Your Keys to Success with Cisco Spark

cisco_Spark

The way your organization works together is changing.

You understand moving to a cloud collaboration suite could complement, or even replace, your current unified communications (UC) solution. But, until now, you’ve hesitated to invest in a public cloud-based service because:

  • You worry adding high-traffic cloud services to your environment could strain your network
  • You’re unsure how a cloud-first suite will blend with your existing on-premises infrastructure
  • You know the human element of any UC deployment often makes rollout a challenge for IT

In a recent video meet up with Spiceworks, our panel of experts discussed the key consideration any organization needs to make before a Cisco Spark deployment.

Watch the video here.

What Sets Spark Apart?

There are a lot of UC options on the marketplace. What makes Cisco Spark stand out from the crowd?

Spark completes the Cisco collaboration portfolio ranging from on-premises to public cloud. Where competing products focus on calling, messaging and video conferencing features, Spark is designed for project teams with a need for high-frequency collaboration. From an end-user perspective, Spark replaces email as the primary way to exchange files and documents and enables content sharing in diverse ways.

Spark also enhances the potential for hybrid services integration with your existing on-premises PBX. Cisco has built Spark on open, flexible APIs. This makes it easy to integrate with other applications, such as issue ticketing or CRM software. You can deploy Spark as a full PBX or call control engine, or use the Spark client like a softphone on a mobile phone or desktop PC.

Before You Begin

There are three key considerations to make before planning your Cisco Spark migration.

  1. Keep in mind Spark is a cloud-first solution.

This means it’s critical to understand how and how much traffic will be moving through your environment. Can your network architecture provide enough bandwidth to support it? This is even more important when voice and video are part of the equation.

  1. Mind your roadmap.

You must have the internal conversations around onboarding Spark to your environment. What features do you plan to deploy? When and where are you going to deploy them? Who are your users? Having a clear plan helps you avoid the conundrum of investing to deploy a tool only to have nobody use it.

  1. Define your expectations.

Spark offers core functionalities across meetings, calls, and messaging. Decide which capabilities Spark is going to add to your environment and which it’s going to replace.  The desired business-related outcomes will drive your migration path. Remember, the provisioning and configuration aspects are simple. Your project plan is where the real work is done.

Driving User Adoption

Best practices for championing adoption in your organization depend on your business use case. While one organization might be able to accommodate a multi-day gap in phone service, another might face serious problems. Each scenario presents different drivers and conversation points.

In any case, preventing confusion is crucial. Administrative knowledge transfer should happen before Spark is in production within your environment. Clear communication and user training in advance are key to ensuring early and widespread adoption.

In an ideal situation, your Spark deployment will take place on a departmental or site-by-site basis rather than all-at-once, allowing you to tailor each rollout to departmental needs.

Networking & Hardware

From a networking perspective, it’s important to know whether your infrastructure has the bandwidth to support a cloud solution like Cisco Spark.

But, as with any cloud application, bandwidth isn’t the only networking consideration.

There are also firewall, anti-virus and anti-malware concerns. Certain websites will need to be whitelisted. Also, Spark deployments in on-premises or hybrid environments rely on Cisco Expressway, meaning this service will need to be in place before deployment.

There are also options to use a hybrid media node to keep data central and reduce hardware bandwidth, although these have a considerable upfront cost. In addition to linking Spark to mobile devices, it’s also possible to register Cisco IP phones to the cloud, allowing you to migrate some of your legacy hardware if necessary.

Security & Compliance

Transitioning to a cloud-hosted UC platform is sometimes difficult for organizations in regulated industries. For organizations in finance or healthcare, for instance, compliance is an unavoidable issue.  To this end, Cisco has industry-leading security bona fides. The Spark platform also provides end-to-end data encryption.

Nonetheless, issues with encryption key storage and cloud server configuration make compliance a challenge within some deployments. In high-regulation industries, it’s advisable to keep impacted business functions on compliant on-premises hardware.

Licensing

Cisco offers per-user Spark subscription licensing in three tiers, with monthly, annual or three-year payment options. Packages range from basic messaging and meetings to advanced WebEx and hybrid services. Flexible licensing is available for meetings features, as are numerous add-ons, such as telepresence units, Spark room systems and Spark Board licenses.

Cisco also offers free trials, either direct or through partners like us, that range from limited baseline features to thirty- and sixty-day trials that include hardware and PSTN services. Trials offer a terrific opportunity to become acquainted with the Spark feature set and assess the fit for your organization.

Planning Your Deployment

The first step is to document a high-level design that defines the capabilities Spark will take on in your environment along with adoption methods and end-user training. The next component is a low-level design that addresses site-by-site network and bandwidth requirements. Next is staging for end-points and functionalities in the cloud.

The safest approach is to begin your deployment with a pilot group in parallel with your current environment. This way, you can pinpoint and address issues at the proof-of-concept stage. Then, proceed with side-by-side migration in conjunction with end-user training. If you’re deploying to a large organization across numerous sites, a site-by-site deployment is ideal. Day-to-day administration once Spark is in production is straightforward, as most admin components are cloud-managed.

What’s Next?

With a better understanding of what to expect with Cisco Spark, you’re ready to move ahead with your deployment plan. We recommend you get a network assessment to determine whether your environment has the capacity to handle additional cloud services. We’re also equipped to assist you with setting up a trial account to determine whether Spark is a fit for your business.

 

Have more questions? Find out more.

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