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Mitel MiCloud Connect and Microsoft Teams: A Comparison

Tens of thousands of small businesses switched to remote working during the pandemic, relying on new technology to connect their colleagues and customers.

Many of those businesses – perhaps even the majority – will never go back to the way things were before Covid struck. Remote working, often in “hybrid” (part time) form, is here to stay.

What that means is that the technological “sticking plasters” businesses adopted during the pandemic will need to transition into permanent communications and collaboration solutions.

For many SMEs, that means Microsoft Teams. During the pandemic, Teams gave smaller businesses the video calling and messaging services they needed to survive. As we move into the post-lockdown world, Teams has become a ubiquitous business tool.

But is Teams enough on its own? Many businesses think not. In the rest of this article we’ll explain why combining Teams with Mitel MiCloud Connect, a simple cloud communications, collaboration and contact centre phone system, is ideal for SMEs adapting to the current climate.

First, let’s take a closer look at the two systems.

Microsoft Teams – a great tool for internal comms

Microsoft Teams is a powerful tool for internal communications and collaboration. Video calling, instant messaging and presence are available in every version, even the one you can download for free.

Paying for Teams gives you access to Office 365 web apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more), and cloud storage with OneDrive. Pay a little more and you can take those Office applications offline and work on documents and projects even when you don’t have an internet connection.

Paying also hugely increases the maximum length of video calls, which is set at just 60 minutes in the free version.

As far as security goes, the free version of Teams will encrypt your data, turning it into code which is near impossible to hack. Paid for versions ad multi-factor authentication and Single Sign On across multiple devices.

While the free version of Teams offers nothing in terms of visibility and reporting, paid versions include some basic ways to measure and monitor the productivity of staff. Teams also allows some basic integrations with other apps and services, but these can be limited and clunky.

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Microsoft Teams – what’s missing?

When you put it all together, Teams is a great product, but it’s not great at everything. Most significantly, many SMEs find it a poor and cost-prohibitive option for external calling. Teams was originally designed for internal collaboration, and it shows.

It’s possible to call traditional phone numbers with Teams, but not with the free version. Even with the paid for versions, you have to add a call plan to make external calls, at considerable extra expense. Many SMEs enquire about adding external calls to Teams and are put off by soaring costs and lengthy contracts.

With lots of different Teams’ options, calculating what you’re paying for and how much your monthly bill will be can be complex.

At the same time, security is basic rather than premium, and reporting and integrations are limited. This is a particular issue when you want to maintain productivity levels among remote staff, and ensure customers are always receiving the prompt and efficient service they demand.

None of this is to damn Microsoft Teams. It’s simply to say that Teams cannot on its own meet most small businesses’ communications challenges.

Mitel MiCloud Connect – filling the gaps in Teams

To compensate for Teams’ limitations, many SMEs use a traditional phone system for external calls. But ISDN-based telephony tends to offer only basic functionality. It also isolates external communications from the rest of your systems, which means you miss out on a range of efficiency and productivity benefits.

Instead, the perfect partner to Teams is MiCloud Connect from Mitel, one of the world’s leading telephony providers.

MiCloud Connect is a powerful and – at the same time – easy to use cloud telephony system which allows you to make and take professional business calls anywhere, on a handset or via smartphone, laptop or tablet. It comes with a range of call management features as standard, including:

  • Voicemail – accessed with a single click, with the option to have messages transcribed and sent to email
  • Call recording – record calls on demand for compliance purposes or staff training
  • Phone routing – route calls to your preferred device, whether desk phone, softphone, mobile or personal number

MiCloud Connect is also a sophisticated collaboration tool, offering:

  • Conferencing – audio and video conferencing with screen sharing, agenda tracker and single-click joining
  • Presenceroute calls by presence, so colleagues always know when you’re available, when you’re away, and when you’re busy with other tasks
  • File sharingspeedy up- and downloads helps version control and file management

And unlike Teams (and other cloud telephony solutions) MiCloud Connect can be your complete contact centre solution, too, with wallboards, IVRs and in-depth reporting capabilities as standard, along with:

  • Real-time changes – add or remove users, edit groups, manage your team and assess performance, all in real time
  • Easy to usea seamless and simple experience across devices and features means that only minimal training is required
  • SIP Trunkingexpansive trunking capabilities including Caller ID, DIDs, tandem trunking and trunk groups

Secure and seamlessly integrated

MiCloud Connect is built on Google Cloud, providing industry-leading security and reliability. In addition, Mitel’s management portal allows you to restrict permissions and add multiple layers of authentication with a couple of clicks. It’s some way ahead of Microsoft Teams in terms of security and reliability.

