The Congested UC Market and What to do About it
How to make buying UC easier
“There are hundreds of different companies that provide telecommunications services”
This is a sentence I used in a document the other day. The purpose was to long list potential suppliers for a client. It followed with a process in place to get to a shortlist of four or five vendors to approach with an RFP. Whilst my sentence was not incorrect, my choice of the word “hundreds” irritated me.
Sure, there are literally hundreds or thousands of telecommunication service providers. This ranges from old style landline phones on an analogue line to complex hybrid-network collaboration suites. There’s a lot out there. But, when it comes to providing a Unified Communications solution, the market is not quite as big as I made it seem, but it remains a minefield.
Where To Start
Unlike in the consumer world, Googling “Unified Comms solution” doesn’t help as much as you’d like it to. Sure, Mitel provide Unified Comms, but this is just a reflection on SEO and spend with Google. Other than Mitel, the first page of Google doesn’t help the business buyer.
References from business peers, partners of existing providers and inbound marketing will aid you to an extent. Industry analysts like Gartner provide a steer but doesn’t cover everybody that is out there. So, the best place to find out who is hot in the Unified Comms industry is where the vendors are themselves.
Take UC EXPO, for example. This year’s event was a real who’s who and a clear indication as to who is focusing on collaboration, who is sticking to their core telephony offering and who the forward thinkers are.
Aside from a day out at a conference, I find UC Today a helpful tool if I’m stuck on a requirement. Some of my client’s requirements are demanding like artificial intelligence in the contact centre. However, some are basic but mission critical. A quick flick through articles like the Cloud Phone Systems Review 2018 are a great refresh as I flick between customers, dealing with multiple vendors on a daily basis. They are a great reminder that I can rule out certain vendors that don’t provide certain functionality or that I don’t need to approach the larger vendors for a smaller requirement.
How To Shortlist
A flick through key industry websites and a visit to a relevant conference gives you a solid long list. However, you work in IT or procurement or have been appointed by the business to source the best Unified Comms solution to support your business and have a day job to do. It’s still a tricky challenge from here.
You may want to outsource this to an external consultancy. There are technology consultancies that specialise in business communications and don’t cost the world. You could utilise an IT partner for their expert opinion or you could go it alone.
Going it alone takes up valuable time, especially if you don’t know where to start. I’ve highlighted some key principles to help you through the process.
Nobody’s favourite topic but it is a worthwhile exercise to conduct before engaging with a vendor. Here, you aren’t just checking for turnover or cash in the bank. Whilst that is a key requirement for any procurement team, there are some Unified Comms players that aren’t turning as big a figure as you’d expect. That’s not a huge problem – unless it’s one of your key criteria – because the cloud communications market is still young and it’s all about number of subscribers.
During your financial analysis, it’s also key to discover which vendor is a fit for your business. If you’re a business with less than 50 employees, you’re not going to get the dedicated approach you crave from the giants of this world like BT or Orange Business Services. On the flip side, if you are a 5000-user company, a newcomer to the market with limited resources is probably a turn off.
Leveraging Existing Investments
I could (and have many a time) written about this all day. This doesn’t mean re-using handsets and refusing to upgrade mobiles – although it could.
Through strategy, inheritance or coincidence, you’ve likely purchased something recently that Unified Communications could enhance. Microsoft Office 365 is a perfect but overused example. However, with Teams now taking over from Skype for Business, the discussion becomes even more relevant with who can do what to bolster the native offering.
Office 365 aside, perhaps you’ve invested in a conferencing solution, team messaging application or a new contact centre. These are all considerations you need to be thinking about when shopping for a Unified Comms partner.
InterCall were long the kings of conferencing and now sit under the West UC umbrella. There are obvious questions to be asked around integration and functionality of the two solutions working together. It’s easy to forget to ask how the account management will work with different products and how much of a discount you could receive for taking another chunk of their portfolio.
It’s natural to gravitate towards Cisco for Unified Comms if you’re already using their network equipment but that doesn’t make it a given. However, if you’re using their telepresence solution then it becomes a no brainer. The great work Cisco are doing with Webex Teams becomes very appealing. Even so, selecting which Cisco partner is right for you is a process itself.
Look And Feel
As the down selection process continues, you’ll start to meet vendors and they get to show off what’s in their kit bag. A lot of core functionality across Unified Communications providers is the same. It is important that you set the agenda for the presentation, so you get to see what is relevant for your business. However, it’s also recommended that you allow some time for the vendor to wow you. I always ask for a differentiator from the competition to spice things up.
Where To End
Unfortunately, budgets come into play and pricing is crucial. Some providers have flexible licensing and they can mould their offering around your requirements. Others are not so flexible and typically have three tiers. Sometimes, the bottom tier on offer could be more than you need. Sometimes, the top tier might not be enough, and you need to add bolt ons to get to where you need to be.
Ultimately, once you’ve found the right technology, right partner and worked out how you can make your existing technology work harder, cost is king. The good news here is that, by this point, everything else will have worked itself out and you’re just a small step away from a shiny new Unified Comms solution.