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Key Factors that Seal the Deal

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How do consultants determine the winning bid among their UC vendor choices?

We asked four telecommunications industry experts how they measure the competition. Byron Battles, principal of the The Battles Group, LLC, says his assessment list includes four components: technology, vendor reputation, proposed implementation team and financials.

Technology
"Everyone has good technology. That's table stakes," says Battles. It's how that technology meets specific client needs that is the determining factor.”

"First and foremost, we consider both the client's current and future requirements," says Sperco Associates Managing Director Diane Halliwell. “In addition, it is important to perform a gap analysis to ensure that clients don't lose the functionality that is working in the current environment."

"What do we want to accomplish?" asks Communications Intelligence Group's Chris Thalassinos. "Productivity enhancement? Collaboration? Everyone delivers something a little different. Once that's determined, the path to a manufacturer is much more clear."

"The solution must offer administrative ease," continues Halliwell. "It could be the greatest technology in the world, but if it is difficult to administer and to use, then it's not a good choice for my clients. And the technology solution’s roadmap should align to my client's future business objectives."

Vendor Reputation
Solutions and technologies are only as good as the people and companies who make them. "We look at how long the manufacturers have been in business and their case studies. Who are their references?" says Battles.

"Stability of the vendor is important," says Halliwell, who says she is looking for vendors that put significant dollars into research and development. "I'm also looking for depth of expertise within the organization."

Stephen Leaden, founder and president of Leaden Associates, Inc., points out that while some UC solution developers have internal sales and implementation teams, others such as ShoreTel work with channel partners and value-added resellers. "The decision to award a contract is manufacturer-dependant as well as strength-of-VAR-dependant," he says.

Indeed, Halliwell cites how important it is that a VAR have a tight relationship with the solution manufacturer. She wants to make sure that VARs add value to the UC deployment by orchestrating custom application development and offering superior service.

Leaden agrees. "I want to know the VAR's commitment to the manufacturer," he says.  "What level are they at with their accreditation? Silver? Gold? Platinum?  What discounts, certifications and preferred support do they receive? What's their knowledge base?  What successes have they had?"

Implementation Team
When reviewing vendor options "the partner is critical," says Thalassinos, "because the manufacturer could be stellar but if the partner can't deliver" the success of the deployment is in jeopardy.

The partner's references are even more important than the manufacturer's, says Battles, because even though the manufacturer may be the solution behind some big installations "the partner may not have done anything as large" as the proposed deployment.

"What's their ability with systems integration? Their ability to integrate with Microsoft?" says Thalassinos. "Do they have the skill set in-house? If they bring in a third party, how will their work be supported later?"

Indeed, support during and after deployment is paramount. "We want to see a certain number of certified support engineers," says Leaden. "They need the data network skill set, plus the voice skill set and they need to have contact center specialists on board."

He continues, "Our customers are multiple-site, across wide geographies. When we look for VARs we need a presence or partnership in all locales so we can hold the vendor to a strong service level agreement. I need someone able to respond to a hard down in twenty minutes, who can be there physically in two to four hours. You can't simply get someone on a plane, you need a semi-local presence."

Financial
After weighing the proposed technology's fit with the client's current and future needs, after considering the reputation of the manufacturer and assessing the depth of the implementation team, consultants and their clients consider the costs of the deployment.

The quoted price is not the only cost considered, but is the starting point for a deeper analysis. "We look not only at the initial price, and in most cases if it is a premise-based solution, we'll look at capex and leasing," says Battles, "But we also look at total cost of ownership."

Total cost of ownership (TCO) projects the cost to own and maintain a UC solution over a longer time period, generally seven to ten years.  A TCO analysis factors not only the initial cost of hardware and installation, but the solution's ongoing costs for maintenance, training and operations.

"We analyze the budgetary impact of all the platforms, whether premise-based, managed, or hosted," says Battles, citing the various configurations of UC deployments, from client owned-and-operated, to client-owned with contracted management, to the UCaaS (unified communications as a service) "cloud" communications solutions that are gaining popularity, such as ShoreTel Sky.

"Ultimately, it all comes back to the business requirements, the user requirements of the client," says Thalassinos. "Our job is to find that right combination of solution manufacturer and partner to get it done."

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Did you miss the first five blogs in this series?  Here are links to:

Our sources for this blog, members of ShoreTel's Consultant Liaison Program Advisory Board:

Byron Battles is Principal, The Battles Group, LLC and is a recognized expert in the field of Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and a Past President (2006-2008) of The Society of Telecommunications Consultants,a professional association of independent information technology and communications (ICT) consultants. He has 29 years of telecommunications consulting and industry experience in direct voice and data telecommunications evaluation, technical and project consulting, and applied market and subject research.

Diane Halliwell is a Managing Director at Sperco Associates, leading the Contact Center practice.  She has consulted in the telecommunications field for over 30 years and in the Contact Center arena for over 20 years.  She provides strategic direction for the evaluation, design and implementation  of voice systems including contact center solutions. She also identifies problematic workflows, processes, and gaps in communication within an enterprise and provides recommendations to address these issues.

Stephen Leaden is founder and President of Leaden Associates, Inc., an independent consulting firm providing specialized support to enterprises in VoIP, unified communications, contact centers, converged networks, and cloud-based architectures. A past president of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants,  he's been in the telecommunications field over 30 yearsand  is a frequent speaker at national trade shows, a contributing expert for UC Strategies.com, and a contributor to IDG and The Voice Report.

Chris Thalassinos of Toronto's Communications Intelligence Group has over 20 years experience in working with companies to strategize and realize innovative business and technology solutions. As an advisor, he focuses on project leadership, solutions development and client relationship management and guides organizations to effective deployments of emerging and converging technologies.