It’s also better at connecting your services together. MiCloud Connect’s range of rich contact centre, CTM and CRM integration options lets your systems speak to each other, making an excellent solution even better.

A cost-effective solution

Perhaps most importantly for cash-strapped SMEs, MiCloud Connect provides the kind of financial predictability small business budgeting requires. It offers one standard price for everything you need. And there’s a high chance that the price you pay will be cheaper than the equivalent services sourced through Teams.

MiCloud Connect and Teams – the perfect solution?

At the same time, we understand that many SMEs have got used to using Teams through the pandemic, and don’t want to ditch a solution that staff have become comfortable using.

The perfect answer is to combine Teams and MiCloud Connect into one complete telephony, communications and collaboration solution, enhancing Teams functionality with MiCloud Connect’s excellent calling and contact centre features.

Not only is that possible, it’s easy. Mitel has designed MiCloud Connect to integrate seamlessly with Teams, bringing all the tools you need together in one handy package.

Integrates seamlessly with Teams, bringing all the tools you need together in one handy package!

This allows users to stay within Teams, while giving them easy access to MiCloud Connect features and functionality. It’s the perfect marriage of two highly capable systems, creating what is, to users, a single all-encompassing solution.

It’s certainly a cost-effective way of meeting your communications needs. The MiCloud Connect for Microsoft Teams integration is available with all MiCloud Connect service plans, with no additional monthly charge. Nor do you need to purchase additional Teams licenses.

No additional monthly charges or additional Teams license!

And for small businesses who are fearful of the complexities of integrating separate systems, integrating Teams with MiCloud Connect is simplicity itself. Just access the MiCloud Connect admin portal and select “Activate Add-On Feature.” A quick video will pop up to walk you through the rest, and that’s it!

And of course, when implementing MiCloud Connect and integrating it with Teams, Unicomm will be with you every step of the way.

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MiCloud Connect from Unicomm – your perfect partnership

As we’ve seen, MiCloud Connect makes Teams better, and turns an internal collaboration tool into a fully-functional business communication service.

Alternatively, if you don’t have Teams, MiCloud Connect can act as your complete communications and collaboration solution on its own.

Whichever you choose, Unicomm is your perfect telephony partner. We’ll expertly manage your MiCloud Connect service, handling the provisioning, maintaining and upgrading of all software and hardware so you don’t have to. At the same time, our pay-as-you-grow pricing model means you only ever pay for the capacity you actually use.

And if you want to integrate MiCloud Connect and Microsoft Teams, we’ll make sure the solution you end up with perfectly meets your needs and budget.

We’re the right partner because we live and breathe unified communications. Our management team has over 70 years of collective experience in the telecoms industry. Every solution we deploy is fully supported by a comprehensive and bespoke support and maintenance contract that guarantees long and productive service for your IT infrastructure.

If you’d like to know more about MiCloud Connect from Unicomm, and how it compares with Microsoft Teams, please get in touch.

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The most important network performance factors to consider

We’re all doing so much more online, which was true before the pandemic, and now it’s even more clear that businesses rely on their internet connection. Coping with Covid-related demand put enormous stress on many corporate networks, and with new ways of working likely to outlive lockdowns, network performance has become a business-critical issue.

While flexible working was gradually gaining acceptance before 2020, there’s no doubt that Covid gave it a powerful shot in the arm. Home working proved so successful during lockdowns that many businesses are likely to offer it in part-time or “hybrid” form, as part of a standard employee benefits package.

But as we saw during the pandemic, home working is only successful if it’s properly supported. Remote employees need the digital tools and services that allow them to work as productively and efficiently away from the office, as in it.

That almost certainly means video conferencing, and for many businesses has also meant the adoption of cloud-based unified communications solutions. Services that bring video, voice, chat, text and email together in one package, alongside presence, file sharing and other collaboration tools.

