Kindly Upgrade

September 20, 2011

I have seen it a fairly large number of times recently. Someone will have a UC install that is having problems that could be resolved by a simple upgrade. Well, not so simple it turns out.

Put simply, the problem with unified communications is the same as the benefit of unified communications: it’s unified! When you have a solution that involves communications manager, presence, contact center, voicemail, conferencing services attendant console and more your upgrade goes from a very simple night of “watching the blue bar” to a lot of research and then some contortions on upgrade night to make sure everything is done in the correct order. Because it is unified, you now have to check all components of your UC system and make sure they are compatible with the new version. And that’s if you are able to upgrade.

I say “if” instead of when because of one particular scenario that I have seen played out several times over the past few months. Here is the setup:

Company XYZ is on Communications Manager 7.1(something). They are also running Unified Contact Center Express 8.0.2SU3. They have arrived at this version for two reasons:

1. The version of Communications Manager that they are running won’t support a version higher than that.
2. The previous versions of UCCX version 8.0 had issues that were going to be resolved by going to 8.0.2SU3.

XYZ has a variety of other UC applications that they use and one of them is non-unified attendant console. By non-unified, I mean the version that used to be included with CallManager. If you weren’t already aware, support for the original attendant console is no longer there when you upgrade to version 8 of Communications Manager.

Therein lies the issue. You have a customer who has used attendant console for a number of years that doesn’t want to lose it’s functionality. Now, I know there are a couple of different options to replace this. The problem lies in cost and requirements. Customers have a hard time paying for something that they have gotten in the past for free. But not only that, they have to buy new hardware for it. It would be like if someone came up to you and said:

“Listen, I know that the oxygen in our atmosphere has served you well for all of your life, but we are getting rid of that, we are vacuuming it all up. Now you need to pay us $1000 for every person that wants to use oxygen. But to use it you are going to have to buy your own container for it and it has to meet these specs”

Ok, I know the oxygen analogy is probably a little extreme (you won’t die without attendant console) but on short notice it works for something you have gotten free that is now being charged for. Regardless, the point is that I have run into several companies that are holding off on upgrades because they don’t want to fork out the cost of a new console solution.

On the surface, this seems like a good business idea. Push costs off until you can afford them later. Unfortunately though, this delay is causing more troubles and costs than it is worth. You may see that version 8 of UCCX and think that this should be a well developed product that doesn’t have many issues. Normally that would hold true, but 8.0 was the first release of UCCX that runs as a Linux appliance as opposed to a Windows application. Just like when Communications Manager converted over to version 5, there will be some issues.

These companies continue to have issues with their agent desktops and with services on the server behaving weirdly. Even if you dismiss the costs of downtime by saying that you have other ways for your customer to get ahold of you, there is still the cost of paying your chosen vendor to try and fix these problems. And I am certain that after a not terribly long time, you would have spent enough money to just buy the new software and hardware AND pay for installation and upgrade.

I guess what I am saying is this: if you run an IT organization, don’t just think about what the cost an upgrade will incur. Think about what it will cost your organization if you don’t upgrade. The answer wont always be to upgrade, but it also won’t always be to stay in the same place.

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