You're Still Buying IP Telephony
Just because Unified Communications (UC) has arrived, does not mean IP Telephony (IPT) will rapidly disappear to become a component of UC.
Just because Unified Communications (UC) has arrived, does not mean IP Telephony (IPT) will rapidly disappear to become a component of UC. Many organizations will still be struggling with the replacement of the PBX or the termination of CENTREX services. The biggest problem in selecting an IPT vendor is that most of the IPT products are about 80% to 90% the same. This means that the differentiators among the vendors are the elements that must be considered before the IPT selection is finished.The IPT landscape has migrated into a software centric set of solutions. The hardware, servers, are becoming more of a commodity, moving away from proprietary machines. The IP phones are also moving towards becoming commodity products especially SIP phones. The software is the difference. The software is also evolving with additional features and functions added every year. So selecting the right IPT fit is a software decision not a hardware decision as it has been in the past.
One differentiator is the market for IPT vendor services. Is the market:
* Domestic * North America * Vertical * Global
The choice will be specific to the selecting organization. For example, Siemens and Alcatel-Lucent are strong in the global market place but not in North America. Mitel and ShoreTel do well in small to medium size organizations. NEC Unified and 3Com traditionally pursued vertical markets.
If you are in a specific vertical market, then the experiences, features and functions of the vendor's IPT system may have a great influence on the selection. Markets do vary. For example, the K-12 market for education is quite different than the market for higher education, colleges and universities. Law enforcement and emergency services organizations have somewhat different requirements than a hospital.
Do not assume that the IPT vendor with biggest or second biggest market share is the right choice. If these were the right choice for every organization there would not be a third vendor in the market. Do not get enamored of the IPT vendor's stock price. The stock price is attractive to shareholder invertors and should not be considered in the IPT system election. With Avaya-Nortel and Siemens privately held and thus not traded, stock price comparisons are meaningless anyway.
Many organizations are not ready to embrace UC. However, UC will be part of the communications environment in the future. So look at the collaboration portfolio to see what exists and what is missing. The IPT vendor should have a comprehensive UC strategy.
How well does the offered IPT platform fit into the existing ICT environment? If there is an incumbent vendor, can some of the existing PBX and phone investment be retained moving to IPT? This could substantially reduce the IPT migration cost, especially if the proprietary digital phones can be retained rather then replaced.
When making the IPT selection, consider the following:
* The value of the solution for your organization. Look for the hidden costs, such as infrastructure, staffing and maintenance costs.
* The core features that are absolutely necessary for the organization must already exist in the IPT solution.
* Look at the portfolio extensions to ensure that the UC/collaboration features will be there when needed.
* Does the solution fit well into the organization? Will there have to be a reorganization, special training and certification?
* Is the vendor flexible in their approach?
* Do the vendor and channel support partner have the financial strength to support the implementation? * How strong is the channel partner, since most vendors now work through channels and not directly with the customer, in supporting your organization in your geographic locations?
* Does the vendor have a vision you can believe in?
One of the biggest problems is the potential bias in vendor selection. The data network people will probably push for a Cisco solution. The telecom manager will favor the incumbent PBX vendor. The enterprise application people will favor a Microsoft or IBM solution. This is difficult to overcome. Everyone wants to continue working with a known supplier, assuming that the supplier is doing a good job.
In conclusion, look beyond market share. The selection of the IPT vendor, channel partner and system solution will be creating a long term relationship. If the vendor or channel partner behaves as if the IPT system is only to be installed and maintained, then a successful long term relationship will not be produced. Get all selection participants to agree on the selection criteria and scores before the RFP is distributed. Make sure that management agrees in advance as well.Just because Unified Communications (UC) has arrived, does not mean IP Telephony (IPT) will rapidly disappear to become a component of UC.