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.

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5 Things Millennials will Love about Unified Communications

nec-unified-communications-millennials-love-ucSupporting Millennials in the Enterprise becomes easier with Unified Communications Technology.

Everywhere you look these days there’s an article about millennials—the net generation, generation next, echo boomers. I am a millennial. So I have some insight into the millennial/tech conversation.

Yes, it is true that we are inherently good with technology.  That I won’t argue. But we are still very new to the enterprise—and simultaneously, enterprise lingo. Throw a term like “unified communications” at a millennial, and many of my peers will draw a blank.

Despite that little flaw, we are becoming an increasingly significant factor to consider when defining business IT needs. At over 79 million strong in the US, we currently outnumber the baby boomer generation by three million people.  By 2015, we will comprise over half of the labor market globally.

Unified communications offers all of the tools that millennials demand in the workplace. But like me, they may not know that. Because even though we are technologically savvy, the consumer market does not have or use a term like Unified Communications. Millennials have just not had a chance to become familiar with it.

I did a lot of reading about UC when I first heard the phrase. And I learned a lot of technically specific IT information. But I didn’t really “get” UC until I attended a training/demo. The training showed me just how quintessential UC is to my generation. It includes all the features that we like to have on hand as we work—all the tools we already use.

From my training, I’ve developed a list of the Top 5 Features Millennials will Love about UC.

Rich Presence

What it is: Rich presence allows users to locate and identify another user’s availability and contact them on their preferred device.

Why it matters: Millennials like efficiency. We’ve had Rich Presence—at least in the form of availability—as a feature of our various instant messaging systems for over a decade. To us, it’s second nature to mark ourselves as “Away” or “Out to Lunch” on an Instant Messaging platform. By that rationale, it’s also second nature for us to want to know someone else’s availability before we ever pick up the phone. It is fantastic that UC solutions offer presence features that are capable of showing when co-workers are “On the Phone,” or, “In a Meeting;” as well as if they are in the office or mobile. Rich Presence allows more efficient conversations, and enhances voice and messaging applications to better suit millennials’—and everyone else’s—mobility needs.

Instant Messaging/Chat

What it is: Instant Messaging/Chat technology provides a communications alternative to traditional telephone calls or video conferences that is less-intrusive and enables quick exchange of information.

Why it matters: Millennials are chatty. And while we’re not necessarily more communicative than our Gen X and Baby Boomer peers, the fact is that Millennials communicate differently. Making a phone call is not always our first instinct (admittedly there are those of us who find phone calls to be daunting). So, most millennials are less likely to use a traditional handset—or a phone call in general—until a deeper level of conversation is warranted. When this is the case, millennials will schedule these conversations ahead of time if it’s possible. Why? Because we’ve grown up using communications technology, and chatting digitally via IM or Text message is instinctive to us. So if we have a question or request that can be answered or discussed quickly, you can bet an instant message of some kind is going to be our preferred method.

Soft Phone

What it is: Softphone functionality allows employees to use their computers to send/receive calls, perform desktop video conferencing, and use advanced call forwarding and web-browser dialing.

Why it matters: Millennials love VoIP technology. Check any one of their phones and you’ll find at least one favorite consumer VoIP application. We use them all the time to chat and videoconference with each other. In fact, consumer softphones are so popular with millennials, that we use them personally, and, as a result, softphone applications are becoming more popular and prevalent with SMBs who are trying to attract millennial innovators—i.e. startups, small businesses, marketing and advertising verticals, etc. When you factor in the ever-growing mobility trend, you begin to understand and see that the need for these tools in the enterprise office is not specific to millennial workers alone.

Smart Directories

What it is: Online Smart Directories provide a desktop view of any person or extension in the enterprise, and that person’s availability via a simple search feature.

Why it matters: Millennials have grown up “searching at the speed of Google.” We are instinctive researchers, and our instincts tell us that somewhere online we’ll find the wisdom we seek. So it is incredibly impressive when our UC client can look up any person and any extension in the enterprise via a simple search feature. In fact, this is one of the pleasantly surprising benefits to using enterprise-level UC over a consumer-based option, and something that most millennials may not inherently expect.

