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Migrating to IP Telephony? Top Ten Tips for Guiding a Successful IP Telephony Implementation

Stephanie Carhee provides her top ten tips for project managing an enterprise-wide IP telephony implementation.
Reprinted with permission from Packet® magazine (Volume 16, No. 2), © 2004 Cisco Systems, Inc.
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Migrating to IP Telephony? Top Ten Tips for Guiding a Successful IP Telephony Implementation

Often when an organization considers change that will impact every employee—such as an enterprise-wide IP telephony —the process tends to focus on hardware, software, and getting the technology up to speed as quickly as possible. However, a company's infrastructure is composed not just of hardware and software, but also of people. The successful conversion to IP telephony does not rest solely on viability or reliability. It requires a careful combination of the right products, people, processes, tools, services, best practices, and methodologies—all working in concert.

While the needs of every enterprise are different, some things are universal. Planning, communication, teamwork, and understanding your users' requirements are as important as technical expertise. With this key objective in mind, I have compiled the following top ten tips for project managing an enterprise-wide IP telephony implementation. They are not meant to tell you how to technically architect your network, but to share best practices gleaned from Cisco's own experience as well as customer engagements with phased migrations to a converged voice and data network. If your company is in the planning stages of an IP communications implementation, read on.

Tip 1. Build a Cross-Functional "Tiger" Team
The greatest up-front contributor to a successful, large technology migration is building a cross-functional team that not only has the requisite skills and technical expertise but represents users in every area in the organization impacted by the implementation. This team is responsible for ensuring rapid delivery of the migration that optimizes company investments. At Cisco, we called this group the "Tiger Team."

Key members of the team include an executive program sponsor and steering committee composed of organizational stakeholders; a project Tiger Team lead; technology experts; security specialists; and subject matter experts in the areas of design and engineering, support, finance, and project management. When global or multinational theaters are involved, include team leads for each theater who will represent the needs of that location and user community.

After skill sets are identified and all representatives chosen, this well-represented team should start off the implementation by clearly defining the objectives and overall goals of the project, and identifying the tasks necessary to achieve those goals. Also begin defining the change management process, at-risk factors, and problem escalation challenges, which will minimize the risks of integrating an enterprise-wide IP telephony solution.

Tip 2. Get Your Users On Board
Resistance to change is normal and should always be anticipated. Managing user expectations will be paramount to making the process run as smooth as possible. One key way to achieve this is to take away the mystery and uncertainty among the individuals affected through education, and open, honest, and frequent communication with the stakeholders. Create a plan that gives you the ability to be flexible and proactive. Anticipate the glitches and constantly improve the process along the way, tailoring it to the specific needs of the stakeholders and the users they represent.

In addition to managing users' expectations, an IP telephony implementation typically will require significant business adjustments, staff training and education, and some redesigned business processes and fundamental shifts within the organization. All of these changes must be identified early and continually managed, and change initiatives coordinated and integrated in a timely fashion.

Your change management plan should be created only after change impacts have been identified and organizational change readiness has been assessed. Consider first the impact change will have on employees—paying close attention to details and being considerate of the timetable (ensuring that the implementation cutover doesn't take place during your company's fiscal-quarter close or other critical event, for example). And do it right the first time so that when users experience the change, the effect is minimal and expectations are met.

Managing change involves four important components: Sponsorship, Resistance, Cultural Alignment/Communications and Skills. All team members should strive to understand the process in which change occurs, and incorporate the following recommendations into an effective organizational change plan:

  • Know the tools and methods that can be used to analyze and manage change
  • Plan and implement proactive change management principles
  • Understand the nature and impact of change in the program environment
  • Manage the negative implications of change
  • Realign expectations
  • Build commitment
  • Drive cultural acceptance

Tip 3. Do Your Homework
Corporate culture is often defined as "the way we do things around here." Culture builds a common language and brings people together, enabling them to work toward a shared goal. Understanding and working with your organization's culture is critical to successfully implementing new technology on a large scale. Does your company encourage risk taking? Is change incorporated often, and does the company embrace it? How has change been introduced and institutionalized in the past? Was the process successful or fraught with problems? Is new technology welcomed or resisted? Do employees solve problems in a team environment? Is communication a top priority? Is yours a virtual company with telecommuters or employees scattered across the globe? What have previous technology deployments taught you about how users prefer to be trained? All of these factors are part of your organizational culture and can influence your ability to integrate a new solution. Take the time to know your users. Do your homework, capitalize on what has worked in the past, and learn from the mistakes of others.

