Enterprises and vendors alike should recognize that a unified communication and collaboration (UCC) product will touch multiple environments, including the data network, wireless network, video systems, and information security systems. Integration with customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is also becoming common. When you throw in branch offices, remote users, and increased mobility, the effort placed on discovery, design, and planning for UCC can be overwhelming and bear a significant level of risk.
Today, potential buyers of UCC solutions can easily find information online regarding the many products and solutions. Not too long ago, customers depended on a manufacturer or VAR sales representative for such information. Today, the value the sales rep provides has developed from technology subject matter expert to an advisor who explains how disparate technology environments will work harmoniously. In order to make the most of the vendor's expertise and resources, follow the following guidelines.
Focus on the scope statement
UCC vendors and systems integrators generally develop detailed statements of work and scopes of work, also known as scope statements. Each statement serves a different purpose in the sales cycle and project process. A statement of work summarizes the general purpose of the project and defines the responsibilities between the customer and the vendor. The scope statement lays out the requirements of the UCC solutions being delivered. More importantly, the scope statement also describes the tasks the vendor will and -- sometimes more importantly -- will not provide.
Most vendors and systems integrators are not willing to invest the necessary resources to perform a holistic discovery of their customers' technology environments, at least not for free. Instead, the vendor relies on information provided by the client to draft the statement of work and scope statements. This places responsibility for accurate baseline information about the technology environment -- and the subsequent implementation -- directly on the shoulders of the client. This responsibility should move more toward the vendor, especially if the vendor has a longstanding relationship with the client or has helped build some of the foundational infrastructure for the UCC solution.
Plan a proof of concept
A UCC vendor can often provide a proof of concept (PoC) system to prove the viability of its solution within the customer's existing environment. The cost of this implementation is generally negotiable. In competitive situations, vendors are more likely to absorb the cost of the PoC deployment to gain a more favorable position with the client. Performing a PoC allows vendors to gain intimate knowledge of the customer's IT environment. At the same time, the customer may become invested in the solution and their trial deployment. The PoC serves as a way to eliminate many of the unknowns and minimizes integration risks as the solution moves toward full deployment in the production environment.
Consider cloud-based UCC
Many UCC manufacturers are providing their partners with cloud-based instances of their products. This reduces deployment costs of PoC deployments and increases the availability of solutions in a try-and-buy arrangement for potential customers. Both the speed of implementation and the reduced level of intrusion into the customers' production systems make cloud-based trials a good option. However, virtual PoCs do not address the complexity of actually integrating a solution into a customer's unique technology environment. The risk of cross-platform integration problems raising their heads in production still remains.
[Find out what makes cloud-based unified communications different from other cloud apps in our report, Understanding UC In The Cloud.]
Enterprises investigating UCC must make sure their selected vendor or system integrator has the necessary experience and expertise in practices that reach beyond UCC. Otherwise, the customer will find itself either taking on most of the responsibility for integrating other IT systems with the UCC solution or having to pay additional dollars to outside vendors. The more well-versed a UCC vendor is in all aspects of IT, the less risk there is involved for the client.