When UC became Unified Collaboration

Gary O’Brien, Head of Unified Communications at eir NI, talks about the true value of Collaboration and how companies can best approach the transition to Unified Communications.


Information is the lifeblood of any organisation. In a knowledge-based economy like Northern Ireland, businesses need to work better and smarter than ever, and that’s where Unified Communications (UC) offers a competitive advantage. By integrating email, landline, mobile, voicemail, video calling/conferencing, instant messaging into a single, seamless communications network, companies can build a more responsive, efficient, cost-effective and productive organisation. By giving staff options on which tools they use, companies can deliver favourable changes in how they work.


For growing companies demanding greater collaboration, there are a range of communications options available. ‘Presence’ saves delays in relaying information; video conferencing cuts down on travel time and reduces a company’s carbon footprint; and VoIP can dramatically reduce phone bills.


But UC is as much a change programme as a technology programme.


At eir, we work closely with customers to ensure that the transition to UC is not done at the expense of the organisational and people challenges. Our approach begins by looking at the whole organisation and their existing technology environment. We aim to manage the migration so the right user groups are embracing the technology at the appropriate time. That means analysing the profile of their user base and giving individuals the tools they’re comfortable with using.


A phased approach is essential to guide organisations through migration and across the delivery of new infrastructure. Our Cisco qualified engineers bring decades of experience in telecoms, ranging from the cornerstone of voice up to IM, ‘Presence’, video conferencing and web collaboration. In this way, users can evangelise within the organisation and ensure effective adoption of new systems.


The fact that our solution is based on Best of Breed Cisco technology also means it is best placed to handle integration and the complexity which undoubtedly exists in most organisations.  From a practical viewpoint, offering a hybrid-cloud solution means the core UC applications are virtualised on Cisco UCS (Unified Compute Systems) platform providing benefits such as reduction in provisioning times, reduction in cabling, reduction in power and cooling costs and in ongoing management costs.


Many organisations across public and private sectors are benefitting from UC. For example, with the NI Civil Service (NICS) the Network NI programme delivered very wide-ranging performance improvements and significant efficiency gains through UC.


The purpose of Network NI was to establish a common network with economies of scale, delivering more bandwidth, more resilience and a better overall service levels. This was the largest deployment of UC in Ireland, entailing the connection of 275 government buildings and 22,000 users across a single network.


Our phased approach redesigned the network to take advantage of the new technologies that could scale with demand. The benefits of UC in disaster recovery and business continuity was vividly illustrated in June 2012 when the Stormont Estate lost much of its power supply to flash floods and a number of government departments had to be evacuated. The Civil Service were able to relocate several hundred staff, carrying their numbers with them and the public didn’t see any noticeable difference in service.


The better you can manage change in your organisation, the smoother the transition will be. But strip away the jargon and the buzzwords and UC is not that much of a leap for most people. It’s working in parallel with what’s already happening: VoIP technologies like Skype, collaborative websites like Google Docs and IM features on Facebook.


Gary O’Brien is Head of Unified Communication with eir NI, specialising in enterprise voice solutions.  Contact Gary on uk.linkedin.com/in/garyobrien3 to discuss how UC can benefit your business.