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 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 that when considering choice 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:
- Premise, Hosted, or Hybrid? While the sales in the hosted environment are quickly increasing, this solution is not for everyone. This question deserves serious consideration. Check out the articles here, here, and here for more information.
- 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 controlled temperature, 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.
- 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.
- What level of Resiliency and Reliability do you require? How much does it cost your organization to be without communication? Can you get by without voice mail for a while? Do remote sites need full backup, or can you tolerate some down time? What resources need backup? How much and where? The answers to these questions can have significant cost implications both in terms of solution acquisition 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 that 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 a variation in the marketplace in terms of support plans available, 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 to other systems or applications? Some systems are more open and standards-based, while others are still somewhat proprietary under the hood. Since everyone claims 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 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 their operation; it’s way more than “just another application on the network.” As consultants who specialize in this technology, Swartz Consulting can guide you through the process of finding the best solution for your organization.
to start the process for your organization!
We would be well-served to learn from lessons of the past and include an evaluation of a provider's financial stability during the buying process for hosted services.
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