What to look for when creating a Unified Communications RFP

Examining the Enterprise Connect Unified Communications RFP Results

nec-enterprise-connect-uc-rfp-david-stein-tcoEach 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 telephony products developed by communications vendors.  Each of the vendors that participate are required to answer questions related to their solutions’ architecture, features, and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over a 3-5 year period.  The goal of the session is three-fold:

  • Provide enterprises with an un-biased third party opinion of UC solutions on the market
  • To thoroughly assess and discuss the features of each solution
  • To monitor and report on burgeoning UC trends

Vendor Review

The UC RFP and Review: Enterprise Communications Platform–Premise vs. Cloud-Based IP Telephony session is the latest in the evolution of the “mock” RFP at Enterprise Connect. This 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 RFP was handed out in advance of the conference. Each participating vendor is required to answer questions related to their solutions’ architecture, features, and, new this year, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over a 5 year period. This year, seven vendors proposed ten solutions. The proposing vendors come from a variety of backgrounds ranging from over 100 years of telephony experience to very recent entrants into the market.

The RFP specifically includes stringent requirements for high availability, core voice functionality, voicemail, unified messaging, unified communications (e.g. presence, IM, voice, Web, video conferencing), and system administration.

This year’s vendor responses were submitted to Stein, who judged them based on a weighted scale. This year’s scale—same as years past—offered 50 percent of the score to functional/technical requirements, 25 percent to architecture requirements, and the final 25 percent to pricing.

This year also marked the first year that both on-premises and cloud solutions were combined for a sufficiently comprehensive UC solutions showcase. Also, included in this year’s session was a panel discussion that covered topics such as integration issues, deployment issues, and how vendors decide which solution—cloud or premises—to propose.

Evident Trends from the Session

The RFP placed emphasis on mobility, virtualization, integration of existing product sets, and improving user interfaces. The continuing trends from last year include:

  • Focus on the development of Android and iOS platforms for mobility offerings.
  • Significant focus on user experience and development of UC functionality as related there-in.
  • Emphasis on virtualization with most components available in virtual configurations.

New or changing trends that became evident from 2013-2014 include:

  • Vendor strengths are developing with particular features; i.e. not all vendors provide every feature often desired.
  • Gap in UC capabilities amongst respondents is still significant.
  • Significant differences still exist in vendor solutions.
  • “Average prices” decreased from 2013 to 2014.
  • Cloud vs. premises functionality differences more significant than previously thought.
  • Cloud vs. premises TCO differences remain significant.

Key Trends for Modern Communications Systems

This year’s session positioned as Premises vs. Cloud was a welcome addition to the conference.  For the first time, conference attendees had access to a more complete representation of the unified communications market.

There are three trends noted in David Stein’s own observations, that communications experts agree are foundational for modern Unified Communications systems. Each system must be/include:

  • Software-based—software-based communications solutions have re-defined the way businesses communicate. The most modern, agile, scalable solutions will deliver a fully functional IP-PBX along with a complete set of voice features and UC applications that can be tailored to individual needs. Software-based systems also offer simplified licensing and management features that make it easier for businesses to manage day-to-day communications needs.
  • Virtualization—communications systems that can be deployed across distributed architectural platforms offer ultimate flexibility, and improve business continuity and cost saving. Virtualized infrastructures offer benefits such as server consolidation, increased security, operational flexibility and greater application availability during downtime.
  • Mobility— Modern communications solutions offer enhanced user-mobility solutions that enable workers to stay connected and productive from any locale. These mobility solutions typically incorporate softphones, mobile applications, call-twinning, call transfer, and fixed mobile convergence options. These tools allow businesses to shorten the time it takes to move projects forward, and ultimately improve the service provided to customers.

NEC did very well, winning the highest total score of all vendors compared in the 2,000 user UC RFP. NEC’s UNIVERGE solution won top score both because of its technological strengths, and because it provides customers with a significant economic advantage in terms of TCO.

NEC’s response to the RFP is listed as “on-premises.” However, it’s interesting to note that its software based solution resides on a virtualized server and could easily exist as part of an organization’s private cloud.  Alternatively, this configuration could be hosted off-premises in a commercial data center.

5-year Total Cost of Ownership

Frequently, after organizations have made the decision to replace their existing phone system, a lot of time, energy, and effort go into evaluating and comparing the initial acquisition and installation costs of the vendors that make their short list. This focus on initial costs sometimes means that ongoing operation and maintenance costs are overlooked.  This year Stein added an extensive evaluation to the study that helps determine the “true” cost of a Unified Communications solution.

The addition of the 5-year Total Cost of Ownership section of the RFP gives businesses the opportunity to look beyond the initial costs of implementation, to the costs of operating the solution for five years. This evaluation helps businesses plan a comprehensive budget that takes the long-term operational and maintenance costs into consideration.

Bottom Line

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, then taking a look at the UC RFP results would be a great place for you to start.

For a comprehensive look at weighting, factors and TCO evaluations included in the Enterprise Connect UC RFP, download the whitepaper by David Stein.

file-986961812

The Market for UCaaS Continues to Grow as Innovators Adopt

The cloud-based communications services market is one of the fastest growing segments in the quickly expanding Unified Communications market.

nec-ucaas-market-adoption-ucUnified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) is essentially a delivery model for Unified Communications (UC). With UCaaS, employers have the opportunity to outsource communication and collaborative applications to a third-party provider for online delivery. It serves exactly the same purpose as traditional premises-based UC, combining multiple communications means and methods into a single, unified application.

Even with the advantages UCaaS offers, there remain some concerns about adopting these solutions. A recent Spiceworks survey of 267 IT pros in North America (11% of whom have already implemented UCaaS in their organization) points to two main concerns about hosted solutions: availability and performance.

By educating IT pros on UCaaS adoption trends and advantages, we hope to offer a closer look at the burgeoning UCaaS market.

Innovators using UCaaS

Early technology adopters tend to buy and try out new hardware and software, and versions of existing programs sooner than most of their peers. According to Everett Rogers, author of the Diffusion of Innovations (DoI) theory and book, early adopters make roughly 14% of consumers.

And while early adopters are eager to explore new options like UCaaS, they are not the only ones worth watching. According to Rogers, there is a small minority of early adopters called innovators. Only one person out of 40 is of this type. Innovators are the people most likely to conceive and develop new methodologies and technologies, and who often end up running large IT corporations or founding new ones.

As the Spiceworks research shows, they are the ones adopting UCaaS.

IT Pros Responding to UCaaS

Among IT pros responding to the Spiceworks survey, 11% had adopted UCaaS. However, another 12% indicated they are planning to adopt it in the next year, which will more than double the number of people using UCaaS today.

This projected growth tracks consistently with the expectations of UCaaS market growth reported in 2013 by researchers at MarketsandMarkets. Their report on UCaaS projects that the global market will grow from $2.52 billion in 2013 to $7.62 billion by 2018, at an estimated CAGR of 24.8%.

Some suggest that developing confidence in hosted solutions in general is the impetus for the projected dramatic increase in adoption. Irwin Lazar, of Nemertes Research, has pointed out, “…more than 90% of companies now use software as a service (SaaS) applications.”

UCaaS’ potential to create uninterrupted communications across multiple devices and methods appeal to companies whose employees are increasingly seeking seamless 24/7 access to communications. According to Denise Culver, research analyst and author of a recent Heavy Reading Insider report on UCaaS, “As UCaaS continues to be viewed from the lens of a solution that cuts the landline cord and eradicates the need for a traditional PBX, it will be looked at as a business enabler, rather than a simple phone system.”

UCaaS Adoption Advantages

  • Up-to-date UC Technology and Applications: UCaaS applications can be updated easily and deployed company-wide as they become available via the cloud. UCaaS helps avoid technology obsolescence and the time and resources associated with large scale “technology refreshes.”
  • Cost Savings: SMBs that choose UCaaS for their communications solution avoid the capital outlay required to set up and maintain on-site hardware. Instead, that cost is shifted to operational expenditures via the third-party UCaaS provider. Businesses also only pay for the level of service they require.
  • Scalability: UCaaS models allow SMBs to quickly and easily increase their service levels as they add employees. This means that the SMBs pay for only what they need and they are not required to predict their potential needs in advance. This helps streamline the budget and makes the communications plans more scalable, as the business can easily modify as the workforce expands or even if it shrinks.
  • Higher Levels of Performance:The best hosted service providers have secure and resilient data centers that are redundantly configured and geographically separated to ensure continued service in the event of emergencies and Service Level Agreements that provide uptime guarantees. Each organization’s data and user settings are backed up and mirrored in multiple locations, creating a disaster-proof backbone for their business communications. This alleviates the potential of SMBs losing their communication capabilities due to a technical problem or severe weather events or other disasters. UCaaS also ensures their employees stay connected and productive even if they are unable to make it into the office through the off-site cloud-based tools that provide them access from any location and any device.

