5 Features to Look for When Differentiating UC Solutions

Unified communications is an increasingly important investment for organizations looking to improve productivity and responsiveness while reducing their IT costs. UC and it’s convergence of voice, video, and applications, is bringing benefits to enterprises and SMBs in every industry across the globe.

But if you’re undertaking a UC upgrade, it can be hard to know how to differentiate between all the many UC solutions that exist on the market today. Unified communications technology evolves so rapidly that it’s becoming more difficult for organizations to predict which requirements they might need now and in the future. What are the implications on your IT infrastructure?  Will the technology become obsolete too quickly?

In fact these fears are consistently on the list of the many reasons that organizations tend to sweat legacy investments for too long.

The key to differentiating the right UC solution is to search for and ultimately adopt a solution that’s built with/on:

  • Sufficient Flexibility – As office applications change, desktop and IT experiences evolve, and system requirements grow an enterprise-grade UC solution should offer multiple choices to adapt. The right UC solution will be flexible—with choices for both premises and self-managed deployments, subscription models with cloud services, or a hybrid with private cloud option—and accommodating  of  new requirements as your business needs evolve over time. Solutions that extend the value of your existing IT investments and promote end-user adoption should be high on the list of anyone looking for flexible, agile communications.  Core elements of a flexible solution should include: use of open, standards based protocol interfaces, Web Service orientation, the ability to add complimentary solution components including devices (IP phones, smart phones, etc.),productivity applications (plug-ins for email clients, or web portals), and even purpose built applications to automate certain business processes.
  • All Inclusive Licensing – All-inclusive licensing gives technology and financial decision makers the ability to anticipate user costs while ensuring that their end users have full access to the UC productivity apps and tools they desire. The inclusive structure makes purchasing UC easier by eliminating complexity associated with mapping licenses for specific apps or features to individual users or groups of users.
  • Variety of UC apps and services such as mobility – Often users throughout an enterprise adopt varying work styles which best suit their roles and responsibilities.  Offering a range of UC applications allows users the ability to choose the apps that best suit their particular needs and work styles.  These may include some, or all, of the following:  desktop UC apps for windows MAC users, browser based applications for cross platform use, mobile device apps for smartphones and tablets, plug-ins for other productivity tools like email and calendar apps or document management and related groupware systems.  Ideally, all of these various UC oriented applications will have uniform features delivered with a common look and feel to simplify transition from one to another.
  • Software-based solution – software-based UC and collaboration platforms operate across premises, cloud, or hybrid environments (flexibility). With a variety of software apps, operating across multiple devices (PCs, smartphones, and tablets), software-based UC systems fit naturally into an enterprise’s IT systems environment, leveraging common operating principles and practices.  This lowers overall operating costs, and maximizes the possibility for integration into an enterprise’s business processes maximizing the return on investment.
  • Vendor Maturity – vendor maturity is incredibly important when choosing a UC solution. There are multiple types of vendors in the marketplace today. There are those whose background is in network convergence. There are others whose background is strictly telephony. But for today’s modern communications—that work consistently in co-operation with other enterprise technologies—you need a vendor whose strengths are in both telephony and IT infrastructure. You need more than a Gartner Magic Quadrant leader—you need a challenger, an innovator, a customer-focused vendor building next-generation unified communications and collaboration experiences that reduce IT complexity and delivers superior reliability, scalability and robustness.

Enterprise Connect 2015

Each year at Enterprise Connect, a mock Request for Proposal (RFP) session is held. The mock RFP is a simulation of the requests that enterprises and government agencies put out when looking for a new unified communications solution.

The session, led by independent consultant David Stein, Principal at Stein Consulting Group, assesses the most common unified communications and collaboration that SMBs and enterprises alike typically differentiate between.  Each of the vendors that participate is required to answer questions related to their solutions’ architecture, features, and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over a 3-5 year period.

This year’s UC RFP and Review session will, again, look at premises vs. cloud-based communications platforms. The session is a long running tradition and the ideal way to provide potential customers an objective way to learn about the top vendors in the industry. The session includes discussion of:

  • Overall findings/trends as of Q1 2015
  • The system offerings currently available from leading suppliers
  • Strengths and weaknesses of leading vendors’ offerings
  • The subjective rankings based on architecture, functionality and cost
  • Product Differentiation (what really matters?)
  • UC Procurements (should enterprises focus on platform or use cases?) and more.

There are a number of factors to consider in evaluating Unified Communications RFPs—high availability, voicemail, unified messaging, and unified communications are just some of the features of modern communications technology.

If your organization is starting the process of looking for a new UC solution to replace your existing IP/PBX, I invite you to join me during the session and listen to how each vendor ranks.