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The pace of change

As staff acclimatised to home working, companies that hadn’t already done so replaced desktop productivity tools and finance software (among many others) with cloud equivalents. All in all, the pandemic accelerated cloud adoption by a serious rate of knots.

The amount of data travelling between corporate servers and the cloud increased significantly as a result, but that wasn’t the only factor stretching some company networks to breaking point.

Already hugely important, e-commerce was given a major boost by lockdown closures and social distancing. At the same time, contactless payments replaced cash for many consumers. All of which added hugely to the amount of data corporate networks were forced to deal with.

Lockdown may be all but over (at least for now), and life is returning to something approaching normality. But we all adopted new ways to work, socialise and spend during the pandemic and there’s no turning back now. Our reliance on digital tools, data and networks has never been so profound.

Or as analysts McKinsey puts it, “businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one-to three-year phases must now scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks.”

More innovation on the way

So in a nutshell, more devices are using your corporate network to access more applications. The switch to cloud computing means a huge increase in the amount of data travelling back and forth between distant servers, possibly causing network congestion.

Even if your network performance is as expected, it’s likely to be put under even more pressure in the near future. A new generation of applications based on AI, VR and Internet of Things (IoT) technology is just around the corner. Meanwhile, the ISDN switch off in 2025 will force all businesses to adopt all-IP telephony.

All of this makes the health of your network traffic critical to the success of your business ambitions. Performance issues can’t be allowed to undermine everyday operations and affect the user experience of your staff. In the digital age, downtime isn’t an option, which means measuring network performance is more essential than ever.

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How to measure and improve network performance

So how do you measure the performance of a network, and what network performance metrics should you keep an eye on? The obvious ones are latency, packet loss and disconnections. As far as your IT team is concerned, problems with the network may be signalled by increases in user complaints about slow downloads, lost documents and jittery video conferencing.

You can optimise your network to better deal with this deluge in a number of ways. Investing in extra bandwidth, full fibre connectivity and a private line are obvious solutions.

After that, network performance management solutions can help you identify bandwidth hogs, dropped packets and network latency issues, and do something about them in real time. Malware is not only a security risk but also a threat to network performance, so tight security is a win win. You may also need to check and replace old or broken network devices.

Finally, Quality of Service (QoS) can make sure bandwidth is reserved for critical applications and services. For example, if keeping remote colleagues connected through video is important, QoS can prioritise that data. If your e-commerce site is getting inundated, you can give it the capacity it needs to ensure smooth customer interactions.

The simple truth is, no business can be satisfied with “good enough” network performance anymore. In a new world of remote work and e-commerce, your network has to handle peaks in activity and have the capacity you need to scale at will. Keeping an eye on network performance factors, and prioritising network optimisation, has become a “must-do” for organisations of all sizes.

If you’ve noticed bottlenecks in your internet speeds, unusual and possibly malevolent behaviour on your network, or simply want to know how you can make the most of your existing infrastructure, then don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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Preventing human error with effective IT support

There’s a sense that, when employees work from home, your IT team loses an element of control. Without a physical IT presence, staff may be more prone to taking shortcuts, and less likely to attend to the basic maintenance of devices and systems.

And of course, most of your employees aren’t IT experts, but that lack of knowledge and experience can no longer be used as an excuse when addressing human errors.

Some of them will only have the most basic knowledge of the devices they use every day. Whether in sales, marketing, finance or HR, remote employees are likely to need IT support as often at home as they do in the office. Without a physical IT team to call on, they may lose valuable work time or be more inclined to attempt to resolve issues alone, potentially making problems worse.

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The consequences of human error

“Human error could lead to damaging consequences for your business”

In other words, without the proper support in place, IT issues have the potential to make remote work more stressful and less productive. At the same time, human error could lead to damaging consequences for your business.

For example, with employees working away from the office, how do you know they’re sticking to security protocols, or only using approved applications? How do you know they’re updating software as soon as patches become available?

Unpatched hard- and software is more vulnerable to cyberattacks. The kind of consumer-grade or “freemium” apps that remote staff install as an easy workaround or shortcut – or because they already use them on personal devices – might not be secure enough for corporate use.

