How to Untangle: Legacy System Integration

    Welcome to the first in a new ShoreTel blog series called “How to Untangle.” With each post, we’ll tackle a different challenge related to system complexity and share best practices and advice on how to find the solution that’s right for your organization.

    If you’d describe your communications system as “patchwork,” you’re not alone. Many companies are dealing with the challenge of how to update their current systems—which have been cobbled together through equipment and feature enhancements from multiple vendors—without incurring huge expense or causing massive inconvenience to customers and employees with extended network outages.

    You can take heart in the fact that a complete rip-and-replace isn’t mandatory, but you should do your homework before deciding on a vendor or unified communications (UC) solution.

    On the surface, it seems easy enough to tell UC systems apart based on their technology: TDM is different from pure IP-based solutions, hybrid solutions incorporate some IP functionality, and so on. But there are differences even among IP systems.

    For one thing, there are some fundamental architectural differences to take into consideration when evaluating solutions, because architecture has a significant impact on the manageability and the TCO of your system.

    Features are another key area of differentiation. Some systems provide basic telephony and PBX extensions, while others offer more sophisticated collaborative environments with messaging, find-me/follow-me features, presence, Web conferencing, and more.

    Here are a few steps to consider as you evaluate the best migration scenario for your company:

    Establish Your “Critical Criteria”

    Take a good, hard look at your system and evaluate your current network and equipment.

    • How is it currently configured? Is it distributed or centralized?
    • What challenges or benefits does the architecture present?
    • What is the most pressing need?
    • Where are there gaps?
    • What is your budget?

    Other criteria you might consider:

    • Is the system user-friendly? Does it require a lot of training?
    • How easy is it to deploy and configure?
    • What is the interface for administrators? For users?
    • How many hours, dollars and staff resources are needed to adequately maintain the system?
    • What level of disaster recovery preparedness and system redundancy is available?
    • What kind of vendor support can you expect in both the short term and the long term?
    • What upgrade path is open to you through that vendor?

    Consider the Costs

    Anyone who’s deployed a system knows that integrating new network elements involves more than hardware costs alone. Be sure to compare other potential expenses:

    • Hardware and software
    • Ongoing administration and maintenance
    • Future upgrades
    • Training
    • Adds/Drops/Changes

    Focus on Features

    • What features do your current users love and couldn’t live without?
    • Are there future organizational needs to take into consideration, like international expansion or anticipated multi-location needs?
    • How can you support your mobile workforce? Are new mobility features required?
    • How well does the system integrate with your existing or planned business processes?

    Keep it Simple


    Communications systems that have been retrofitted by layering new gear and technologies on top of legacy platforms can lead to a hodgepodge of applications, which can have serious implications for system management.

    Often each component of the consolidated voice system is managed by different tools—some are Web-based, some are graphical but not Web-based, some are controlled by specialized applications, and some require command-line entries and scripting.

    So consider:

    • How easily does the system scale?
    • Does the system offer truly unified management, consolidating all the necessary functions into a single Web-based form, or was its single Web-based interface “spray-painted” over multiple management tools?
    • Is the interface simple and intuitive, requiring minimal training?

    If you’d like to learn more about how ShoreTel in particular can help untangle your legacy system integration, please contact your local ShoreTel reseller.


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