Melissa Swartz | No Jitter | March 11, 2015

Get your requirements in order and know what questions to ask before you sit down for your next UC product demonstration

In my No Jitter post last week, I talked about the importance of the product demonstration from the vendor perspective, explaining how a demo can make, or break, a deal. Today I’m flipping the table, taking a look at the production demonstration from the enterprise perspective.

As part of a product selection process, many organizations ask top contenders to demonstrate their systems. Should you happen to attend such a demonstration for communications technology, do you know for what you need to look? It’s best to be prepared so as not to get lost in any fluff.

Before the demonstration, ask yourself what issues you expect the new system to address. Do you need better collaboration tools? Are mobility options important to you? Answering these questions up front will help you stay focused during the demonstration. Once it’s over, you need to be able to answer this question: Does the system meet your needs?

Who’s Doing the Demo?
During the demonstration, make note of who is on the demo team. If it largely comprises vendor personnel, this could indicate that the channel partner pitching the solution does not have a lot of internal expertise on the product. This is something you will want to know, so ask about your partner’s experience with a product during the presentation.

Who on the team actually demonstrates the capabilities? Does the team call on “experts” to demonstrate different capabilities? If so, this could indicate that the solution is complex.

Product demonstrators often make the systems seem very easy to use by skipping explanations of all the steps they take to show features. Don’t hesitate to make a demonstrator slow down or ask for a step-by-step explanation. You don’t want to find out that a crucial capability is hard to use after installation.

Make sure you understand how the system integrates with other key applications, such as Outlook or, as applicable. Many of the UC capabilities that can increase productivity are worthless if users don’t utilize them. Users are more likely to adopt capabilities that integrate with tools already in use (and are easy to use).

Do all of your users have the same requirements? If not, how easy is it to customize the system to meet different needs? Again, seeing this as a step-by-step process helps when evaluating ease of use and comparing different options.

How does the solution support mobile users with cell phones and tablets? Does mobility require a separate app? If so, does that mean additional licensing fees? How easy is it to use? Will your users really pull up the app before making a call? Is any additional hardware or software required to support these capabilities?

Is everybody using Windows, or is your organization supporting Mac users as well? Is there any difference in system capability for them? If so, will this be difficult to support?

Don’t forget the main call answering position, either. Sometimes these users have complex requirements and they may need special capabilities. Make sure that the system will meet their needs as ambassadors of the organization and first impression makers.

It’s easy to focus on the system’s features and capabilities, but it’s important to remember that the team installing the system must be competent and available. Ask who will be installing the system and how they will go about it. They should have a plan for gathering all of the information needed to program the system and coaching you through the process. Be sure to discuss the number of people who will be on hand immediately following installation to iron out any issues.

How will your partner provide training? Will it hold training classes for the users, or will it use a train-the-trainer methodology? Do your users need a lot of attention, or will they learn on their own?

Demo Depth
Here are some additional considerations for the technical and support staff:

  • Be sure you understand the solution’s architecture, including number of servers required and who provides them. In addition, you’ll want to know whether the servers can be virtualized, how survivable they are, and how outlying sites will be connected.
  • How will the system provide accurate location information to 911 first responders?
  • Will the same team that does the system installation also provide ongoing support? If not, who will? How skilled and available is this support team?
  • How will the support process work? Have the demonstration team explain the process from report of problem by user to its resolution, including how problems are reported, how ongoing status is provided, time frames, and the procedure for escalations. Also find out what isn’t included and costs associated should extra support be required.
  • What troubleshooting and problem diagnosis tools does the system offer?
  • What is the process for adding to the system after installation?

At the end of the demonstration, ask yourself the key question: Does the system meet your needs? Note the strengths and weaknesses of the system you just saw so that you can compare them to other demonstrations and make the best decision for your organization.

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.

No Jitter provides daily commentary and analysis of the enterprise IP telephony, unified communications, and converged networking worlds, with unique access, insights, vigilance, energy, and reputation, which allow it to generate vibrant content daily. No Jitter strives to be the leading online community for the exchange, debate, and incubation of ideas and best practices regarding enterprise communications and collaboration. It is produced by the same people who run Enterprise Connect, the largest conference/exhibition in the U.S. devoted exclusively to enterprise communications.

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