And as you’re probably aware, the number of phishing attacks has massively increased since the start of the pandemic and the wide adoption of cloud based communication platforms. Without IT teams looking over their shoulder, remote staff may be more likely to click an untrustworthy link or fall for a well designed scam email.

The cost of mistakes

These common human factors could be costly for your business and in some cases, they could be calamitous. Estimates vary, but one common calculation of the average cost of successful cyber attacks on small businesses is £11,000. According to some reports, 60% of small businesses go under within six months of a cyber breach.

“60% of small businesses go under within six months of a cyber breach”

This is one end of the scale of remote IT challenges. At the other are thousands of employees struggling with slow connections, or upgrades that won’t install, or devices that simply won’t do what they’re supposed to do.

The accumulated cost to business of IT issues like these is £3.4 billion a year in lost productivity, according to one report. The same research found that employees spend over one day a month on average trying to fix IT issues. With more and more staff working from home, that figure is likely to rise.

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Human error prevention

So how do you ensure that your own remote teams are not beset with the kind of IT issues that drive down productivity and can even threaten the future of your business?

Good IT training is crucial in reducing human error in the workplace, and it should focus first on cybersecurity. Teach employees about the particular risks of remote work, with regular refresher sessions and alerts to cover information on the latest phishing attacks and email scams. Make sure every employee knows and employs two factor authentication (where available) and password best practice. Produce written guidelines on the management system, devices and apps that are sanctioned for use, and any that definitely aren’t.

“Good IT training is crucial, and it should focus first on cybersecurity”

And hybrid working – with employees regularly moving between their homes and the office – increases the risk of lost or stolen laptops. Make sure you have policies in place to cover just such an eventuality. Think about implementing remote data wiping for all company devices that leave the office.

Remote IT support

For more everyday issues, make sure that members of the IT team are always available, and give every employee contact details for a manned support desk. If employees can get their issues solved easily, they’ll be less likely to go it alone.

It’s also true that the better you equip employees for remote or hybrid work, the less likely they are to run into IT challenges. For example, a cloud-hosted unified communications system like Mitel McCloud Flex lets your hybrid workers take their complete office communications and collaboration system home with them. That means they can continue to use the secure, all-in-one solution they’re familiar with wherever they are, without having to switch software or download separate apps or services.

“The better you equip employees for remote or hybrid work, the less likely they are to run into IT challenges”

By making the transition to remote or hybrid work seamless, solutions like MCloud Flex reduce calls to your IT support desk and drive productivity.

A good IT provider will also support your home-worker solutions remotely, taking pressure off your IT team and freeing it up for tricker issues. At Unicomm, our involvement in your solution doesn’t end when it’s up and running. Depending on your need and in-house resources, we can build a support package that will take a lot of IT support legwork off your hands. For example, we can take care of software updates, database issues and interfaces with other systems, as well as troubleshooting network issues.

Left to their own devices, remote workers can make entirely preventable mistakes that reduce your operational efficiency and might even leave you more vulnerable to cyberattack. Effective remote IT support is crucial, alongside tools and services that were designed for a new world of nomadic work.

Here at Unicomm, the more we can do, the better for your business. So, get in touch today and discover how we can help secure your operations and prevent simple human errors from derailing your organisation.

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Developing world class customer service remotely

It may sound obvious but keeping customers happy is crucial to the long-term success of your business.

Increasing customer retention by just 5% can equate to an increase in profit of 25%. Also, 73% of customers say they stay loyal to brands because of friendly customer service agents.

Word of mouth is one of the most reliable forms of marketing, and promoters of your brand will actively encourage their friends and family to use your services. In other words, happy customers also act as free marketing for your business.

But considering the challenges of the last 18 months, you may worry that switching to a long-term hybrid working model will undermine your reputation for great customer service.

After all, it’s well known that happier employees work harder for customers, but how do you judge your remote team member’s state of mind? For that matter, how do you know they’re as productive in their bedrooms as they are in the office?

And on top of all that, adopting customer relationship management technology isn’t always that straightforward. These three factors will help you strengthen your customer service systems and processes, and ensure that small oversights don’t grow into massive issues that affect CSAT scores.

