According to Forrester Research, an organization that “presence enables” its applications — meaning the applications share a common platform and draw from a synchronized store of presence information — can save more than an hour a week per employee in time otherwise spent tracking down and contacting colleagues. That’s valuable time that can be repurposed toward achieving business goals.
Successful implementation of UC requires a thorough knowledge of its capabilities, such as solving business communications problems, as well as an understanding of the financial and technological considerations. These requirements are common across any vendor’s proposed solution.
As interest in UC accelerates, businesses are in search of UC-knowledgeable professionals. According to research analyst Katherine Trost of Nemertes Research, a recent study by the company on the stage of UC deployment showed that among the 117 organizations that responded, roughly 36 percent are in the initial planning stages, about 28 percent have started limited deployment and about 19 percent are growing their deployment. Roughly 16 percent were not implementing UC solutions, she said.
Acknowledging that a large number of organizations still are in the planning stages for wide-scale UC deployment and need skilled individuals, Nortel created a vendor-neutral professional certification: Nortel Certified Technology Specialist (NCTS): Unified Communications Solutions.
This vendor-neutral credential was created with business managers, systems integrators, consultants, IT professionals and academic institutions in mind. Because unified communications touches many different elements in information technology, professionals in IT, telecommunications, networking, desktop applications and local-area networking (LAN) will gain a valuable understanding of UC by studying for and successfully completing the NCTS exam.
What UC Professionals Need to Know
Making an organization’s UC solution vision a reality starts with four core areas that are represented on the NCTS exam. These four subjects, which a newly certified UC professional should thoroughly understand, are:
- The evolution of messaging: The professional should be able to describe key terms and definitions used in unified communications; understand the evolution of messaging from voice mail to unified messaging to unified communications and its integration with business applications; identify vendors participating in the unified communications marketplace; and compare features and functions and distinguish between unified messaging and unified communications.
- How to solve enterprise communications challenges: The professional should be able to match a list of UC features and functions and map them to the specific business communications challenges they solve; understand the impact of convergence and how Session Initiaton Protocol (SIP)-enabled applications such as UC lead to the convergence of applications; identify the business value unified communications deployment can bring to customer service, customer relationship management, supply chain management, enterprise-resource planning and sales-force automation; describe how service-oriented architecture (SOA), coupled with unified communications, can streamline processes and reduce human latency; and identify key performance indicator (KPI) metrics that can be mapped to a financial return on investment (ROI) model.
- How to implement UC solutions: The professional must demonstrate the ability to scope a unified communications proof-of-concept pilot project with measurable KPIs and a financial ROI model; understand best practices for UC system integration configurations and implementations regarding heterogeneous voice communications infrastructures; and understand which applications, features and functions are supported on end-point devices, PDAs and cell phones.
- How to secure VoIP, SIP and UC solutions: The IT professional must be able to identify Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and SIP risks, threats and vulnerabilities; understand how to implement VoIP best practices for security in an IP infrastructure; understand how to implement SIP best practices for security and specifically for end-point devices and PDAs that may be transporting customer private data and information; and describe how to implement a layered security solution to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of VoIP and SIP-enabled applications such as UC, end-point and PDA devices.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to increasing productivity and collaboration across different types of businesses. Understanding which steps to take along the way toward full-scale deployment increases the success rate and minimizes the costs of deployment.
Getting Certified in Unified Communications
Networks no longer are dedicated to one vendor or one product. Understanding core technologies and processes is a common bridge toward successfully deploying multi-vendor solutions.
Today’s IT professional must showcase a broad range of skills, with strong knowledge of technologies, products and applications across multiple vendor solutions. A highly valued and marketable IT professional has comprehensive knowledge of foundational technologies and multiple vendor products and — most importantly — understands key concepts on how to bring those products together in the form of a business solution.
To help would-be UC professionals study, Nortel launched Nortel Press, which publishes self-study guides on networking subjects that are shaping the future of business communications. One of the most recent releases is a self-study guide called Unified Communications Solutions: A Practical Business and Technology Approach.
The vendor-neutral guide provides a clear description of the evolution of messaging, UC capabilities and how UC can improve business processes such as sales-force automation and supply chain management. The guide also explains how key performance indicators can be mapped to a financial ROI model and how to implement UC solutions using a proof-of-concept pilot, and addresses important deployment considerations such as securing VoIP and SIP protocols for UC applications.
In addition to the self-study guide, an optional mentoring program is offered. This program covers the more complex topics in the guide through a four-week study syllabus and access to a series of weekly, four-hour online sessions with an instructor, including Q&A opportunities.
Ultimately, an NCTS: Unified Communications Solutions credential demonstrates the knowledge and expertise to move forward in the hyperconnected world.
Scott Schauer is the director of the global certification program at Nortel. He also manages the Nortel Press and Nortel Technology Solutions Academy programs. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.