Equally important, it's essential that you have the participation and cooperation of all Tiger Team members from the outset. A planning workshop will help you to educate and rally cooperation among the team, as well as ensure that the initiative stays true to the business requirements of your organization and meets implementation objectives. The team should work together to plan project deliverables, address solution capabilities, define hardware, software, and security requirements, assign third-party implementation services, identify the project critical path and milestones, and outline the migration strategy. There is plenty of ground that should be covered, and you can use the "IP Telephony Migration Questionnaire" on page 51 to get your project team thinking and collaborating together.

Tip 4. Ensure That User Requirements Drive Design Requirements
Consider developing a "Voice of the Client" program that consists of client-targeted surveys and focus groups to benchmark and track user-preferred services, products, solutions, and features. Use the survey as a tool to identify critical phone features, validate key business needs, gauge risk tolerance and user discomfort, and identify key functionalities that are paramount to your business. You can also use the survey as an opportunity to incorporate features of the new IP telephony system and to help determine the priority of which features should be enabled.

Survey results provide the design and engineering team with a "report card" that validates their concept of the new design. Missing key design elements are a critical mistake that can be avoided by listening to your users, conducting traffic analysis, performing a network audit and readiness assessment, understanding how the technology will impact your current infrastructure, and familiarizing yourself with the new technology.

And, as daunting and overwhelming as all this may sound, remember that IP telephony is simply a new application running on your current network, not an entirely new network. Therefore, knowing how your users use the system today, aligning their goals with the design requirements, and setting the right expectations will go a long way in making sure that you design your network right the first time.

Tip 5. Crawl First, Walk Proudly, and Run Aggressively
Your implementation strategy should allow you to progressively go faster as your experience levels become more efficient (see figure). You don't want to go too fast or, conversely, too slow. The number of employees, complexity of user requirements, size of the campus, and how widely all are dispersed will, of course, affect your migration strategy. Like most organizations, you are not dealing with a static environment. There will always be employees changing locations, getting hired or leaving, or exercising their mobility working on the road, at home, in the field, and places other than their office desktop. To accommodate this ever-changing environment, develop a migration strategy that takes into account all of the variables that can change, alter, or otherwise affect implementation of your new converged voice and data network.

Make sure no one falls through the cracks by dividing your migration into user- and/or site-defined categories. Your categories might be, for example, new employees; existing employees who are moving to a new location; buildings coming online (greenfields); retrofit of existing buildings; merger- and acquisition-related facilities; or buildings with upcoming PBX lease renewals.

And, as noted, don't forget to take the time to learn from your mistakes, obtain feedback, build proven processes, and create standards for the entire team to adhere to. Minimize your migration risk by starting in the lab, developing your proof of concept, and allowing time for training and practice. Follow that success with implementation in a non-critical field office. Then, apply what you've learned and start to build momentum by moving more aggressively with a campus-wide implementation.

Figure 1Figure 1 AT YOUR PACE: Adopting a Crawl/Walk/Run approach will help you manage user expectations, identify critical support and infrastructure requirements, build on your knowledge gained, and overall minimize the risk of your technology implementation.

Tip 6. Follow the 80/20 Rule for Implementation
When it comes to actual implementation, the success of your IP telephony migration will depend on several considerations: proper planning, creating consistent standards, identifying at-risk factors, having a ready backup/backout plan, customer service, doing the prep work up front, applying best practices, paying attention to detail, and automating as much of the process as possible. Of all these important factors, planning weighs most heavily. In fact, a winning formula for migration success consists of 80 percent preparation and 20 percent installation. Quite simply, if you focus on your plan first, the implementation will go a lot smoother.

The fruit of managing several implementations, Cisco's "IP Telephony Steps to Success Engagement Guide" is a knowledge management portal designed to help Cisco IP telephony partners in creating their own implementation plans (cisco.com/go/stepstosuccess, Cisco.com login required). Following is a condensed version of the high-level steps that should be considered when beginning and completing the implementation phase:

Step 1. Facilitate Implementation Planning
Step 2. Hold Implementation Planning Meeting
Step 3. Define Project Monitoring and Control
Step 4. Develop Status Reporting Structure
Step 5. Begin Site Preparation
Step 6. Conduct Install and Configure
Step 7. Manage Test and Acceptance
Step 8. Deliver Knowledge Handoff
Step 9. Ensure Customer Acceptance
Step 10. Complete Closeout

A comprehensive depiction of the key implementation steps, the "Road to IP Telephony" mini poster, is available to download free at ciscopress.com/1587200880.

Tip 7. Ensure a Successful Day 2 Handoff
A successful Day 2 handoff requires a well thought out support plan (Day 2 is defined as the time period immediately following cutover of your new IP telephony solution). Four critical components are required to enable efficient operation and responsive support of your converged network: the support team, support processes, support services, and support tools.

