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VoiceCon: Key Implementers Cite Hurdles To Unifying Communications

Bringing unified communications to the enterprise, where the separation of telephony and digital processing is replaced with voice over IP and other jointly managed technologies, has several advantages. But it also pushes together groups that haven't worked together in the past and may not really want to do so now.

IT representatives of a southern Indiana hospital, Travelers, and Global Crossing addressed some of those issues as they spoke at VoiceCon on Tuesday in San Francisco. Their session was titled, "Building The New IT Organization: Taking On Converged Networks."

Jamie Libow, a communications engineering director, initially formed a unified communications group of one, just himself, at Travelers, when the CIO asked him to tackle unified communications at the Hartford, Conn., insurance company. Travelers adopted Avaya IP telephony in 2003 built on Cisco routers, and five years later adopted Microsoft's Office Communications Server.

"OCS was very complex to implement. This was the most complex application that I have put into production," Libow warned. Part of the complexity was the many different technical groups that it cut across, including e-mail, instant messaging, audio-video conferencing and Web conferencing.

OCS also has a "presence" feature that lets the various communication systems know whether another employee is available to talk, busy, or out to lunch. This and other features must be integrated with Microsoft Exchange e-mail and Active Directory identity manager, as well as VoIP telephony. Libow found the Exchange e-mail team was willing to take the lead on implementing OCS.

"Implementing a unified communications system is orders of magnitude more complex than implementing a legacy PBX or VoIP system," he said.

But the rewards of doing so are great, also. Travelers found the improved videoconferencing and Web conferencing reduced travel needs by 20%, saving $250,000. It also lead to a 30% reduction in long-distance phone charges, a 37% reduction in third-party collaboration costs, and a 15% to 25% reduction in "exceptions," or the e-mail, instant messaging, and videoconferencing problems that the IT/communications staff must troubleshoot.

Mark McMath, VP and CIO of Bloomington Hospital in Orange County, Ind., said the benefits in his case lead to "improved patient care and the hospital being named one of the 25 most technically improved hospitals, according to the American Hospital Association."

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