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Converging voice, data easier than it seems

Merging voice and data teams isn't always as painful as it seems. Experts offer advice for ensuring a successful transition.

SAN DIEGO -- Enterprise communications convergence is unavoidable, but for all the benefits it can bring to an organization, it remains a disruptive technology in many respects, especially for the technologists themselves.

 At the recent VoiceCon Fall 2005 conference, Gary Audin, president of consulting firm Delphi Inc. in Arlington, Va., set the tone for a session on tackling the organizational issues surrounding communications convergence by explaining how philosophical differences often divide merged voice and data teams.

"Voice is a service-driven team," Audin said. "Data is technology driven." Each side, he said, is sharply divided and speaks its own language.

Audin and other speakers suggested that the process of merging voice and data teams together into a cohesive, productive force is among the most formidable aspects of a VoIP or network convergence implementation.

"Getting the human aspect together when both teams have their own way of doing things is a challenge," said VoiceCon attendee Joey Harris, president of communications services firm Comtura Inc. in Augusta, Ga. "People just do not want to accept the challenge of moving to a new world."

Unification is key to success

However reluctant staffs may be, experts said the days of separate voice and data teams are growing thin. Bringing traditional voice and data teams together, while difficult, can be achieved by using a little psychology and motivational initiative.

"If you're just trying to keep your teams from killing each other, you're setting your sights too low," warned presenter John Columbro, a manager of network support and telecom with Antares Management Solutions in Westlake, Ohio.

Speaker David Stever, manager of communication technology services, with Allentown, Pa.-based electricity provider PPL Corp., recommended companies merge all affected groups at one time. Combined teams "will ensure goals are consistent and well understood," Stever said, and serve as a key enabler for a successful technology implementation. He added, "You don't want people wondering where they fit in."

Plan to lead

According to Robyn Gareiss, executive vice president and senior founding partner with New York-based Nemertes Research, companies should allot six to 12 months to address staffing issues and to cultivate a team environment.

Gareiss said strong leadership is the glue that will bind a newly converged team and suggested assigning a person who supports the philosophical direction of the project to oversee the group. Make certain everyone -- in-house employees, as well as telcos and vendors -- clearly understands who the team leader is and the authority he or she carries.

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Check out our resources on the pros and cons of VoIP.

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 Columbro recommended not only illustrating how each employee fits into the combined group, but also add a dash of encouragement and tangible rewards for those who buy into the project.

It takes a village

Once the technologists have been realigned, the experts suggested reaching out to others in the organization. Soliciting input from sales, human resources and other business unit leaders about their communications needs and the problems they are struggling with involves end users from the early phases of deployment, Gareiss said. By listening to and addressing their needs, she said, it turns potential adversaries into firm advocates and makes for a smoother transition.

Branching out also creates an opportunity to train non-IT staffers. Columbro said it's wise to take advantage of technically adept individuals within each department by providing them with on-the-job training followed up with formal instruction. These individuals can then answer many of their colleagues' questions when the project -- and new equipment like IP phones -- is rolled out.

Cross-training means job security

Employee concerns that cross-training may cross out their job are not unfounded, but not likely either.

"We're not seeing a huge number of companies laying people off, Gareiss said. "What we are seeing is companies not hiring someone they planned on due to cross-training."

From an optimist standpoint, the panelists said VoIP can be a good way to augment one's resume. Since voice and data convergence projects are on the rise, they said more organizations are interested in hiring those who can function successfully as part of a converged voice-data team.

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