Now UC It

Reducing Complexity and Risk When Adopting UC

By TMCnet Special Guest
David Schenkel, senior technology analyst with ADTRAN
  |  June 01, 2011

Complexity… The Wikipedia article on this topic says “In general usage, complexity tends to be used to characterize something with many parts in intricate arrangement.” It’s something that our increasingly technological society deals with every day, and unified communications is no exception. Complexity introduces risk, and both pose a major barrier to UC adoption, especially for small and medium-sized organizations and even larger ones that are risk averse. How can you reduce complexity and risk when you adopt UC?

Quite a long time ago, back in the ’80s I think, I attended a presentation by a wise person (for whom I sadly can’t recall an attribution). He presented a simple graph that showed system complexity increasing steadily over time and a fixed horizontal line intersecting it labeled, somewhat ominously, human cognitive ability. That graph has been rattling about in my head now for several decades. It represents an important lesson for all engineers, inventors and product managers. Make your system or product too complex and people can’t understand it, make it work, or even repair it when it breaks. Fortunately, when systems get too complex one of two things tend to happen. Either someone comes up with a more understandable way of doing the task or process (epitomized by the KISS principle – keep it simple, stupid) or we use technology to hide system complexity so that it is rendered simple to understand. This is typically accomplished by using automation to hide complexity.  Once a simpler alternative appears on the market, everyone quite naturally migrates to use the less complex alternative.

Generally speaking, the advantages of removing complexity and risk relate to improved efficiency and hence reduced operations costs. So the graph of system complexity over time for each type of system tends to rise above the human cognitive limit and periodically drop back down to an understandable level as market forces come into play. Many people have discovered that this is a good strategy for creating successful products (and hence a lot of money).

So, what should you look for when choosing a UC solution to reduce complexity and risk? Complexity raises its head both during the initial deployment and during the ongoing administration of your UC system, so you should consider both for complexity reduction when choosing your solution. 

Deployment complexity can be reduced by using an all-in-one solution from a single vendor that provides as many of the UC features that you need in your UC system as is possible. Generally this type of solution is easier to deploy and maintain, has a single administrative interface for many functions, and fewer integration points that can fail. It also gives you one throat to choke when things go wrong. Look for solutions that offer automated wizard-based deployment that is integrated with your data center administrative tools like Microsoft Active Directory that simplify initial deployment. ADTRAN’s (News - Alert) NetVanta Enterprise Communications Server is a good example of this type of solution.

Another major complexity/risk point during initial system deployment occurs when interoperability is required with existing equipment like PBXs, phones, etc. Look for system vendors that support interoperability via both standards- and proprietary-based interfaces to these types of products with formal interoperability programs between vendors. Proprietary interfaces to these types of products are often supported by third-party company products, so look for formal interoperability between the UC product you choose and these third-party product providers rather than the vendor of your existing equipment (which may not offer any formal interoperability for your existing products with a UC system).

Choosing an experienced vendor and reseller that has a program to provide network evaluation, deployment, customized service development and integration services will allow you to offload unavoidable complexity and reduce the risk of deployment problems and unexpected costs and delays. This is especially true if you are planning to create custom IVR, CEBP, or outbound calling type services in your deployment.

Since a lot of complexity in the ongoing maintenance of a UC system comes from on and off-boarding employees, look for solutions that integrate closely with your IT administrative system. Having a single administrative interface for IT and UC reduces complexity. Consequently, you should also look for solutions that integrate with your data center administrative tools such as Microsoft (News - Alert) Active Directory and PowerShell; that employ modern graphical user interfaces; and provide wizard-based user configuration to enable data center staff to efficiently manage day-to-day UC operations. Desktop clients that utilize single-user login also reduce account management complexity. You can also utilize software-based solutions that use the same servers and network environment as existing IT services to reduce complexity.

Complexity can kill a UC project. By carefully choosing a UC solution with complexity reduction in mind you can significantly reduce deployment and ongoing management complexity as well as associated risk, deployment time, and both initial system deployment and ongoing administration costs. 

David Schenkel (News - Alert) is senior technology analyst with ADTRAN (

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Edited by Rich Steeves