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Consultants Grade The Vendors

This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Business Communications Review

Members of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants (STC) and the Canadian Telecommunications Consultant Association (CTCA) recently participated in a survey designed, distributed and analyzed by TEQConsult Group. The survey’s primary objective was to determine how leading enterprise communications system suppliers compare with each other based on the experiences and perceptions of telecommunications consultants. This year’s survey is a follow-up to the consultant survey as reported in BCR January 2007.

The STC is a not-for-profit organization made up of independent telecommunications consultants based in the U.S.; the CTCA, as its name implies, is composed of independent telecommunications consultants based in Canada. The STC and CTCA both provide forums where telecom consultants can discuss and share their experiences and encourage educational opportunities that will ensure the advancement of their profession. Telecommunications suppliers and distributors are associate members of each organization and work closely with the consultants for the betterment of the industry.

The two professional organizations are self-regulating, with a strict Code of Ethics, and require applicants to have several years’ industry experience before they are considered for membership. An important membership criterion is that consultants must be independent, and not have ongoing fiduciary relationships with telecommunications equipment suppliers and distributors that could influence advice provided to their clients. Membership in the STC or CTCA signifies that a consultant maintains a current perspective on industry events and is an active participant in the industry’s future direction.

Survey Results

There were 58 survey participants, all with extensive industry experience. The consultant experience distribution is as follows: 57 percent have more than a quarter-century experience; 31 percent have 15–25 years’ experience; and 12 percent have 5–15 years’ experience. The survey participants were not novices.
The list of suppliers graded in the survey is made up primarily of STC Vendor Advisory Council (VAC) and CTCA Supplier Liaison Council members with a complete portfolio of enterprise communications system products and application options. The vendor grading scale for survey questions was:

  • Weak (1 point)
  • Fair (2 points)
  • Good (3 points)
  • Excellent (4 points)

    A score of at least 2.5 should be considered satisfactory; below a 2.5 score indicates a high number of Weak–Fair grades from the consultants. More detailed grading results are currently available to STC and CTCA members only, but a report will be available for purchase at a later date.

    Not all participants fully completed the survey, and for the vendor grading questions there was an option to check “No Answer” if the individual believed their lack of experience/knowledge for a specific vendor did not warrant a response. For this reason, the number of responses varied per vendor by survey question.

    A few general observations before presenting the results:

  • There appears to be a high correlation between vendor prominence (as measured in market share and revenues) in the domestic market and the survey’s consultant grades for vendor consultant programs, support capabilities and product offerings.
  • The domestic enterprise communications system market leaders run the strongest consultant support programs (Avaya, Cisco, NEC Unified, Mitel, Nortel, and Siemens) and generally received the highest grades and number of consultant responses.
  • In some instances, vendors with relatively weak consultant support programs, or no formal program, received far weaker product grades than they should have based on actual technical and feature capabilities.
  • Avaya received the highest grades in four of the five product categories, and was an extremely close second in the fifth category, but ranked much lower in the two services/support categories. In contrast, Cisco’s product grades were not as strong, but their two services support grades were superior. Is this one of the reasons why Cisco has now replaced Avaya as the domestic PBX market leader based on line shipments?
  • Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Aastra did not fare well in the survey, despite strong global market presence. Each has miniscule U.S. market shares and consultant support services that have not measured up to their strategic competitors.
  • 3Com’s lack of a formal consultant program, until very recently, likely played a role in their receiving weak/fair grades across the board for all vendor-related questions.
  • Toshiba’s long-term strength in the small systems market does not appear to have translated well with the consultants. This is likely due to low consultant activity in the small line-size market segments that Toshiba focuses on.

    Consultant Liaison Program (CLP)

    The first question posed to the survey participants was to grade the consultant programs of enterprise communications system suppliers based on their experiences and perceptions. NEC Unified received the strongest grades, edging out last year’s survey leader Cisco. Kudos must be given to Larry Kollie, the sole member of the NEC Unified CLP. Kollie is more than holding his own against other programs staffed with several individuals, such as Cisco’s, Nortel’s and Avaya’s.

    Speaking of Avaya, they may be the largest global enterprise communications supplier (based on revenues) and the long-time domestic market leader, but their grades relegated them to an also-ran sixth place finish in this category, consistent with last year’s ranking. Avaya’s failure to name a new program director for many months after its previous director left the company earlier this year may have been a factor for its barely satisfactory overall grade (or maybe it wasn’t).

    Also, ShoreTel’s CLP grade of 2.39 may not look impressive until one recognizes that they did not have an in-house CLP manager until shortly before the survey. 3Com, too, did not establish a formal program until recently, but still ranked ahead of Ericsson’s place at the bottom of the rankings.

    Vendor Support

    The rankings and grades for the next survey question concern a vendor’s ability to support and satisfy consultant needs. Results here were consistent with those for the CLP question. NEC Unified and Cisco received the highest overall grades, followed by the other market leaders Nortel, Siemens, Avaya and Mitel. Avaya’s support grade was greater than its CLP grade, but they still placed fifth. A few of the lower-tier vendors need to significantly step up their game if they want to maintain a competitive market position, because they are dangerously close to the absolute bottom of the grading scale.

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