As we discussed in the first of this series, finding the right cloud-based telephony system is a multistep process. In the initial post, we provided details on the first five steps:
- Step 1 – Evaluate Your Needs
- Step 2 – Decide on Cloud vs. Premises-Based Telephony System
- Step 3 – Agree on Your Decision Criteria
- Step 4 – Narrow Down Providers
- Step 5 – Issue a Request for Quotation (RFQ)
To review Part 1 in more detail, including lessons we learned in helping our Gulf Coast client plan for a migration from a traditional IP PBX to a cloud-based telephony system, click here
Step 6 – Evaluate the RFQ Responses
From our RFQ, we received four responses we then had to evaluate. In comparing the offers, we noticed a few things:
- UCaaS/CCaaS JOINT SOLUTION (meaning, a UCaaS provider utilizing a third-party contact center-as-a-service, or CCaaS, provider offering)
Three of the vendors provided telephony and contact center functionality in a single platform. The fourth vendor integrated a third-party CCaaS provider for the contact center functionality.
Advantages: The advantage of the third-party CCaaS provider was that it had the latest and greatest contact center features, including support for SMS text, advanced graphics and reporting, and advanced functionality like omnichannel routing, workforce management, CRM integrations (Salesforce, Oracle, MS SQL, etc.), scheduler, and speech and desktop analytics. The provider also billed the two services under one invoice.
Disadvantages: Two -- that is two call recorder systems to configure and administer. Two places to check for recordings (standard users on the UCaaS platform and contact center agents on the CCaaS call recorder platform). Two systems to administer -- so IT needs to learn both.
- BROADSOFT SOLUTIONS
Solutions from two of the four respondents use the UCaaS platform from BroadSoft, a Cisco company. That meant the vendor demonstrations were nearly identical. In order to narrow our list, we basically had to focus on which vendor had a better network design for reliability and call quality, as well as which vendor provided the best customer service experience.
- HYBRID SOLUTION
One of the four respondents provided a hybrid solution. At each site, it had a device which transferred local station-to-station calls without leaving the premises or utilizing Internet bandwidth. This box also provided an interface for local dial tone, as a backup, if needed. Of course, this box also presented a single point of failure because if it were to go down, then the phones at that site would go down as well.
Step 7 – Get Online Demonstration and Q&A
Next we had each of the four RFQ respondents perform an online demonstration of its various system components, including the UCaaS/telephony user interface, system administration tool, CCaaS/agent and supervisor interfaces. We also had each respondent show us its real-time monitoring and historical reports. Then, we looked at the call recorder solution. Finally, we had a Q&A session about the company, the personnel, network infrastructure, and the feature/functionality.
It was interesting to see that various providers emphasized the reliability of their infrastructure while others did not. It was also interesting to learn the number of current users each vendor had on its platform -- more than you might think!
Step 8 – Narrow to Two Providers
We decided to narrow the group of four providers down to two. This was pretty simple. One of the providers had a great solution and it had been around for some time. However, this provider had a recent change at the executive level that was now causing significant turmoil among the staff. Internal resources were starting to leave and customers were beginning to grow unhappy. This pseudo chaos could also have been a casualty to the pace of growth that UCaaS providers are experiencing. Second, I mentioned that two providers were both using BroadSoft platforms. Among those, we chose to move forward with the provider that had the strongest reliability and customer service metrics.
Step 9 – Conduct Due Diligence
Next, it was time to check the financials and client references. Many of the private providers don’t like to provide financials. However, most give way, once the client is willing to sign an NDA and the communications channel is set up between the provider’s CFO (or staff) and the client’s CFO.
Step 10 – Negotiate Contract Terms
In addition to the due diligence, we wanted to make sure we had the best pricing and we wanted to see which provider would be more flexible with its terms. There are tons of UCaaS providers fighting for market share. Startups often want to grow market share and then make their fortunes by being acquired or going public. All vendors are in a race to establish dominance, so they are motivated to win a client’s business. Keeping that in mind, we were aggressive in asking for key terms and pricing that the client really wanted.
Step 11 – Make the Decision
In the client’s eyes, the decision came down to one vendor that had a stellar reliability and customer service record and one vendor that had a solid reliability and customer service reputation, but whose product was the most attractive to its end users. The client went with the latter.
In our previous post, we shared a number of lessons we had learned through the project. Here are a few more.
It’s a Marriage – In the cloud, once you get married, that’s it (well almost)! You’re with the one you choose, for better or worse. This is a departure from the premises phone system world, where once you purchase and install the equipment, you can choose among support providers, if needed. The cloud providers would say that you could just change to a different cloud provider. But there is a ton of work in 1) vendor selection, 2) design, 3) installation, and 4) training. Lots more work! So it’s not quite the same situation.
Premises vs Cloud Feature/Functionality – We really expected that the cloud provider’s feature/functionality would be significantly less than the premises-based solutions. We were surprised to find them fairly comparable (or if not, features were on the roadmap in the six- to 12-month timeframe). While cloud providers are still a bit behind on features , they’re closing the gap with rapid speed.
The Extreme Pace of Change Muddies the Water – When evaluating your options, it’s good to know when you have found a provider with great reliability, call quality, customer service, and feature functionality. However, the market is changing too rapidly, and. the future is difficult to anticipate.
Last year, for example, UCaaS mergers and acquisitions included Cisco’s acquisition of BroadSoft, Vonage’s acquisition of TokBox, LogMeIn’s purchase of Jive, among others.
The consolidation makes it difficult to choose a provider with confidence that you’re building a solid, long-term supplier relationship.
Network Infrastructure Is an Important Issue – As with any cloud-based solution, the fitness of the client’s network infrastructure is key. Fortunately, we discovered this issue early on and were able to address it. We ended up going with a software-defined WAN solution to help meet the client’s ultimate objectives. This technology evaluation and decision, in itself, could be covered in its own article. For now, suffice it to say that the design, redundancy, vendor solution, and security are important for laying the foundation for cloud-based telephony.
Call Center vs Contact Center Platforms – In almost every case, the vendors had separate “call center” and (omnichannel) “contact center” platforms. In most cases, the contact centers were entirely new and different when compared with the original call center platform, instead of building the contact center from the original call center platform.
Pricing Gotchas – Each vendor had its own blend of unusual items that it’d charge for: cost-per-queue slot, cost-per-channel (between the UCaaS and CCaaS systems), contact center-per-minute usage fees, short-term vs long-term call recorder storage fees. It’s important to drill down into these details.
In summary, following the process of choosing a cloud provider was the easy part. Just follow the steps right? However, there were certainly many lessons to be learned along the way and finding the right UCaaS provider to meet this client’s needs was a bit tricky.
Fortunately, along with good processes, we had good industry insight, and a good understanding of the market. Admittedly, even then, it was an interesting challenge!
"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.