According to the Synergy Research Group, UCaaS subscribers will grow an average of 76 percent annually over the next five years. SMBs are expected to be a large part of that group.

Are you excited by the opportunities UCaaS presents to the communications market?

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.

NEC-Spiceworks-Unified-Communications-UCaaS-survey

5 Ways to use Social Media at the 43rd Annual ACUTA Conference in Dallas

nec-acuta-social-guideThis year’s 43rd Annual ACUTA conference and exhibition, which focuses on technology and communications in higher education, will be taking place near NEC headquarters here in Dallas, Texas.

Conferences like ACUTA used to be simple. You registered, showed up for the event, went to a few workshops, got some free snacks, had a conversation or two, and went home. It was easy—one or two days of learning, and then back to work.

But social media has changed all of that. The nature of conferences has changed from local affairs to global showcases with interactions between attendees occurring well before and after the event itself takes place.

There are still those attendees though, who are so focused on getting as many in-person interactions out of their workshops, sessions, and conversations as they can, that they forget— or choose not—to utilize social media during the actual show.

This, however, wouldn’t be the best way of going about things. Why? Because social media tools actually empower you to accelerate the networking process, make higher-quality connections, and feel more comfortable in a setting that, for many, can be challenging (i.e. lost luggage, a restless night, can’t find your co-workers etc.).

As local residents and longtime ACUTA attendees, here are our top five social media tips to help you get the most from your ACUTA conference time and money:

1. Join the pre-party.

As social media use continues to be embraced by the public, we see online conversations start well before the conference convenes—usually weeks in advance. The ACUTA event has several social media outlets that you can utilize to follow the interactive discussions taking place before the conference. These tools also will usually allow you to see who will be attending, to set up pre-conference meetings, to find out what the trending/hot topics are, and to judge the overall traction the conference is or is not gaining among your influencers and those you influence.

With tools like Twitter or the official conference app, you can actually “meet” several people in advance of the show.

Several ACUTA conversations are already taking place on LinkedIn, Twitter – where the official show hashtag is #AcutaConference14, and Facebook.

2. Eavesdrop on the other sessions.

Most of us study the conference agenda well before the show date and select sessions or full tracks that pique our interest. But what happens when the panel starts and you quickly realize the topic or viewpoint is not what you were interested in originally?

Social media gives you the opportunity to eavesdrop on the digital conversations happening in the other session rooms. This gives you the opportunity to discover more energetic exchanges that are equally or more relevant to your business than the one you are attending.

3. Make better contacts.

Social media gives you the opportunity to get to know new contacts before you ever sit down with them. With tools like Twitter and LinkedIn, you can research their backgrounds to find where your common interests are, what conversations they are most active in, and learn a little about them as attendees. Then, when you schedule a time to grab a cup of coffee or talk shop between sessions, the time both of you spend together will be much more productive than it would have been pre-research.

This gives you the opportunity to attend unofficial gatherings of attendees that usually take place at conferences. Many times these can be some of the most satisfying and productive networking events at the show. It also gives you the opportunity to stay in touch (on social media) long after the event, which in turn nurtures more meaningful deals and partnerships.

4. Have fun record-keeping.

Think of social media as taking notes, with the advantage of having dozens or even hundreds of others also taking notes and sharing them with you. This means your travel log is full of robust information that you can take back to other members of your team that didn’t get the opportunity to attend.

Social media also gives you the chance to pick up quotes and statistics from the sessions you don’t have the time to attend, which can help spark further discussions and connections. And finally, attendees can use social media to interact directly with speakers. So you get an additional opportunity to chime in with your point of view, agree or disagree, and have a robust discussion with leading thought leaders in your industry.

