Bigger challenges deliver bigger rewards at IComm
I recently celebrated my 17-year anniversary (late 2018) working at IComm after first joining the company soon after it was established back in 2001.
As a communications engineer, I have seen so many changes in this time, from the humble phone right through to today’s unified communications solutions.
The Handset Era – Ericsson BP250 and Friends
At IComm we started out specialising in the Ericsson BP250 and some other smaller phone systems.
From an engineering point of view, an installation of these phone systems was a very hands-on job. We physically went to the client’s site for an initial consultation during which we white-boarded their needs for their new phone system. There used to be a range of handsets available to clients, so we would work closely with them to supply the best type for their requirements.
We also looked a lot at how to customise configuration for different sections or departments of an organisation. For example, contact centres or staff who had high volumes of calls were able to use the simple ACD (call centre) feature or operator console to better support their work.
But at the end of the day, in the past when organisations were choosing between different phones to roll-out, expectations were lower than they are today. People mostly wanted a phone that would just make and receive phone calls. Many of the new features that came out on phone systems weren’t well used. Implementation of features such as IM (instant messaging) and video calls were possible, but they were clumsy to use, expensive to purchase, and installation was complex. As the products were developed, we were often required to apply multiple manual patches as part of the standard installation process because the suppliers rarely put in the effort to include the fixes in the factory setup.
The other big difference was that because phone systems were very similar, well-known, and mostly intuitive for the majority of users, the concept of training or change management wasn’t really a thing that needed to be considered as part of the installation process. Receptionists and ACD agents got a small amount of training, but usually just by the engineer who was doing the install.
The installation process itself was very reliant on physical equipment installations, processes that were slow compared with today’s deployments. A major outage would occur when we cut-over from the old to the new phone system. It took quite some time to switch over the systems, which involved connecting each individual handset at the desk, and with jumpering and sometimes patching. It was quite labourious to complete an installation. Documentation was also important, as there needed to be a record of what was jumpered for the next person who might need to work on the system. This was done by pencil-on-paper record books so that it could be changed as the need required it.
Another aspect of working with these type of phone systems was that due to the fact that the systems had capacity limits, we were only positioned to work with organisations with 50 – 200 employees.
The unified communications era
By contrast, with the unified communication solutions we install today, we are able to work with much larger organisations of well over 500 employees due to the scalability of these solutions. That one key fact means a much higher ROI for organisations as soon as their organisation grows.
As an engineer working in the unified communications space, I very much enjoy the fact that it allows me to constantly learn about new or updated products or software, as well as go into the details of all the features.
It’s also much more satisfying working with clients to meet their needs with a unified communications solution, because you can be confident that it can do exactly what they need and has the power to meet the increasing expectations of end users. It is also a more secure and reliable solution for our clients.
Although we still at times have to provide different technology (handset phones) for different areas of an organisation, unified communications solutions now have the functionality to be used in every part of an organisation. The difference is that where the old phones were intuitive for users to pick up and use because they were so simple, unified communications is so much more powerful and flexible for the user that it requires considerable user training and change management to ensure the organisation gets the best ROI on their investment.
Unified communications is also not just about making and answering phone calls like in the past. Communications today have expanded to incorporate so much more, such as sharing screens, video calls and conferencing, instant messaging, presence, and so much more. For many organisations this is making the handset phone (as a device) redundant.
In our roles as engineers today we are able to do a lot of our work from our PCs at our desks. We don’t necessarily have to be physically on site for an installation to happen successfully.
What the future holds
For me, unified communications solution installations are more complex and challenging compared to the old PABX phone system installations that I did in the past. But in many ways these extra challenges are also much more rewarding.
After having worked in the projects area now for many years, my next challenge will be switching this year to the service area, which I’m currently in the process of doing. There, I will be part of the team that ensures the unified communications solutions our existing clients are using keep running smoothly.