Hard Phone

What it is: The device that a user holds to the ear to hear the audio sound through the receiver.

Why it matters: Contrary to popular opinion, there are millennials who are perfectly comfortable picking up the desk phone, and I believe it is inaccurate to say that there is a straight refusal on millennials’ part to use them. Hard phones are great when sitting at a desk working, so long as they are easy to use and have advanced features that allow us to tailor the phone experience to meet our individual needs. Older handset models can be difficult to learn how to use with 100 page handbooks and overtly complicated keypad functions. Unified Communications enabled phones are usually linked to a user’s PC through a UC desktop client, making it intuitively easy for millennials to set-up and access advanced calling features with a few mouse clicks. This client is usually integrated with the enterprise’s messaging and email platforms, making it identifiable to the mobile experiences we’ve come to know.

Final Thoughts

For my generation, work is something we do and not somewhere we must go. So we need tools that enable mobility. That being said, we are not opposed to traditional forms of communication. We still use email. We still make phone calls. We will continue to do so. We’re not going to stop using them just because we get a new tool that has an instant messaging feature.

Most importantly, we understand there is a need to respect others’ communications styles. So if our co-workers prefer phone calls to IMs, we can make that adjustment. In many cases, successful adoption of new communications styles requires management of generational expectations, not just software training.

So, all of this is to say that Unified Communications can unify the multi-gen workforce that most businesses have, and should more than satisfy millennials’ needs through the UC system’s features.

Are you excited to learn more about millennials and Unified Communications?  

Check out the white paper:  file-738886702

The Four Cs of Effective Collaboration

nec-unified-communications-collaboration-four-csModern organizations understand they need to react to a rapidly changing business environment quickly. The need to address customer demands, react to competitive threats, and improve profitability, is largely dependent on the way employees interact and engage, collaborate and communicate – not only with each other, but also with business partners and customers.

The need to reduce the consequences of delays and missed deadlines is also critical for a modern business. For many there are now more staff that are remote than located in a physical office, increasing the difficulty in contacting others when needed. This further adds delays to important decision making and hinders the effective communication of critical business information.

In order for companies to collaborate effectively it helps to consider these four key areas within the context of adopting enterprise social collaborative solutions.

  1. Culture – One of the biggest barriers to the successful adoption of collaborative solutions is the organizational culture of a company. Collaboration aims to flatten, blur and decentralize “command and control” management styles; organizational hierarchies cannot respond quickly to changing business demands.  Collaboration offers an environment of cross-departmental “communities” with fewer layers and more decentralized decision making. This can be intimidating to those companies (and managers) that favor a more power-based reporting structure.
  2. Coordination – The main technological driver behind the adoption of enterprise social collaboration is to remove “information silos.” The benefit of such a collaboration solution is to improve an employee’s focus on projects, customers, or communities of interest by “harmonizing” information and activities across departments. Previously such information might be locked away in personal inboxes, on individual PCs or, more alarmingly, stored in public cloud services outside the control and governance of company IT departments.
  3. Cooperation – In order to improve the adoption, and therefore return on investment of collaborative solutions, companies need to encourage and empower employees in all parts of the organization to work together. The adoption of new working practices is made visible through the very nature of collaborative tools. The success of these new services accelerated by senior managers acting as facilitators to encourage cooperation. Managers need to change themselves and encourage their teams to change with them, which requires the capacity to lead by example and let go, rather than to “command and control.”
  4. Connection – Many companies think of those employees that interact with people outside the organization as being limited to customer facing staff such as sales or customer support. Collaborative solutions provide the capability to develop relationships with external partners or customers beyond front line staff. Linking up a company’s front office with back office, and externally linking with business partners and customers, (often referred to as federation) significantly increases demand-side economies of scale. This then creates a “network effect” as the solution becomes more valuable and more people join in.

Only when these four Cs of collaboration are addressed and used in conjunction with an enterprise social collaborative solution, is a company’s ability to respond to opportunities and threats rapidly realized.