For a comprehensive look at weighting, factors and TCO evaluations from 2015, download the UC RFP whitepaper by David Stein.

How to Choose a Cloud or SaaS Vendor

2015-02-26_1113Choosing a cloud and SaaS vendor can be tricky for SMBs with small IT organizations and larger corporations looking to lower operating costs. There are many benefits to choosing cloud or SaaS over on-premises but the route to those benefits is not always risk-free.

Difficulty vetting cloud or SaaS vendors is a common problem in today’s IT world. We see many organizations that continue to sweat older assets, having used on-premises software for many years. Irwin Lazar, of Nemertes Research, has pointed out, however, that more than 90 percent of businesses are starting to employ these technologies on some scale.

Vetting cloud or SaaS vendors can be very easy if you take the right approach. Rather than simply taking trusting the vendor’s qualifications or what you’ve read/heard, you should validate each claim the vendor makes to ensure that they don’t overstate their capabilities.

Verification is the key to success when choosing a cloud or SaaS vendor. Here are our tips to help you make the comprehensive assessments needed to make the right choice.

Vetting the Business

You wouldn’t buy a car from a manufacturer you knew nothing about. The same should be said of a cloud or SaaS solution. When your business is thinking about adopting a new cloud or SaaS technology, its imperative that you vet the vendors’ businesses as well as their technology.

You need to ensure that their leadership is strong, their business model is sound, and that the firm has the financial stability to survive the stressors of the current economy. This stage is the time to ask the tough questions, and get real, specific responses in return. Keep pressing until you get a real answer, one that’s supported by policies and procedures. Questions like these can help you determine the viability of the business at large:

  • Do you have a burn rate where you are making less than you are spending? If so, how long is the runway where you can survive at this pace without new partners investing?
  • Is your leadership rounded and truly qualified? Do you have a technologist at the helm, and has he surrounded himself with the operational, financial and sales expertise to keep turning out great products and services?
  • How do you maintain accountability for your administrative staff in regard to the control and management of customer data within/and outside of your application? What security challenges might we face if we give you direct control over our sensitive or compliance-relevant data?
  • How do you address government regulations?
  • Can we adjust our services as the business evolves?
  • Where does my support come from (vendor, support partner, etc.)?
  • What will I really pay?

Vetting the Technology

Just like with the manufacturer situation stated above, you probably wouldn’t buy a car you hadn’t test driven or looked under the hood of either. In order to determine whether the products/services you’re vetting work properly, you’re going to need to get your hands dirty and test each cloud or SaaS product/service for yourself. Does the product/service have known glitches/issues? Will it fit into the environment(s) as expected? Will it work with all of your platforms and impacted software products?

Now is the time to get the engineers involved to assess the technologies behind the vendor and ensure that they are ready for your purposes. Again, specific instances and case studies will help provide proof points to the vendor’s claims. Questions like these can help determine the efficiency, security, and usability of the technology itself:

  • What role does customer input play when your company plans updates and enhancements?
  • Can I see the software/technology’s R&D roadmap? What other changes are planning for performance and usability? Is this investment actually future proof?
  • Can you describe your data center?
  • How do you define uptime and downtime?
  • How frequently do you test your disaster recovery procedures?
  • Do you have a Service Level Agreement (SLA)?
  • How different is our current infrastructure from yours?
  • Can I move existing apps/services from my private cloud to your public cloud without massive reconfiguration?
  • How do you support my workforce’s mobility requirements?
  • How are my apps and data protected from other users on the same cloud servers?

Vetting their Customer Service

Let’s hit the car analogy one more time. You wouldn’t buy any car from any manufacturer if you weren’t going to get service and support to help you maintain the car over the course of its life.

So when vetting vendors, you need to ask point-blank if they are ready to handle you as a client. The only question that need to be asked during this phase is, “Can I speak with some of your customers?” Current customers are the best resources when it comes to determining whether the vendor’s product/service is on par with what you are expecting.

Don’t settle for the few they give you either. Look at trade shows and vendor events for customers that aren’t raving fans. Looking for non-specific issues can save you a lot of headaches in the future. Be skeptical, but open-minded. Knowing the issues that could arise will help you prepare for them in the future.

Vetting cloud or SaaS vendors can take up to 200 man-hours and could require some policy changes on your part. To do it right, though, you do need to assess more than the technology—you need to look at everything; the vendor’s business, technology, security, service, and employees. While it might seem like a bit of an undertaking, spending more time up front will save you headache and frustration in the end.

SaaS and Cloud in Perspective: UCaaS

Let’s take a quick look at a unique cloud and SaaS perspective: UCaaS.

