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How to Untangle Complexity: Tips to Avoid Vendor Lock-In

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Not everyone thinks vendor lock-in is bad. Some even think it’s a great idea. Of course, those are mainly the vendors doing the locking in.

Most IT groups are wary (and weary) of getting locked into a single vendor’s technology where the cost of replacing it is so high they're forced to overpay for upgrades and maintenance.

Often, vendor lock in can result in a lack of incentive to innovate or offer even reasonable customer service. And the customer quickly loses any power to put pressure on the vendor to make things better.

If you’re thinking about upgrading your communications system and want to avoid vendor lock-in, here are four tips that will help.

Tip 1: Do your homework

Depending on the technology you’re purchasing, vendor lock-in may be tough to avoid, but if you take the time, you’ll almost always find a proven solution or set of integrated solutions offering the same (or better) features.

Likely, you'll also find the same level of performance for a lower upfront cost or, even better, a lower TCO and faster ROI.

Tip 2: Look at smaller alternatives

It’s the nature of the beast. As vendors gain market share, their mindsets change.

The focus is less on delivering value and more on increasing revenue from each customer.

As long as their solutions are proven, smaller vendors can offer a number of benefits, including greater innovation, more features for less money, and extraordinary customer service.

They also tend to work with technology partners, so their focus is on open standards and a high degree of integration with other best-of-breed solutions.

This is just the opposite of vendor lock-in. By purchasing standards-based solutions, you will always be free to replace those from vendors that jack up prices, stop innovating, or let their customer service deteriorate.

Tip 3: Price out different options

Take your time. Determine the upfront and long-term costs and assess the full benefits. Pay close attention to TCO numbers. Don’t fall for a low upfront price that will cost you more in the long run. Ask a lot of hard questions:

  • Does the vendor offer a TCO tool that can accurately measure upfront and long-term costs?
  • Does the vendor offer a lowest TCO guarantee that uses independent third-party data to compare the actual costs? Will it lower its price to beat a competitor?
  • Does the vendor offer free software upgrades?
  • Can a non-technical user manage moves, adds and changes (MACS) for an entire multi-site deployment from one location?
  • Does the system offer least-cost routing and support for primary rate interfaces (PRIs) to eliminate toll charges for calls between geographically diverse sites and reduce the number of leased lines that need to be deployed at each site?
  • Is the system energy efficient?
  • Is the system easy to learn, minimizing the time and cost of training new users?

Tip 4: Take an inventory of your most important needs

Make sure you understand what capabilities you need today and which ones will be valuable in the future.

Also consider whether you need to deploy the system everywhere at once, or if you would benefit from an incremental deployment.

Then find a vendor that supports the deployment strategy you develop. Beware of the vendor that keeps trying to sell you more than you need, that warns you how much more expensive it will be to add new capabilities later, and indicates a vendor more concerned with its bottom line than your needs.

Vendor lock-in is painful and it isn’t necessary. If you’d like to learn more about ShoreTel’s open, standards-based solutions and best-of-breed partner ecosystem, contact your local ShoreTel reseller.