By Louis Hayner, CSO, Alteva – www.altevatel.com
There is a variety of vendors that offer different types of Unified Communications (UC) solutions, allowing companies to reap the benefits of a new integrated and collaborative product. As a potential UC customer, what should you be aware of when looking to transition to UC and how can you differentiate between the various hosted and on premise service providers out there today? Below is a Top 5 list of questions to ask when selecting a UC provider.
1. How long have you been delivering UC?
Look for experience. Since “true” UC has only been around and deliverable since late 2008, you can’t base a provider’s experience on that alone. While three years isn’t necessarily bad for a solution to be on the market, it’s important to dig deeper and find out what a company has done before that. If they are providing hosted UC services today, did they previously offer hosted VoIP and/or MSP services? If so, offering hosted UC would be the next logical step in the evolution of that type of offering. If it’s an on premise strategy that you want, you still need to make sure that a company’s on premise experience exists. If they are just now adding hosted services, they are very new to the game.
2. How do you define UC?
As the hosted IP communications market continues to grow, more service providers are integrating more and more capabilities to traditional hosted telecom solutions. With that, there becomes a wide disparity in perceptions of what UC really is. Alteva defines “true” UC as a solution that fully integrates all different forms of communications. For example, UC integration with the full suite of Microsoft products, where an IP phone system fully integrates with your email, voicemail and OCS. UC should take your basic business based technology like your voice communications and combine that with office communications (instant messenger, video conferencing, desktop sharing, telepresence, etc.).
Today, we define UC from a platform perspective, but in the near future it will be defined by the user experience. Don’t discount a service provider just because they don’t supply the “appropriate” answer based on what you would expect from a marketing perspective.
3. Do you deliver primarily from a hosted or premise based environment?
Make sure that whatever your corporate strategy is, your service provider’s experience aligns with that. Choosing a seasoned cloud-based solution will give you access to a tremendous amount of development components that have already been proven. These pre-developed components can be easily adapted to work with any business process to get businesses integrated and realizing efficiencies in a fraction of the time and expense of what a premise based solution costs. In some instances, it might make more sense for a Fortune 500 company to maintain their own cloud, but for a small business, it’s usually easier and more affordable for them to leverage a hosted solution and have someone else handle the implementation, the maintenance and any future upgrades.
4. What if I only want certain components of UC, but I might want to add more later?
A customer concern might be how your current infrastructure and current technology deployment rates to what the service provider is offering. Many times people aren’t interested in replacing everything they have. For example, a business might already have an on-premise Exchange for email, but does not want to buy hosted Exchange – this doesn’t mean they can’t take advantage of getting hosted OCS.
Specific to selling UC solutions from the cloud, many service providers can sell these certain components a la carte today, and add other components when the company is ready to do so. This enables customers to buy what they need today and be reassured that the applications will be integrated when they are ready to use them. You don’t have to buy everything at once. You can get as little as you need, or as much as you want, when you are ready for it.
5. What would your customers say about you?
This is very important. Look for responses such as: they have a flexible and robust solution, they offer a product set that fits my company’s needs, their customer service and support is unmatched, etc. Customer service is the backbone by which any service organization should be built. It not only benefits the customer, but also employees, co-workers, clients, prospects and partners. You also want to spin this question and ask, “What would your worst customers say about you?” Having a response like, “Their platform is more conducive to the enterprise, we’re looking for a smaller based phone system,” isn’t as negative as a response like, “Our phone lines never work and when we call our provider, their customer support team takes forever to get back to us.”
It’s important to understand exactly what your provider’s solution brings to the table and how it integrates today. Be sure to do your due diligence and research the different service providers and their offerings to find the solution that will best fit your company’s needs.