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UCaaS roadmap starts with deep assessment

This is the first in a three-part series sharing our tips for creating your UCaaS roadmap.

Once you’ve made up your mind to embrace Unified Communications (UC), it’s time to start building a roadmap to get you there. You’ll need a savvy combination of technologies, processes, and people to make the most of UC opportunities. A robust UC roadmap will keep you moving in the right direction every step of the way.

To build your UC roadmap, you must be clear on two points:

  • The tools you’re already using, and how you’re using them.
  • The new UC tools that hold the most hope for transforming your business.

A three-step process can help you develop the technology-and-features component of your UC roadmap.

Step 1: Assess your equipment

Make an inventory of all your devices—handsets, tablets, smartphones, PBX gear, etc.—including the location of each item. Your UC system has to replicate these device functions, so it’s crucial to document them at the beginning.

Establish priorities for offices, departments, and divisions that should be the first to migrate to UC. Map out a strategy for implementing UC in each of these areas.

Consider a phased migration to reduce the strain on your IT team. Each phase helps you work out the bugs and learn to prepare for problems rather than merely react to them.

Step 2: Identify tools and features

Audit your staff’s communication and collaboration techniques. Find out all the tools they use, how often they use them, and what the tools accomplish. You may find people are using non-business approved applications and tools to plug gaps in your system.

Once you understand your people’s processes and tools, start identifying cloud-based apps and other UC services that can make their jobs easier. Keep a sharp eye out for:

  • Innovative tools people have been doing without.
  • Unauthorized apps and services that haven’t been vetted by your IT team. Make sure you understand why people resort to tools.
  • Business functions that UC tools can transform. You have dozens to choose from; zero in on the ones that can do your organization the most good.
  • Opportunities to improve collaboration. You may be able to meld video conferencing with text messaging to strengthen relationships with customers, for instance.

Step 3: Analyze your underlying network

UC brings a host of high-bandwidth operations into your LAN and WLAN. Make sure your network can cope with the demands of real-time voice and videoconferencing.

If you anticipate that UC will widen your customer base, make sure you plan for expanding your network capacity. A cloud-based UC solution allows you to pay for only what you use, and it can scale with you as your needs change.

Finally, make sure your firewall and other security technologies dovetail with your UC program.

Aligning the present and the future

Crafting a well-thought-out UC roadmap will help ensure that everything you’ve learned from building your business informs the development of your new UC system. CBTS expert engineers can guide you through every aspect of a UC transformation.

For more guidance, download our free eBook on perfecting your cloud communications journey.

Read about Unified Communications from CBTS.

 

Related Articles:

Six ways UCaaS drives business transformation

3 elements to a UCaaS roadmap

UC journey begins with three steps

IT innovation at MotorCity Casino Hotel

In the fast-paced world of casino gambling, David J. Nehra, CIO of the MotorCity Casino Hotel, uses innovative solutions with the help of CBTS to meet the needs of casino customers, management, and his technical staff.

MotorCity is one of three casino complexes in the Detroit metro area. The car-themed casino includes a 400-room hotel, ample convention space for business meetings, and special spaces for theater, musical entertainment, and private parties.

Nehra has responsibility for IT in addition to all AV, and intelligent lighting at the casino and hotel. He leads a team of more than 50 associates.

Lessons learned

Nehra worked in IT for several consultancies before joining the casino industry in 1999.  He was named to his current position at MotorCity in 2005.

Nehra is deeply familiar with many different IT systems and technologies. During his time as a technologist he learned the importance of thinking like a customer and personally engaging with the technology he uses.

Before instituting changes in technology, Nehra personally tests the new features along with his technical staff. MotorCity also conducts surveys and focus groups among casino patrons and hotel guests to gauge their interest in new technology.

Nehra is also keenly aware that while consumers expect the latest and greatest in electronic wizardry, they don’t necessarily care very much – if at all – about the technological underpinnings.

“I need to be a technology geek, but this doesn’t mean that they need to be,” the executive says.