5. Discuss after the show.

Social media can actually help you manage your new contacts after the show, should you meet other attendees from whose technology experiences you want to learn more (or vice-versa). You can also use it to keep in touch with vendors whom you’ve met during the show. With so many different ways of keeping engaged—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter—you can easily maintain new contacts virtually, at least until you can get back to your office and follow-up with them more officially.

If you are interested in discussing with us the advancement of higher education communications and collaboration technologies, then you should visit us this year at the show—taking place at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas.

Attendees and Speakers who will be Live Tweeting from #AcutaConference14:

If you are following a participant or vendor this year, or would like to learn more about NEC, give us a shout-out in the comments.  

IT Convergence: Key Technology Trends that are driving Smart Enterprises to Modernize towards converged IT infrastructure

Modernizing IT infrastructure and becoming a Smarter Enterprise

nec-smart-enterprise-it-convergenceThe need for modernization among IT departments is a trend that is becoming increasingly relevant as IT departments are constantly faced with generational shifts in technology. The pressures of modern business require that IT departments close the gap between yesterday’s IT implementations and tomorrow’s demands.

Organizations that fail to modernize will rapidly lose their ability to respond to changing customer needs. They will weaken their competitive positions in the marketplace. And most importantly, the gap between where they are and need to be will only widen, leading to an expensive and uncertain future.

With most businesses facing incredibly tight or shrinking IT budgets, taking the appropriate steps toward modernization will seem expensive. With a modernized platform, however, organizations can add new capabilities and enhance overall employee performance while reducing their electronic footprint, leading to increased savings over time.

What is a Smart Enterprise?

Smart enterprises leverage more converged IT technologies to optimize business practices, drive workforce engagement, and create a competitive edge. Merely leveraging a converged IT framework in your IT department means that you are on your way to operating a smarter, more efficient business. IT organizations can utilize four key areas of value and then assess their plan against:

1: Business Agility

Today, most workforces are mobile. As such, your applications and enterprise architecture should empower these mobile workforces. Creating a more adaptive and more programmable infrastructure will enable IT to be more responsive to your organization. Businesses in today’s world are always on, and as a result, you need to consider how your most critical services can adapt more naturally and automatically to the mobile and always-on workforce.

2: Cloud Delivery

Modern businesses need to be incredibly efficient. Cloud delivery provides businesses with the opportunity to flexibly deploy services and software more consistently across converged premises, cloud, or hybrid infrastructures. An enterprise IT business plan should consider how and when to deploy certain services in the cloud, when to operate them on-premises, and when to purchase them as-a-service.

3: Collaborative Communities

Today’s growing workforce demands rich Internet-style applications that are easy to access from anywhere and work consistently from any device.  Organizations who have built collaborative communities by providing powerful tools that deliver consistent and intuitive user experiences, converged applications, and distributed architectures are able to adapt dynamically to change and empower employees to their fullest extent.

4: Assured Services

Securing business information—protecting your company’s intellectual properties and digital assets—falls squarely on the shoulders of IT.  Add security with the need to assure business continuity, and you get a business that must consider greater infrastructure planning, high availability at multiple layers, a consistent and aligned security credential methodology, and which must validate automated archival methods.

Steps to Modernization

Competing in today’s business environment is about meeting challenges, making decisions, and innovating rapidly—using the best and most current technologies, tools and information.

Cloud services, mobile integration, real-time collaboration, and high availability are becoming essential ingredients for the smart and secure enterprise. They are part of a rapidly evolving technology foundation by means of which the best solution providers enable new approaches to how your businesses IT services are delivered and managed, allowing you new opportunities for growth.

Want to know more about IT Modernization?

In an upcoming post we will discuss Enterprise IT Modernization Strategies and their benefits. And, if you’re going to Enterprise Connect this year, be sure to come see us.  Our solution experts will be happy to discuss how our IT solutions can help empower your smart enterprise.

NEC-Smart-Enterprise-trends-UC-CTA

Healthcare Communications: VoIP and Unified Communications Solutions offer Business Process Improvements for Medical Practices

nec-appointment-reminder-medical-office-ucThe most successful businesses are the ones that keep clients in the loop. For medical practitioners, your communications platform (phone, email, and notification systems) is your foundation to the management of your patient population and success of your business operations. Consumer-driven healthcare is the new reality, and medical practices rely now more than ever on patient satisfaction and experience to maintain a profitable practice and to sustain reimbursements.

