Melissa Swartz | No Jitter | April 9, 2014
Of course, the answer is: It depends. Here are a few of the factors you should weigh in making the judgment.
As a consultant, I am often asked, “Which system is the best?”
That’s kind of like asking “Which automobile is the best?” The answer, of course, depends on what you need it to do. Do you need great gas mileage, or to carry a lot of stuff (covered or uncovered?), or hold a lot of people? Will you be driving off-road? Do you need speed? The list goes on.
While most of us could probably come up with the right ways to distinguish our transportation options, it’s not so easy to do when considering choices for communications technology. For that reason, it’s very important to understand the needs of your organization before you start trying to compare options. A solid needs analysis up front can prevent a lot of wasted time and indecision later.
Here are some things to think about when trying to find the best solution for your organization:
What Kind of Architecture do you Want?
The options fall into some major categories:
1. Premises, Hosted, or Hybrid? While the sales in the hosted environment are quickly increasing, this solution is not for everyone. This question deserves serious consideration, and it’s beyond the scope of this article to address it properly. A good start would be to read this article from Dave Stein summarizing the recent Enterprise Connect RFP.
2. Centralized or Distributed? This applies mostly to organizations with multiple sites tied together. Do you want an architecture with a centralized “brain” that can be located in a secure data center with a controlled environment, backup power, and high-speed internal connections? Or is it better to have processing capability at every site, so that when there is a failure in a WAN connection, the site can still process calls? There are cost ramifications for each decision, as well as call routing options that will be impacted by this choice.
3. Best of Breed or All in One? With an All-in-One system, there are fewer struggles with integration between various capabilities. On the other hand, Best-in-Breed solutions are often designed to integrate with other systems easily and can provide superior feature capability, if this is needed. Again, if you understand your requirements, it is much easier to decide whether you need special capabilities.
4. What Level of Resiliency and Reliability do you Require? How much does it cost your organization to be without communications? Can you get by without voice mail for a while? Do remote sites need full backup, or can you tolerate some downtime? Which resources need backup? How much and where? The answers to these questions can have significant cost implications both in terms of solution acquisitions and ongoing expenses.
What Level of Complexity do you Need?
This question has two parts:
• Do you have users who will benefit from productivity tools such as Presence, Collaboration, and Mobility? These features can really change the way people work. But not everyone can put them to full use, and there’s no point in spending money on these capabilities if they are not going to be used. Most solutions allow you to license these capabilities as needed so that you only pay for what you are using.
• How much complexity can your staff reasonably support? Do you have the in-house expertise required to support these productivity tools or the money to pay for outside expertise? There is a lot of variation in the marketplace in terms of available support plans, ease of administration (both in terms of number of separate admin tools required and the ease of use for the tools themselves), and the level of expertise required to support a system.
In our typical RFP (Request for Proposal), we ask how many servers are needed to support the specific configuration, and the responses typically range (without a contact center component) from 1 to 4 servers for the same configuration. This is just one illustration of the differences between systems.
Do you have a Contact Center?
A complex contact center has many requirements of its own that are not shared by other users. The questions listed above about system architecture are also important considerations for a large or complex contact center.
In addition to those questions, you must understand specific contact center requirements such as on-hold treatments, reporting, call recording, workforce scheduling and adherence, and call analytics. In addition, many contact centers are integrated into databases via IVR systems, and support multiple media types (voice, email, chat, etc.). And of course, most contact centers are essential to the organization and must be totally reliable. All of these components must be factored into the ultimate decision.
Does Your System Need to Integrate with Other Systems or Applications?
Some systems are more open and standards-based, while others are still somewhat proprietary under the hood. Since all claim to be standards compliant, it is important to check references and look hard not only at the manufacturer’s capabilities in this regard, but also at the expertise of the business partner you are buying from. Buying a Rolls Royce will do you no good if the supporting organization can’t change the oil on it.
In Terms of Using Technology, is your Company Leading Edge, Middle of the Road, or a Straggler?
As in every industry, some manufacturers are leading the way with a vision of how to enhance the way that people work. Others follow these trends pretty quickly, offering similar capabilities at a slightly later time. Still others provide enhanced capabilities more slowly. You will be frustrated if your leading-edge company is trying to work with a solution from a manufacturer who is behind the industry.
These questions point out the complexity of the decision when replacing communications technology. For most businesses, this technology is essential for operation; it’s way more than “just another application on the network.” You can find consultants who specialize in this technology at www.SCTCconsultants.org to guide you through the process.
This column was originally featured on No Jitter as part of the contributors column “SCTC Perspectives,” a weekly post written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC). The SCTC is an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.