‘Alexa, turn on the lights!’

As part of an upcoming renovation at the hotel, Nehra and his team are experimenting with an Alexa-enabled voice system for guest management of the casino’s luxurious hotel rooms.

“If we do our jobs right, when guests enter the room, they’ll be able to say, ‘Alexa, turn on the lights!’ or ‘Alexa, turn down the heat,’” he said.

Before testing the voice system with hotel management and IT staff, Nehra implemented the system in his own home and vacation cabin in the Michigan woods.

“My wife and my 72-year-old father needed to be able to use this automation system before we would proceed at MotorCity,” he said.

Keeping the noise down

A major problem for hotels is complaints from guests about noise levels. It can sometimes be tough to tell which room the noise is coming from, Nehra says.

Consequently, he is now rolling out various IoT devices capable of identifying a room that’s generating too much noise when guests are watching a ballgame on TV, or celebrating a successful night in the casino.

When fully deployed, the technology will monitor noise levels in each room and allow hotel staff to proactively engage with guests, and politely ask them to lower the volume or celebrate a bit more sensibly.

Nehra is also preparing to deploy a video management system, which will employ a variety of professional services from CBTS, with an eye toward possible expansion of that relationship into other areas.

Recruiting topnotch staff

Nehra has high expectations, but is flexible when it comes to employees who need to change shifts or work at home certain days of the week.

“We treat everyone with dignity and respect,” he said.

Nehra also mentioned that MotorCity offers an elaborate associate dining room, with all meals included at no charge, so they can take advantage of the excellent food at MotorCity.

“Turning mealtime into something really nice, offering perks, and being flexible helps mitigate the burden of work for your staff,” Nehra said.

To learn more about the CBTS Professional Services team, please click this link.

7signal helps clients maximize WiFi potential

CBTS periodically asks IT Leaders to share their insights and perspectives on important technology issues and challenges. These conversations also provide a glimpse into interesting companies and organizations – from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. We recently chatted with Veli-Pekka Ketonen, founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the Cleveland-based startup 7signal Solutions, Inc.

 

What’s the driving force behind the formation of 7signal?

There was no visibility into how WiFi is actually serving the end users, how it’s doing its purpose. 7signal was founded to bring this visibility and bring manageability to WiFi networks so they can be managed through metrics and not ad hoc.

How are most WiFi networks managed?

We are trying to move from this kind of ad hoc management to proactive management, where the network is managed based on metrics. There’s a dashboard. There’s a breadth of information on how well the service is working, and proactive actions to make it work better before any users actually start complaining. So, that’s really what the company was created to do. And that’s what we are still doing.

How has WiFi increased in importance to retailers and other customer-facing organizations?

The most practical example has been the in-store experience like the Apple store model – mobile Point-of-Sale (POS). That’s a direction where most of the retailers want to go. It’s not a simple change. So, just get rid of the cash registers and have the people walk around with a tablet, right?  But moving to that model impacts the sales, the model, maybe store layout, and things like that.

What are the other applications of WiFi in retail, aside from mobile POS?

There are of course other things to enrich the store experience. There are apps and promotions. Then there is analytics, so you understand how the customers behave while they are in the store, tracking where the customers move around in the store. And maybe it’s not that sexy, but there are handheld scanners to do the inventory management. All these require a very good network.

What’s an example of how one of your customers is leveraging WiFi in a retail environment?

We have The GAP as our customer, and they use handheld scanners. I think they want to do a mobile POS. They use Wi-Fi a lot in their warehouses for collection and gathering the items. Another example is Panera Bread. Panera alerts the customers when their order is ready. It uses table trackers and that system requires WiFi.

Are there other customer-facing industries looking at similar uses for WiFi?