Support Team. The primary goal of support is to have all issues resolved quickly and effectively. You need the right mix of people in place at the right time to resolve the entire spectrum of issues that can arise in a converged network environment. To streamline this process, consider creating a cost-effective, three-tiered internal structure to resolve issues based on the type of problems that arise matched to the skill set required to resolve them. Escalation is based on severity and complexity of the issue. Easy-to-solve or repetitive issues, such as IP phone resets and user access passwords, are handled by Tier 1. Tier 2 tackles more complex problems such as software issues, LAN support, and data problems. And Tier 3 requires the involvement of individuals responsible for the design and engineering of the IP telephony solution.

Support Process. Resist the temptation to completely reinvent your support model with each new application, a mistake often made during large-scale technology implementations. While the converged support model requires collaboration among multiple groups who are likely unaccustomed to working together, you should still consider and take advantage of much of your existing support processes.

Support Services. Many companies do not have the resources required to adequately plan, design, implement, operate, and optimize (PDIOO) a converged communications environment. When making the investment in an IP-based network, organizations need to look closely at their ability to provide all the required services and support parameters. Key elements for implementing, supporting, and optimizing IP-based communications consist of end-to-end PDIOO capabilities, expert internal and external resources, cutting-edge management tools, knowledge management and transfer, and global coverage.

Support Tools. Attentive management and monitoring of your new network will help to catch and resolve many problems before they become visible to users. With the right support tools, the network can maintain the highest level of reliability and stability, providing increased performance and availability. The five key functional areas of the network must be managed to ensure the highest levels of availability: fault, configuration, accounting, performance, and security management.

Tip 8. Keep Your New Network Clean
Most large enterprises have hundreds of lines and circuits that, through the years, have either been forgotten about or are simply unused. While this tip isn't meant to cover all the technical considerations required to "clean out" your network, it's an important reminder to view your IP telephony implementation as an opportunity to clean out your network to start anew, as well as clean, groom, and prepare the IP infrastructure. So, when the implementation team begins the conversion to IP telephony, remove as many unused lines off the PBX as possible, and only convert those lines that were proven as valid. Conduct a final cleanup at the end of the conversion to ensure that the implementation team has ample time to carefully review and trace all unidentified analog lines and circuits. Take steps to verify that business-critical lines aren't removed, and make it a point to only migrate what you use, not what you have, so that you can help to keep the network clean.

Tip 9. Plan for PBX Lease Returns
At the time of implementation, you might have equipment that is leased, which meant that your IP telephony implementation schedule was largely dictated by the PBX lease return dates. To ensure that the massive effort of returning large quantities of leased equipment is organized and that items are returned on schedule, the team leader responsible for the retrofit cleanup should enter all PBX leases into a spreadsheet and develop a project plan to keep the returns on track. Carefully match the equipment list on the original lease agreement to the inventory being returned, create a box-level inventory list, and get a signed receiving list from the vendor.

In addition to managing the return of all leased equipment, there is also the process of removing all ancillary solutions and systems that are tied to the main PBX. The process of completely decommissioning your main PBX will take longer than you expect; therefore, assemble a project team to address the removal of all applications still running on it.

Tip 10. Look Back, Move Forward, and Prepare for the Future
Whether an IP telephony implementation involves 200 phones or 20,000 phones, careful and comprehensive planning, communication, teamwork, and knowing where the "gotchas" are hiding will divert problems before they even arise.

OK, you've almost arrived. You can see your destination and it is a fully converged voice and data network with all users migrated to IP telephony. Before celebrating, however, there are still a few important items that require your attention. You still need to be ready to address how to prepare your network for the future.

Change management will be the toughest process to maintain once your new network is in place, but not because of routine changes or software upgrades. Maintaining a strict, yet manageable and scalable, process will be key to your success. Not only will your methods and procedures require a solid execution plan, but so will the standards by which you communicate the plan. Eliminate as many unknowns as possible by documenting your procedures, capture and incorporate lessons learned, and optimize your change management process. Make the commitment to continually support your new, dynamic network by reevaluating contingency plans often, conducting ongoing audits of network performance, incorporating new features through software upgrades, and reexamining the contract services that protect, monitor, and support your network.

To prepare for the future, you must embrace being prepared for new IP telephony applications. As applications become available, a system must be in place to analyze the technology for applicability, test it for feasibility, provide an adoption position, and ensure that all teams are involved, in agreement, and ready to reap the benefits that will come from rolling out another new IP communications application.

The author wishes to thank Debbie Hart for contributing to this article.

Stephanie L. Carhee is a senior project manager with Cisco's IP Communications Services Marketing team and author of The Road to IP Telephony: How Cisco Systems Migrated from PBX to IP Telephony. Prior to her current role, Carhee was an IT project manager for voice services in the Strategic Program Management group, and was team lead for Cisco's migration to IP telephony, the largest deployment of its kind in the industry to date. She can be reached at scarhee@cisco.com.

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