There are a multitude of things to consider when mapping out a plan for UC, and it’s very easy to get bogged down in the technical details and implications for your network. If that doesn’t demand your full attention, you must also get out from the weeds and look upwards to what management is expecting from UC. You could well get very primed for all the great capabilities UC will bring, but if you can’t make a solid business case, it probably won’t get past the great-idea phase.
These are two big levers in making UC a reality for your company, but there’s a third element that sits squarely with IT and will require just as much due diligence. If all UC solutions were created equal, it wouldn’t matter much who the vendor is, but we all know that’s not the story here. So, for the next few posts, I will set aside issues of technology and ROI, and focus solely on the vendors.
Given UC’s broad scope, this may be a bigger challenge than you realize, and to address that, I’m going to examine some key questions about the vendors and what you need to be looking for. The best way to understand certain things is to focus on a motive, and that’s where this series will begin.
Question #1 – why is the vendor offering UC?
Before answering this, you have to consider two basic types of vendors. The primary group are those coming from the telephony space, either legacy or VoIP. These vendors dominate the market, but there are also vendors who are outsiders to telephony, and have different reasons for offering UC.
The core vendors are offering UC not because they want to, but because they have to. They won’t tell you this if you ask them, but when it comes to evaluating vendors for UC, you have to consider their motivation. If most vendors had a choice, they would prefer to remain in the IP PBX business simply because it’s a known quantity and the profits are attractive. After all, the technology was developed ages ago, so they’ve been in harvest mode for a while and don’t see a good reason to change horses.
UC, of course, is that good reason and the way forward is pretty clear. While the status quo is easier, there are trends bigger than telephony carrying everyone into UC. Until recently, no IT decision maker was asking for UC, let alone knowing what it was. As such, UC has been largely supplier-driven, and you could argue that vendors are the only ones who really know what UC is about.
In short, if they don’t shift from phone systems to UC solutions, their survival will be in doubt. Many of these vendors have built up huge installed bases with loyal customers for decades, and they cannot risk losing that by sticking with phone systems. The ranks of standalone phone vendors are thinning, with Aastra’s move into the Mitel fold being the latest example.
With this perspective in mind, here some questions to help you gauge the nature of their motives for offering UC, and just how capable they really are for meeting your needs.
- How long have you been developing your UC solution?
- To what extent is your value proposition built around telephony/voice, as opposed to multimedia collaboration?
- Have you developed new TCO-related metrics for the UC business case, or is it based on more on conventional ROI-style parameters?
- What has been the trend in your sales growth of UC versus phone systems?
- What is your 3-5 year roadmap for how your UC offering will evolve?
- Are you focusing more on premise-based UC or cloud-based solutions?
- How interoperable and easy to deploy will your solution be in my environment?
- What segment/size band of the business market are you targeting with UC?
- Can you share reference accounts and UC success stories that my business can relate to?
- How are you developing and supporting your dealer network/channels for UC?
- What is the state of your partner ecosystem, especially for UC applications?
To a large extent, these questions would also apply to vendors from outside the telephony space. These offerings will be more Web-based, with some companies being household names and others being much smaller. I’ll save that analysis for another time, as the core group of vendors represents the leading players you’ll likely be dealing with.
As this series continues, some of the above questions will get an expanded analysis, but we really need to start with the question of why. You’ll have a pretty good sense of that with questions listed above, and these will no doubt lead to others. My advice would be to ask as many questions as needed to reach a good comfort level. Once you’re there, you’ll be ready for the rest of this series.