Know What You Need from UC Before You Buy

Convergence Corner

Know What You Need from UC Before You Buy

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  January 01, 2012

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

For the past four years, since Microsoft (News - Alert) made its first pass at unified communications, the market has been flooded by vendors and providers announcing new products, features, and services, billing each as a must-have for successful business. Certainly, there’s no question as to their general relevance, but the global UC superstore that has been created really underscores the need for businesses to first understand their goals before seeking out solutions.

It’s not unlike buying a new TV – or any other technology, for that matter. You can go into your local retailer and look at the different brands and models. The most efficient way to make the best decision is first to understand the use case. Who is going to be using the TV? What will they be using it for? Where will it be located, and how will it be mounted? Will it be network connected and, if so, how? Now you can narrow down your choices based on which styles and features you need to meet your use case. Then you can go to your local electronics superstore and intelligently determine which brands and models meet your needs – and then go through the comparison process to reach your final decision.

Throughout the past several years, I’ve often gotten the sense that many businesses try to skip the initial process of understanding their unique use cases – which often mean multiple use cases within an organization – and just start looking at multiple vendor options. In some cases, it works out, but often, it leads to a lengthy and frustrating decision making process.

I recently participated in a pair of UC-focused webinars, which included consultant Marty Parker (of UniComm Consulting, UCStrategies) and analyst Frank Stinson (of IntelliCom Analytics (News - Alert)). The idea was to provide a vendor-free look at the UC market and what is motivating businesses as they turn to UC as a means to new revenues.

One of the things that stood out from the event was confirmation that a signification percentage of businesses become trapped into a vendor by vendor analysis of the market. The other was that a strong majority of attendees are still in the exploratory stages of UC.

Why are these two points interesting? Because they show how much vendors influence the decision making process. Of course, it’s the job of their marketing teams to put their brands in front of business decision makers. But, those decision makers must file that information away, and start at the beginning by defining UC based on their own business objectives and strategies, and what they hope to achieve by adding UC capabilities to their communications infrastructure.

Is it about process automation, or allowing mobile workers to access PBX functions? Or is unified messaging – or perhaps multimedia sharing and conferencing across your business sites –all you really need now? Maybe it’s about integrating your contact center and enterprise communications for enhanced customer service.

In many cases, it’s not only important to identify your goals, but to prioritize them. Frequently, a migration roadmap is needed – a wholesale replacement is not only costly and time consuming, but it comes with risks. By implementing in phases, there is less disruption, if any, and small user groups can be educated gradually as needed, whether that’s end user groups or IT management.

And speaking of management, in addition to knowing what capabilities you need – not which you think are neat – you also have to determine the deployment model that best suits your needs. Are you going to install the equipment and/or software on- site and manage it? Or is the cloud model better suited for you? Perhaps a hybrid approach is your best starting point, with a migration path to follow.

Then again, it all comes back to what you’re looking for. You might be able to get everything you need on one platform; or you might need to integrate multiple solutions to create a best-of- breed solution that fits all your needs.

As you read about the latest UC news on TMCnet or talk to different vendors at ITEXPO, bear in mind they all have quality products, but in order to determine their relevance to your needs, you first have to define those needs as they relate to your business strategy. By going through that initial process, you’ll be able to better – and more quickly – narrow down a UC strategy that will not only benefit your business, but shine the beacon of its success on your desk.

Please don’t hesitate to check out these two wbinars if you are anywhere in the UC decision making process:

Five Questions to Ask Before Making Your UC Choice:

Justifying Unified Communications (News - Alert):

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page. Follow Erik on Twitter (News - Alert) @elinask.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi