Implementing Microsoft Lync: Lessons Learned Killing PBX

Entering a phoneless world when switching over to VoIP and a unifed communications suite has cultural and technical challenges. The Marquette University IT group offers three tips on transitioning from PBX systems to Microsoft Lync.

When Marquette University started construction on three campus buildings a year and a half ago, the IT department saw it as a good time to deploy VoIP (Voice over IP) from the ground up.

The delivery of voice and multimedia over the Internet has cost-saving advantages over running PBX systems that are connected to a public telephone network. And by switching to a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) architecture to enable VoIP, Milwaukee-based Marquette has cut telecom operational costs in half, from $240,000 to $120,000 a year.

Marquette's plan was to tap into VoIP for its staff and faculty and replace its Siemens PBX phones with unified communications suites that include voice, videoconferencing, instant messaging and presence.

Initially, Marquette assumed Cisco would be its unified communications vendor considering that the university uses Cisco gear for its networking.

"We did test out CallManager [Cisco's VoIP software product] with some phones," says Dan Smith, Marquette's Senior Director of IT Services. "But because of our established Microsoft ecosystem and our campus agreement with them, the licensing costs for OCS R2 [Lync's predecessor] were a lot cheaper than Cisco."

The first of the new buildings to open was a student administrative building, and the new dwellers were immediately voice-enabled for IP telephony using OCS R2. Because Marquette is in TAP, Microsoft's invitation-only rapid deployment program for early adopters, as soon as OCS R2 became Lync and the beta was stable, the university began transitioning.

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Currently, the entire Marquette campus has access to Lync for IM and dial-in audio conferencing, but 1,000 faculty and staff members also have videoconferencing and voice-enabled IP telephony and their Siemens PBX desk phones have been removed.

Faculty and staff using Lync for voice still have phones, but they are VoIP-based phones from Polycom that use Lync rather than a PBX system as the call manager.

Here are three lessons that Marquette's IT department learned while switching to VoIP and transitioning users to Lync.

Get Users Ready for a Culture Change

There's no question that unified communications technologies alter the way users communicate, resulting in a culture change that not all users will greet with open arms, says Smith.

"Some groups have embraced Lync. They love how it reroutes your office number to Lync and allows you to work at home when you need to," says Smith. "But for others the attitude is, 'give me a phone and go away — I don't want to use any of this fancy stuff.' It depends on the department and how they want to use Lync."

Use of videoconferencing in Lync also varies from department to department.

"You'll see more videoconferencing in the fund raising department because they have remote offices," says Smith. "Some faculty are using it in the classroom, and business school students will use it to do their first round of job interviews rather than fly to New York."

Smith recommends running unified communications like a project, rolling it out building by building and having IT people in place to make sure the process runs smoothly.

Give Users Training, and Then Follow Up

While some users will jump all over Lync's voice and video features on their own, most will need some hand-holding, says Smith. To this end, Marquette IT offered training for users before beginning the migration to Lync.

"First, we did training classes and offered a Web site with lots of documentation," says Smith. "Then we migrate them. We follow up immediately and then three weeks later, ask if they have any questions, if they're interested in more advanced features or if they're happy with the way it is."

Keep Phones to Help with Transition

After Marquette had terminated its Siemens PBX phones — but before rolling out Lync — users had VoIP-based Polycom phones that worked with OCS R2.

People with older Polycom phones — button-less devices with a USB connection — were forced to use the soft client (OCS R2 and Lync) to make calls and many users felt overwhelmed by the abrupt shift, says Smith.

But users with newer Polycom phones (the 600 series) had an easier time moving to Lync because the 600's have an LCD screen with a keypad, menu, speakerphone and calendaring features.

"The newer Polycom VoIP phones look and act like regular phones," says Smith, "and it's important for people to still have a normal phone as a fallback when moving to a soft client like Lync."

What's been the biggest adjustment as Marquette's faculty and staff migrate to Lync?

"One-touch dialing," says Smith. "You click on a person now, and people are getting used to not knowing anybody's phone number or extension anymore."

Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at soneill@cio.com

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