Banks are envisioning lounges where people come to their branches, and they take care of their banking business, but they might use their laptop, have a cup of coffee, and have access to the internet. Similarities to Starbucks are obvious. Hospitals have a lot of medical applications using WiFi, and the staff needs to access WiFi. Patients want reliable access while they stay there. Stadiums and arenas use WiFi, not only to provide access to the internet, but also for other emerging applications like ordering food and drinks from the seat.

What are the pain points that emerge in this space?

The interference is one of the key problems with retail because stores are close. It’s completely uncoordinated network buildup. So, one store has no control of what is in the other store, or how the WiFi is configured, how it is used. But the radio waves do propagate. What’s happening in the neighbor stores directly impacts how well your WiFi is working. The air interface gets overloaded. Basically, too many data packets in the air from improperly configured networks essentially consume the air time and then you have a poor experience.

A widely acknowledged challenge is that remote facilities do not have any IT professionals onsite. Especially WiFi expertise is centralized to corporate headquarters. At the same time, WiFi networks lack capability to assess and measure their state and the experience they offer to users. This makes managing the networks very difficult. We can bring the visibility. We can remotely pinpoint where are the issues so they can be addressed in a timely fashion.

What are the pros and cons of going completely WiFi?

WiFi is interesting technology. It’s kind of a victim of its success. It was made so resilient that it can handle almost impossible conditions. If there’s a lot of interference, or very bad signal coverage, or low signal strength, it will always try to work. It will try to adapt to the conditions and provide some connectivity. If you want to have well-performing WiFi and a good user experience with WiFi, you need to do better than that. You need to carefully plan the network, and then you need to carefully look after the network.

CBTS is helping organizations manage their networks to improve the customer experience and support mission-critical applications like Wi-Fi. To learn more about our network solutions, please click here.

The key to strong security programs

Congrats are in order for the folks over at the National Institute of Standards and Technology! A few weeks ago, a new version of their Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (which we call the Cyber Security Framework, or CSF) was released.

The CSF, as with most other NIST Special Publications around security, receives regular updates to keep pace with the changes in the threat landscape, the security product market, and new regulatory compliance requirements in a variety of industries. I talk often to customers who are facing the challenge of protecting their data and systems, but find it hard to adjust as those factors change year to year, and they feel there isn’t sufficient organizational focus on practicing good security.

What is a security program?

You may have heard the term “security program” before – you’d certainly hear me mention it in these conversations with customers. Maybe it’s why you clicked on this article. What is a security program? What’s so magical about it that I need it in my organization?

When I describe a security program, I’m talking about the collection of individuals, teams, and their efforts to protect their organization from a variety of threats. I’m talking about the policies, standards, and guidelines they enact to formally document roles, responsibilities, actions, and behaviors of employees, users, third-parties, and anyone else that might have a role in this protection effort. I’m talking about the management efforts to advance the maturity of the organization’s protection effort, and to mitigate risks to the business.

It’s a team, led by a leader or group of leaders, much like many other teams in your organization. Yours will look similar to other teams … and also very different. There’s no one right way to build a security program (but certainly plenty of wrong ways). What helps is a guide – and the NIST CSF is a fantastic, free guide built just for that purpose.

It defines five Functions for which the security program is responsible: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. It details how to build a security program, and grow it over time, to achieve this goal. And it provides a way to measure your capability and the success of the program and how to tell if it is meeting its goals.

JD Rogers, the CISO of Great American Insurance, did a fantastic talk last year on how he and his team used the CSF to develop a strategy to grow and measure the success of their security program. The slides from the talk are here.

CBTS will help you with security

If your organization doesn’t have a security program today, and you might be a person considered responsible for security in that organization, the NIST CSF is absolutely worth a read. It may seem daunting, but Rome (and its security program) wasn’t built in a day. You may be able to look back a few years later, after beginning these efforts, and see real change that’s been affected because of this practice. You might even sleep better at night!

If you’re interested in seeing how you stack up to the NIST CSF, or if you’d like help with those critical first steps of building your security program, come and talk to us. We’ve helped many businesses in many industries with this process and we’d love to help you.

Read more about Security offerings from CBTS