Let’s say you aren’t ready for a full cloud deployment. You still have some reservations about the public cloud, and you have on-premises assets you want to continue to use. Research is actually beginning to show that “Hybrid Cloud UC Demands Unified Platform Management”. This is one of many cases where UCaaS makes sense.

The market for UCaaS is growing pretty rapidly. Among IT pros responding to a 2014 Spiceworks survey, 11% had adopted UCaaS. However, another 12% indicated they are planning to adopt it in the next year, more than doubling the number of people using UCaaS today.

Some suggest that growing confidence in hosted solutions in general is the impetus for the projected dramatic increase in adoption. Much of that confidence is due to the service providers’ dedication to security improvements.

We are excited about the opportunities UCaaS presents to the cloud and SaaS Markets.

Fear of vetting vendors shouldn’t hold you back from learning more. Check out the Reducing UC Costs and Increasing Business Performance whitepaper to take a deeper dive into the advantages of UCaaS, market drivers, concerns, and what to look for in a provider.

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Unified Communications as a Service Re-Coups Losses for Businesses during Cold Weather Outbreaks

nec-unified-communications-as-a-service-winter-stormIt’s that time of year again. Blizzards like Winter Storm Juno are ravaging the North-Eastern United States. People are snowed in and can’t get to work. The effects of the storm will be felt across seven states this year—meaning more SMBs and Enterprises will grind to a screeching halt in 2015 than did this same time last year. Businesses across the country will take a hit in sales and service departments, delayed by loss of employee manpower and lack of customer activity.

So now seems like the right time to continue the discussion on enterprise technologies that facilitate mobility and remote work during bad weather and emergencies. The market for UCaaS is growing rapidly, and UCaaS is seeing widespread adoption in organizations of all sizes. If you’re at home right now thinking “maybe it’s time I start thinking about facilitating remote work environments for our team,” then I suggest you take a look at last year’s article, published in it’s entirety, below.

 

Winter Storms Ion and Hercules, followed by a polar vortex, are spreading a swath of heavy snow across the American Midwest and ushering in dangerously cold temperatures throughout the United States. As of Monday, there were more than 100,000 people across six states without electricity, with temperatures continuing to fall. Flights have been canceled nationwide, and people are staying indoors.

It hasn’t been this cold for almost two decades in parts of the Midwest and Southeast, and businesses across the country are feeling the weight of the storm hit their bottom lines.

What many people don’t know is that having Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) in place means that businesses can actually stave off some of the sales losses seen during cold weather outbreaks.

Inclement Weather and Remote Workers

Firms that have adopted UCaaS or cloud-based communications could find that it curbs the amount of revenue lost from storms during the winter. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) estimates that cold weather snaps can seriously affect small and medium sized businesses. While places reliant on foot traffic are most at risk, any business can be beset by weather delays.

Working remotely, or in the cloud, is increasingly feasible and beneficial thanks to services like UCaaS. Tools like softphones, instant messaging, and audio and video conferencing can keep your business up and running even in the worst weather conditions.

How UCaaS Solutions Can Help

By giving your employees access to cloud computing services such as remote desktops and softphones that can be accessed from home or at work, organizations can ensure that employees are continuously able to do their jobs even if they cannot physically get into the office. This allows you to keep employees safe when conditions are too dangerous to travel without losing, what many times can end up being multiple days of, employee productivity.

UCaaS is one of the few services that can offer the tools required to help keep businesses communications running smoothly.  This is critical for organizations that rely on communication for their revenue. In the normal course of doing business, or remotely during inclement weather periods, Unified Communications Solutions can:

  • Integrate email, voice and instant messaging into a cohesive communications system so all employees can stay in-touch as needed.
  • Provide access points to all data used by your organization, so users can communicate with others inside and outside their organization more easily and more quickly.
  • Lower overall IT and telecommunications costs, particularly for labor, because of the inherent economies of scale available with an integrated communications platform.
  • Provide access to carrier-grade communications that deliver consistency with easy-to-use functionality.

UCaaS solutions are just one of many cloud-based solutions businesses can utilize to protect themselves during inclement weather.

In the event of a cold weather snap, the right UCaaS solution can easily adapt to your changed situation without any extra spending on your part. These services house your businesses data in centers that are part of global networks. This ensures that once your data is backed up, it is mirrored in multiple data centers across the globe, meaning that there is more than one copy of your data to rely on in the case of a disaster or emergency.

With these types of disaster recovery options, it becomes easier to see how UCaaS and cloud-based services can help create a safe and secure solution to protect your businesses applications and data, helping to insure your businesses against losses caused by winter weather storms.

Contact NEC representatives today to learn more about our cloud-based solutions and their disaster recovery benefits.

 

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