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Adopt the tools you need to succeed

Your team need to get their tasks done and collaboration and communication between team members is one of the most significant factors in optimising productivity. So, a modern, cloud-based communications solution is the best place to start.

Not only do they enable teams to work just as effectively from home as they would in the office, but they also let team leaders check in with staff regularly via the preferred method of their choosing.

Missed calls and forgotten voicemails will be a thing of the past too because your team will be able to see who’s free before making contact. This means less time spent catching up with one way communication and more time spent on the tasks that matter.

But more than that, good cloud-based unified communications let customers interact with your business in the way they want, creating excellent customer experiences. As long as your customers can easily contact your agents, they won’t care where those agents are based.

Visibility across your team is essential

Cloud-based unified communications allow your customer support staff to work remotely and make and take professional calls from anywhere. A solution like MiCloud Flex also lets you integrate your contact centre with CRM or other business applications too.

But, without the ability to walk across the office and assess how teams are performing, team leaders require some form of visibility over staff to ensure remote workers are still remaining productive.

The right communications platform will enable managers to measure the productivity of teams, in terms of calls answered, time customers spend on hold and more.

The right solution will mean you can leverage real-time customer intelligence to assess what’s working, what isn’t and pass that information on to your agents. Intelligent routing means customers get to the right agents or resources every time.

Those customer service software integrations – depending on your particular systems – could enable staff to see all the caller’s past interactions with the business to prevent callers repeating themselves.

It could also help you join the dots between over- or over performing staff and their customer feedback to see what needs changing and where to go to find staff that embody your business’ expected level of service.

All told, businesses don’t need a separate application or system to assess staff performance. All they need is a communications platform that already has those metrics available, and can translate them into easy-to-read reports. This makes it super simple to find areas that need to be improved, and the staff that can most influence those enhancements.

Don’t forget security!

There’s one more major consideration that’s worth your time and that’s how well you secure your customer data. Especially with staff working from home, using their own Wi-Fi connections, your entire operation is at higher risk of a cyber attack or a disgruntled employee that could seriously affect the credibility of your business.

The right cloud-based solution will include cyber security tools such as encryption and robust administration capabilities built in. This will drastically reduce the possibility of falling foul of an attack from an external source.

Depending on the size and scope of your operation – especially if you hold a lot of customer information – you may also want to invest in managed security services from your IT provider to add an extra level of protection. Manages security services usually entail having an experienced cyber security professional keep a watchful eye over your network activity, investigating unusual behaviour where necessary.

Whether accidental or purposefully, the greatest cause of cyber security incidents is human error. This could be an incorrectly managed system, misplacing a password, a disgruntled employee or simply replying to the wrong email.

Features such as 2-factor authentication and a robust administration portal are essential to limit the information that’s available to those remote workers who need it. These types of protections put extra steps in place to ensure the right people are logging into your system.

At the end of the day, with the right tools and processes in place, there’s no reason that embracing hybrid working shouldn’t work for your business. In fact, it should have the opposite effect on your first-class customer service, making it easy to manage a remote team and enhance those customer satisfaction scores!

Don’t be afraid of change and get in touch to discover how we can help secure your operations. Unicomm can give you the visibility you need over staff working from home and provide them with the tools they need to achieve the standard of service your customers expect.

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Making IT deployment seamless – 3 world examples

Deploying a new IT solution can be intimidating to say the least. There’s all the planning required to make sure it’s viable and that’s before you start installing the hardware and software. But technology adoption has been a major focus for many businesses, especially in the last 18 months, and businesses need to adapt to the new digital-first economy that’s emerging.

While the majority of decisions; from software development, installation, testing, deployment management, and performance monitoring, are usually covered by your IT partner, one decision that is definitely yours is how you’re going to deploy it.

Phased, overnight, mix and match… If you don’t know the difference, keep on reading and we’ll walk you through your infrastructure deployment strategy options.

Overnight switch

To make the deployment process as seamless as possible, you could do it in one fell swoop.

This method takes detailed preparation and quality assurance. IT staff should implement and test the new technology in a closed production environment, to ensure there are no critical bugs that could grind your team to a halt. Those bugs could come in the form of overloading network connections, incorrect data causing computers to freeze. It oculd be something as simple as incompatibility between your software and underlying infrastructure like routers, which is where a knowledgeable IT partner would prove their worth!

