Whether your organization spans multiple locations across the globe or you’e a medium-sized business with one office, unified communications can equip teams with a suite of multimedia tools that increase mobility and allow for more productive collaboration.

After working as an IT systems engineer for over 15 years, I’ve learned that every organization will have unique requirements for collaboration technology. If you’re a hospital, you may need to efficiently route alerts to on-call nurses or enable telemedicine via video conferencing. On the other hand, you may own a large commercial business that requires a cost-effective way to call offices across the globe.

Whatever your needs are, you’ll need to plan thoroughly and select the capabilities most beneficial to your organization if you want to optimize your ROI.

My Top 5 elements to include in due diligence

When migrating your equipment and processes to unified communications, you may unearth issues you didn’t know you had, discover ways to reduce costs or find methods to consolidate your infrastructure. By efficiently planning and implementing your move to unified communications, you can appropriately account for roadblocks and take advantage of the many opportunities that arise.

If you’re thinking of upgrading to unified communications, consider these 5 points in your due diligence process.

  1. Are your LAN switches capable?

Successfully migrating your environment to unified communications is a challenging job. Voice and video are now an application that resides on your network. To have a successful implementation, an enterprise will need to perform a LAN assessment. A LAN assessment will consist of finding out if your switches as well as other important equipment support some features of voice and video.

One of the big advantages of unified communications is that enterprises can now use Cat 5 cables to provide data connection and electric power to the phone. Doing this cleans up cluttered cabling and simplifies cable management. Does your current environment support Power over Ethernet (IEEE 802.3)? If not, you might need to add additional power outlets for new phones.

Voice by nature is time sensitive, and you’ll need to prioritize voice packets over data packets. Quality of Service (QoS) is a feature that enables the prioritization of voice and video packets over data packets. Without QoS, the quality of voice and video may degrade when there’s heavy traffic on the network, leading to lower than toll quality voice and pixilation of your video session.

  1. Is your call flow documented?

One of the most important parts of unified communications planning and migration is properly documenting your call flow. The amount of planning should be at least double your implementation time. Many enterprises don’t realize that they don’t have all their numbers or call flows properly documented.

Every contact center call queue, auto attendant, analog line and public switched telephone network (PSTN)/trunk circuit will need to be documented as well as the numbers that are attached to each circuit. The last thing that you would want to happen is to migrate your whole infrastructure and find out that an important credit card reader number has been disconnected.

  1. What features are you using on your phones? Do you need them?

New IP phones and soft phone clients have many features that were not available with old analog/digital handsets. Enterprises will need to document all the old features that were being used and recreate them in the new unified communication system. Some features that were not popular can be scrapped to simplify configuration and deployment

  1. Are you considering PSTN circuit upgrades?

A move to unified communications creates an opportune time to reevaluate or upgrade PSTN circuits. Some organizations may find upgrading connections necessary to support an increased calling load or maybe to decrease monthly reoccurring charges. When reevaluating PSTN circuits, it’s best to plan for your growth. If you plan for the need for more lines/bandwidth, the capacity will already be there when you need it, and you won’t have to purchase more capacity at a much higher price.

  1. For remote offices – Is your WAN up to the task?

One of the best features for unified communications is the ability to use your WAN links to make intercompany voice and video calls. But before you design and implement this solution, you need to do a quick assessment of your current WAN infrastructure. Now that voice and video will be integral traffic over the WAN links, you’ll need to do a bandwidth assessment to see if WAN links have enough bandwidth to support the added traffic. QoS on the WAN links are crucial for voice and video traffic to remain high quality as well.

A good foundation for migrating to unified communications

If you invest in the planning and design stage, implementation and post-implementation support will be exponentially easier. When you’re planning for new unified communications equipment, you’ll want to assess your LAN environment, make sure your call flows are well documented, vet out any features that may incur unneeded expenses, reevaluate your PSTN circuits, and make sure your WAN is up to the task if your enterprise has several locations. By taking these steps, you increase the chance of a better ROI and reduce the chance of serious roadblocks hindering success.

A move to unified communications may also be a big step in a new direction. You’ll need to determine who in the IT organization will take ownership of this new means of communications, and you may need to roll out advanced features one at a time instead of all at once. End-users are who you’re trying to help, and you don’t want users to feel overwhelmed because they’re used to just dial tone.