Bobboz - Fotolia

UC hybrid models reap benefits but require good planning

Hybrid unified communications is getting more attention as remote working becomes standard at many organizations. But be sure to understand how applications are being delivered.

Hybrid unified communications systems have always been tricky to manage, and now that remote work and hybrid work have become a permanent fixture among many companies, overseeing a mixed UC environment has become even more challenging.

When employees began working from home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the edge of the network blurred. While the network edges moved around, communications became more complex. Meanwhile, UC features blossomed, and application support multiplied.

For enterprises deploying a hybrid cloud model to support the hybrid workplace, the biggest hurdle is making sure all the pieces, from PBXs to video conferencing, work together. The next is managing the platforms themselves. And the single most important task is assuring the security of them all. The more complex your hybrid UC environment, the more difficult it is to accomplish the tasks above.

Pros and cons of hybrid UC

A hybrid UC environment blends resources residing on premises and in the cloud. This approach yields multiple benefits. First, it enables organizations to take advantage of existing internal Capex, keep data behind firewall systems, and create new API calls and integrations into other systems.

Second, it calls on the resources of the cloud to service other portions of the employee base. Employee access depends on several factors, among them user roles, entity location(s), required integrations -- dialing out of Salesforce, for example -- and other business needs.

Hybrid UC also poses some challenges. Vendor support can be tricky. Without a clear understanding of which vendor is responsible for a particular application and how that application is deployed -- either on premises or through a cloud provider -- you could be vulnerable to performance issues. Restrictions placed by the service provider itself may add an additional layer of complexity, offsetting some of the benefits outsourcing can provide.

To that end, companies evaluating a UC hybrid approach must decide where their data will reside and, if cloud-based, the encryption algorithms applied and the fees charged by the provider. Once it has been determined which apps will reside on premises and which will be cloud-delivered, then the company can decide how it will administer the deployment, either internally or outsourcing to a third party.

Hybrid UC management challenges

Begin the process of managing a hybrid UC environment by creating a clear and concise statement of need and application documentation. Determine what each department and user will need from the new hybrid environment. Pay attention to IT resources, understanding what you can and cannot control in the new system. It's like building a house. A good blueprint of your UC environment will let you establish clear communications with your providers and vendors.

Begin the documentation process well before purchasing a system. This will let you understand what you have purchased and assure the documentation and installed system will meet your needs and be easy to administer. Included in that documentation should be the location and access instructions for all data.

At minimum, during evaluation, purchase and installation of a hybrid UC system, a company must ensure the following:

  • Staff understands how applications can be accessed.
  • Security guidelines and mandates are established and maintained (ongoing) for your environment and for the UC system -- this is critical.
  • Vendors are identified to help with any hardware failures, replacement or additional equipment needed.
  • IT can support softphone installation and configuration.
  • API and application-level programming support -- in-house or outsourced -- is available.
  • Penetration testing is well established across the platform.
  • Remote and hybrid workers are trained to understand the hybrid UC environment.
  • Communication lines are well established.
  • Updates and patches are regularly scheduled.
  • All vendors have escalation contracts.
  • Disaster recovery and business continuity plans are incorporated.
  • Written documentation is regularly updated with any changes.
  • Roles within the systems are defined.
  • Administrative backup training is available.
  • Hooks into Active Directory and other systems are implemented.
  • Means to train local and remote users are in place.

Additionally, the process of selecting a vendor may or may not involve adding contact center capabilities to your hybrid environment. The functionality and configurations required for a contact center may differ from that of a hybrid UC deployment.

The key to effective UC hybrid system management is great documentation. The more of the UC service you can automate, such as configuration scripts, user roles and containers, the less complex and more secure the system. Define everything with zero trust, and maintain that model as new personnel are added; not every user in every department will need the same configurations. Don't be afraid to ask questions, especially where configurations and security are being developed. Maintain and update all documentation, and cross-train your staff. These steps will assure a smooth transition and UX.

Next Steps

Top 6 UCaaS benefits for businesses

Dig Deeper on UC strategy