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.