Talking about your team, you’ll need to train them to use it in advance. After all, you don’t want them interacting with customers not knowing how to use the new system and software. Depending on the deployment, a significant amount of this training can be done online, though a practical ‘hands-on’ element should be included too, along with real-world scenarios that your team will repeat regularly.

Then, once your team is trained and the software is fully tested, you can switch from the old solution to the new overnight, so any gremlins can be ironed out without disruption to everyday operations.

Pros and cons to overnight deployments:

Pros: Everybody using the same system straight away reduces confusion and means quick questions can be answered rapidly by colleagues. If you have the ability, you could time the switchover to coincide with the end of your incumbent’s to further reduce costs. Overnight switches are great for small changes that only use clean data and are not business-critical.

Cons: Considering that the entire team is using the new system straight away, if there’s a significant issue, it can bring the entire operation to a halt. It also means you have to be sure the solution is right before you deploy, as the costs to correct it can be massive if you’ve signed a long-term contract.

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Mix and match

Sometimes known as a ‘tandem solution’, you could use both the old and new solutions together for a limited period. This enables staff to acclimatise to the new user interface, while having the safety net of the previous solution that they know inside-out, if anything goes wrong.

You may have had to quickly adopt new cloud-based services for staff while they worked from home, and a mix and match approach may be useful for returning to the office so that employees that were hired recently can get used to the on-site system, if need be.

However, mix and match solutions aren’t advisable for systems that are constantly updated such as customer information repositories like CRM platforms or financial information, where having one copy that you know is correct and the most up-to-date, is very important to prevent confusion and costly errors.

With a cloud-based unified communications platform like MiCloud Flex, users could download the softphone app to use on personal smartphones, while continuing to use a PBX-based telephony solution in the office. MiCloud Flex offers a consistent experience across platforms, so by familiarising themselves with the softphone app, employees are effectively getting to know the complete solution.

Pros and cons to mix and match deployments:

Pros: Technology-averse users can get used to the new system, introducing themselves slowly in certain scenarios and building confidence, while relying on the system they’re familiar with to make important customer calls. If there are teething problems and bugs found in the new solution, you can always roll-back to the old one system until the issues are resolved.

Cons: You’re running two solutions at the same time, so it’s not the most cost-effective strategy. There’s also the issue of data continuity and losing track of where the most up-to-date information is stored. Especially with customer information and GDPR guidelines, losing track of their valuable data could cause you to be fined too.

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Phased deployment

If you’re deploying a new piece of software or infrastructure that’s going to stretch over your entire operation, a phased deployment may be the best choice for you. Set one team or department up with the new technology and let them be the pathfinders for your organisation.

Then, after they’ve acclimatised to the new platform, the team can report back on any issues they had within their workflows, and that feedback can then inform the training for the department. And so on, until the organisation has completely switched to the new platform, and the old solution can be switched off.

This ensures that one issue doesn’t bring the entire business to a stop while providing real-world testing to minimise disruption. Start with a subset of users that aren’t customer facing and gradually move towards frontline staff, which reduces risk.

Pros and cons to phased deployments:

Pros: Each department in your team can get used to the new technology without inconveniencing customers and other teams. By the time the roll out reaches frontline staff, any niggles will have been ironed out.

Cons: Phased deployment is the longest and therefore least cost-effective strategy and the added confusion of using two separate systems within the business can lead to more confusion than necessary.

The method you choose will depend on many factors; the size of your organisation, the technology being deployed, the departments affected as well as the technical know-how of your employees. Whichever it is, the key to all successful IT deployments is careful planning. Cloud-based solutions are particularly easy to deploy, because they avoid much of the need for in-house equipment.

And deployment doesn’t just stop once the new system is working. Continuous integration iterations are necessary if you want to get the most from your communications system. Without some form of continuous deployment, including new features, updates and compatibilities with your other systems, you risk missing out on new optimisations and open your data up to more risk.

The right IT deployment plan will help you uncover all the roadblocks that could delay your deployment before they become fully blown problems. If you’re looking to adopt a new service or reimagine your operation for the new hybrid working world, get in touch!

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