Sep 11 2013

Why Colleges Are Taking a Hybrid Approach to UC

Cost-conscious universities deploy presence, instant messaging and video conferencing.

The University of California, San Diego took a practical approach to deploying unified communications.

The university first explored the technology by having the 215 members of its central IT organization test the features offered within Microsoft Lync, says Assistant Vice Chancellor and CIO Min Yao. He says the IT staff uses presence, instant messaging and video, but not softphones. 

“The reason we did not rush into bringing softphones into our UC solution at this time is because we would like to get some more return on investment out of our existing private branch exchange system,” Yao explains. “We are providing email and voice services for more than 28,000 UC San Diego employees, and even a small license fee per user could easily add up to a big cost.”

However, Yao acknowledges that the university will ultimately converge its voice and data networks, probably when it does its next upgrade in a few years. He believes that a converged voice and data network will raise IT service efficiency.


The amount of money organizations can save per T-1 line each month by opting for a hosted UC infrastructure and converging voice and data

SOURCE: “Betting on the Future with Unified Communications: Hosted Services Can Drive Business Value and Create New Opportunities” (Frost & Sullivan, July 2013)

Yao says Microsoft Lync integrates well with many of the Microsoft products that the university already uses. For example, there’s great interest in using the collaboration functions within Lync that allow users to drag a SharePoint file or PowerPoint presentation to the screen and easily share information. He expects to offer Microsoft Lync to the campus community within the next six months.

Rich Costello, senior research analyst for unified communications for IDC, says that while many colleges start by using video collaboration for internal meetings among faculty, staff and administrators, some have extended it for remote education and external apps. “Colleges are looking at these tools for using remote links to teach a larger audience and reach more students,” he says. “For example, medical schools now use video collaboration to leverage highly skilled or subject-matter experts from other locations to teach medical students.”

Mountaineers Roll Out a Hybrid Approach

Mark Six, executive director of the Office of Information Technology at West Virginia University, says WVU also plans a hybrid approach to UC.

WVU will use Microsoft Lync for presence, instant messaging, collaboration and video conferencing, but will also keep its Cisco Systems VoIP network. Six expects the entire Lync deployment to be complete by the end of the year.

“The collaboration features within Lync are very appealing,” Six says. “We like the integration with Office 365 — for example, it’s easy to set up a meeting and share a PowerPoint presentation. The technology lets us modernize our communications and applications at the same time.”

UC Project Pointers

Rich Costello, senior research analyst for unified communications for IDC, offers five tips for IT managers looking to deploy UC.

  1. Find out what people want. With the help of the organization’s end users, identify the UC technologies, features and applications that are most appropriate for the institution. If needed, educate end users about the technology.
  2. Decide if outsourcing makes sense. Do a realistic inventory of your internal capabilities and determine which manufacturers and channel partners the university will need for UC installation, support and professional services expertise.

  3. Set specific use cases. Ask the manufacturer or channel partner for business use cases for colleges to help ease project justification and deployment concerns. Clear and articulated use cases can help demonstrate potential ROI.
  4. Consider forming a UC center of excellence. Designate a group that brings together individuals from various areas of the university — such as IT, business applications and customer service — to provide guidance and direction for UC plans, project development and ongoing usage. This group could be formed early on for any UC undertaking or, ideally, once more experience and feedback have been gained from initial projects.

  5. Decide between premises-based or cloud UC. There are benefits to each. An increasing number of cloud-based UC offerings are available today, and transitioning to the cloud can help campuses reduce operating costs, improve application performance and better allocate IT resources. Premises-based solutions offer ownership and typically more control over security, quality of service and application development.

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