About the author: Tim Banting is a Principal Analyst with the Business Technology and Software group at Current Analysis. He tracks and assesses the rapidly evolving communications and collaboration marketplace. His areas of coverage include collaboration platforms, unified communications, video collaboration and social analytics. Tim has over 20 years’ experience in the unified communications and collaboration field having held business development, pre-sales, technical marketing and senior product management roles.

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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.

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Hybrid Cloud: An Alternative State for Enterprise Unified Communications and Collaboration

nec-hybrid-cloud-optionDespite the recent success of Unified Communications (UC) providers utilizing the public cloud in the SMB space, enterprise IT stakeholders can still be hesitant to make the move in taking their business communications entirely to the public cloud. Explanations for this often include reasoning based on a misunderstanding of the advancements made in public cloud security and availability, previous investment in costly on-premises equipment, or simply, their corporate culture.

The hybrid cloud could be the answer for businesses either investing in Unified Communications solutions for the first time, or that are looking to re-tailor their solution to better address certain business concerns.

According to Gartner VP Distinguished Analyst, Thomas J. Bittman, in a September 3, 2013 report titled, ‘Private Cloud Matures, Hybrid Cloud is Next,’ “While actual hybrid cloud computing deployments are rare, nearly three-fourths of large enterprises expect to have hybrid deployments by 2015.”

Hybrid Cloud for Enterprises

By definition, the Unified Communications & Collaboration (UCC) hybrid cloud is the combination of both private cloud and public cloud UCC components.  And its appeal is the wide array of options that it presents to enterprises.

Private Cloud for Enterprises

The private cloud offers enterprises secure solutions that are designed to keep data and resources safe on-premises. Enterprises generate a lot of sensitive information—customer data, voicemail, and email copies—and, depending on the corporate policy, confidential data analytics and mission-critical systems can be deemed too important to run on the public cloud. Having a private cloud in place is necessary for many enterprises to perform these and other functions, keeping them well within the bounds of the compliance procedures set by an individual company.

Main Drawback: Private clouds are expensive and are often inflexible. They often cannot scale to meet growing demands, and add more to the organization’s budget in infrastructure and maintenance costs.

Public Cloud for Enterprises

The public cloud, very simply, offers scalability and flexibility that the private cloud cannot easily match. Public cloud service providers are able to make resources, such as applications and storage, available to enterprises at any time.  They also use the newest technologies available, providing an organization with new services without ruining the bottom line. And, public clouds typically have better utilization rates and are flexible enough to meet the demand of your enterprise while still keeping infrastructure costs low.

Main Drawback: In many cases, when a quality provider is chosen, no drawback exists.  Unqualified providers, however, are often questioned on their ability to provide security, compliance, and data protection.

Hybrid Cloud for Enterprises

Sometimes the best infrastructure for UCC requires both public and dedicated environments. The Hybrid cloud, once thought of as the bridge to the public cloud has, in fact, become the last stop for many medium and large enterprises.

Best-Fit Infrastructures: Hybrid Unified Communications and Collaboration

Hybrid UCC allows enterprises to procure UCC services through several deployment models while supporting the service integration needed to deliver a UCC experience in much the same way as can be done with the public cloud. The main difference is that hybrid UCC allows an enterprise to tailor the cloud deployment model to their specific communication needs, security policies, or budget in the case of companies who have investments in existing premises equipment (e.g. PBX).  Hybrid also gives premises-based users the ability to migrate to the cloud at a pace that suits current business needs, and can strengthen a business continuity strategy.

With the hybrid cloud, many UCC components can live behind the corporate firewall. Other components, that need the elasticity and quick provisioning that the public cloud offers will have that too. Instead of choosing one option or the other, the hybrid cloud provides enterprises with another alternative for secure, scalable UCC solutions.

Rationalizing the Move to Hybrid Cloud UCC

If you’d like to learn more about hybrid UCC and how it can work for your business, NEC experts are more than happy to help. We can provide you with consulting services and quotes that can help you determine what a customized cloud strategy could do for your long and short term business goals.