Unified Communications and Collaboration

Three Considerations When Buying Unified Communications Products

Posted by Eric Lee on Sep 14, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Once you have defined the specific benefits and impacts of a unified communications system for your organization, begin the review of the vendors’ differentiators & proposed value. How should the system be deployed and what are the various strengths of the vendor outside their value proposition?

Challenges with a UC deployment can surface around various applications and integrations that are potentially involved in implementation. You will need to have an understanding of which applications are required, which are “nice to have” immediately, and which are “nice to have” in the future. The proposed benefit of more frequent, more effective and more efficient communication is a realization with all of the UC applications when presented in a bubble. The reality is that your business requirements are unique and you will face several challenges when moving toward a UC decision.

UC solutions are very different from many of the legacy systems it replaces. In the past, when a phone system became unreliable resulting in downtime and high maintenance costs, the phone system would be replaced with the new model. Problem solved.  Fortunately and unfortunately, UC solutions do not fix current issues or problems. Also, UC solutions stretch across many different existing technologies. The solution may be replacing the phone system, Instant Messaging (IM), audio conferencing, web conferencing and desktop video conferencing. Even with removing all considerations for integration with existing systems such as CRM, the UC solution decision often stalls due to perceived complexity and the impact on existing technologies.

There are a remarkable number of benefits and improvements from a properly selected and deployed UC solution. This article guides you through the three primary considerations that all businesses can apply.

The areas covered by UC solutions are broad.  The technology is evolving quickly.  As a result, accurate analysis and definitions of the UC use cases is critical to a successful project.  A business case that outlines the primary and auxiliary goals delivers the framework for the evaluation team or committee to follow. The framework should lead back to both quantitative and qualitative ROI data.  

Quantitative data should be readily available. Vendors should be able to produce models that forecast the total cost of ownership and return on investment compared to other proposed solutions, as well as, against your existing spend. The larger challenge is incorporating the soft dollar savings and productivity gains into the business case. This will require additional efforts, close coordination with vendors and possibly the services of a consultant to complete a thorough evaluation of business processes, communications, and trends that can be used in the business case. The scope of the applications being considered and whether or not you are leaning toward a phased implementation approach will greatly impact the business case. For example, are you considering a phased approach with telephony and IM as the initial phase, or are you considering a full implementation with CRM integration and Contact Center solution?

WHAT DIFFERENTIATES ONE VENDOR FROM THE OTHER?

The UC market is extremely competitive.  The vendors are positioning themselves based on their differentiators and use cases that they address for their clients. By knowing the vendors’ differentiators, you will be able to determine if their solution aligns well with your business case.  The alignment will determine the vendor, or at least short list the vendor, for further and deeper evaluation.

Since UC solutions touch many different applications, the vendor’s specialization will became a rating system for your business case comparison. Hundreds of vendors in the market technically offer UC. The UC term is used very loosely in the industry to describe two communication applications working closely together. However, the potential vendor list narrows down quickly as you focus on the alignment with your business case and the vendor’s differentiators. Almost all the vendors will be able to offer telephony.  This and several other applications would be considered, a right to play, and not a differentiator.  Native contact center solutions, mobile client experience, CRM integrations and video capabilities would be considered differentiators. 

The comparison between vendors will not be an easy task. Each vendor will likely be able to provide you with their competitive analysis that demonstrates their strengths over their competition. This information is valuable as it will help to identify their differentiators.  However, the information is likely slanted in their favor and should be verified with a non-biased third party. Carefully evaluate each vendor and rank them on how well they align with your business case for Unified Communications.

CONSIDER THE DEPLOYMENT MODELS

There are several deployment models for UC solutions and the deployment model will very likely be the most important consideration in the decision making process. 

  1. On-Premise: The conventional model that dominates the embedded UC deployments. On-premise deployments are usually an evolution of a traditional phone system where the customer and vendor have upgraded over the years to include UC features. A strong consideration for on-premise deployment is the upgrade and annual costs to implement the UC applications. Organizations with a heavy concentration of employees at a single location, businesses with large IT staffs and in-house expertise, and companies that have a high degree of customization requirements will often opt for an on-premise deployment.

  2. Cloud-Based: The cloud-based deployment can be divided into two primary categories. Private cloud-based and multi-tenant cloud based. A private cloud-based solution may be a managed service, by a vendor, or the equivalent of an on-premise deployment at a data center. The need for a private cloud solution is generally driven by a need for high availability with customization. Multi-tenant cloud is a very popular model for the SMB and the Enterprise market due to the ease of implementation, low level of IT resources required, scalability, and monthly licensing fee payment model.  

  3. Hybrid UC Deployment: Often, business plans do not clearly fit into an on-premise or cloud deployment plan. In these scenarios, hybrid solutions are implemented to move certain applications to the cloud while running others on-premise. Out of the box integrations may be available to deliver the desired user experience even though applications are running in different locations and under the control of different groups (internal IT and vendro). Hybrid solutions can be complex and require a high degree of technical resources from the IT staff and the vendor. 

An important area to investigate is the history of the UC vendor. Is the vendor historically an on-premise provider or a cloud provider?  Many vendors will offer all three deployment options. However, vendor’s strengths are often in their original business line and additional deployment options are added to meet competitive threats. Vendors that only offer on-premise solutions may be evaluating a go to market plan that moves them from on-premise to cloud only. Be sure to fully understand where the vendor has been and where it are going. Regardless of the match today, if the direction and the road map of the vendor does not align with your requirements, it may not be the best option.

PAST PERFORMANCE, CUSTOMIZATIONS/INTEGRATIONS AND RESOURCES

As with all evaluation considerations, uncovering the true strengths of the vendor through past performances and ability to meet customization requests of various levels are key. Unveiling solid resources, within the company, and within their network will require time and effort. Rest assured that the investment in all areas has a tremendous return. 

Past performances may be as simple as a reference check and as complex as a deep review of their customer losses over a certain period. Advanced discussions with partners (if they have a channel distribution model), and conversations with the underlying technology provider (if they are not selling a proprietary solution) will also help determine performance factors. A simple reference check may only put you in contact with the customers that will speak very highly of the vendor. Further investment of time in this area can reveal information that sets one vendor apart from the rest while closing the door on others.

Regardless of the deployment model, you will likely require customization of the solution at some point. Certain solutions are easier to customize than others and some vendors are far more capable when it comes to customizing solutions for their clients. Often integrations are readily available for you to take advantage of. Ask the tough, “What if” questions of the vendors, and request customization examples that have been completed recently, and add those to your reference check list. In addition, request to speak with several of their integration providers. 

The future requirements are often overlooked. For example, an organization that is considering the deployment or re-deployment of a huddle room and/or conference room video solution in the years ahead, should inquire with the vendor on how they currently handle video integrations. Request detail on how they expand the room systems to communicate with the desktop and mobile device applications, and who are their integration partners.    

Similar to video, other considerations may include CRM, Marketing automation software, Contact Center, and mobility. 

Every vendor will need to move quickly and expand their service offering, features, integrations and customizations in order to meet the changing customer demands.  Internal resources and strong relationships with third party resources will enable these vendors to keep pace. 

The three areas of consideration are a great starting point in determining how you will choose the right UC solution, vendor and applications. By conducting the research to create your business plan and having a clear understanding of your requirements, you will be able to quickly narrow down the potential vendor list. 

There are countless vendors that claim they are UC providers. But only a select few will meet your end user requirements, align with your business case and be able to address your future needs. 

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Topics: Ucaas, unified communications, cloud-based communications, UC JOURNEY