And what many fail to realize is that the large hospital-owned groups are investing in advanced communications systems designed to make that growth easier.

The point of all of this is to say that if your system is too outdated; your patients may choose to find a practice that provides them with a better user-experience around scheduling, notifications and general communication with their provider.

Rather than rely on older analog phone systems and outdated contact center software, your medical office can turn to IP Telephony solutions with Unified Communications features to help manage your daily patient matrix management and care.

Why IP Telephony?

Modern phone system technology delivers so much more today than just a dial tone. Phone systems are constantly changing, and are growing to be part of converged networks that seamlessly tie voice with other Unified Communications (UC) features like data, video conferencing, instant messaging, single-number reach, appointment scheduling, and other business-critical communications tools and applications.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a technology that allows telephone calls to be made over computer networks. And while it’s not a new technology, many organizations have not yet transitioned from older technologies to IP telephony (IPT) solutions. IPT converts analog voice signals into digital data packets and supports real-time, two-way transmission of conversations using the internet. So rather than needing to install and pay for multiple lines in your office building, you can tie your phones directly into your internet network rather than needing to utilize a Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) phone.

Here are some of the ways that Medical Professionals can benefit from IPT systems:

Increased Cost-Effectiveness

Operating IPT systems can be less expensive than traditional wired telephone systems because they require less hardware, less maintenance, and have lower OPEX costs than POTS systems.

Not all IPT systems are created equally though.  When you look at the total cost of ownership for IPT systems, you’ll find that the best systems lower capital, implementation, and operational costs than standard POTS systems.

Plus, maintenance of your telephony system should be easier with all of your organization’s voice and data traffic integrated into one physical network. Although there is an initial setup cost, significant net savings can result from managing one network and not sustaining a legacy telephony system in an increasingly digital and data-centered world.

Enhanced Quality

For medical practices, much of your daily communication will always rely on person-to-person conversations. IP telephony systems provide clear voice quality so that communication with patients is never compromised. Additionally, it complements the other initiatives and investments in your practice such as Electronic Health Records.

Improved Extensibility and Accessibility

The communications industry moves at a rapid pace. The best IP telephone hardware is modular, and much of its advanced functionality is software based. This makes it easier to manage the total system. With the hardware, you can just replace or upgrade certain pieces as needed. The software can be updated to include new components and capabilities when they become available. Additionally, such advanced technologies were previously only available to large enterprise organizations with deep pockets.  Today, these systems are available for small business and independent medical practices.

Advanced Applications

Many IP telephony systems can be bought in conjunction with or are already a part of, Unified Communications systems. UC offers advanced capabilities—such as appointment confirmation, emergency notification, and enterprise-level mobility—that improve the efficiency of your office’s operations.

These additional applications can modernize your communications strategies.  Medical practices are operated by appointment schedules. So any gaps or lost appointments that occur during the day result in lost revenue. At the same time, managing multiple clients and appointments can be tedious, time consuming, and expensive when done manually. It may also counter your Electronic Health Record strategy.  So a VoIP and UC enabled solution makes sense for independent physician practices.

Why? UC can provide you with an appointment reminder system that supports outbound reminder/service calls. This sort of application can be programmed to remind your patient populations about everything from upcoming appointments, to what the vaccination requirements are for local schools.

With the extensibility that UC provides, any member of the medical office staff can keep patients aware of whatever it is they need to know. The bonus is that you benefit from increased efficiency and revenues, reduce missed appointments and last-minute cancellations, and increase customer and employee satisfaction and retention with one program.

Better Integration

Since many UC capabilities are software based, integration with other business systems is relatively easy. This gives your staff the ability to see who is calling your office before they pick up the phone, and gives them the opportunity to pull the patient’s profile before answering the call. The result is a patient who is favorably impressed by your company’s expert customer service and communications skills.

Whether it eases employee frustration or keeps your schedule full of confirmed appointments, we’re sure that a unified communications system with IP telephony can bring your medical practice enterprise-level communications features and mobility solutions that will modernize and benefit your organization.

To learn more about how we can help your medical practice improve patient communication and provide cost-effective business process improvements, click below to talk to one of our healthcare technology experts.