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Interoperation: Key to Savings, Solutions, Flexibility

You can live in a single vendor world, where your solution options and pricing are determined entirely by one vendor, or not. Interoperation is the key to the "or not" option.

But interoperation can be a confusing subject. It is easy to get caught up in the technical details and jargon thrown out by engineers (and even sales reps) from the various vendors and even from the system integrators. It is also common to hear a list of what interoperation won't do for you, but often that is a list of the vendor's most unique or obscure features, not a list of the things your enterprise needs for the actual business problem you are trying to solve.

By the way, the term interoperation relates to the function of connecting two or more components, i.e. delivering the desired result, while the term interoperability relates to attributes of the components. I prefer talking about results.

So, why pay attention to interoperation and how do you keep the topic clear and straightforward? You will hear a lot of answers to these two questions at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2013, coming up in just 4 weeks, but here's a short preview.

The reasons to pay attention are pretty solid: Net cost savings, better solutions, and business flexibility.

* Net Cost Savings: In many cases, you already own the assets you need for your required business solutions. You may already have a specific brand of video room systems which is different from the brand you are using for desktop video. You may already have a PBX with desk phones that work just fine and you don't want to replace them in order to get a new UC client for your (BYOD) PCs, tablets and smartphones. You may want to have presence indications in e-mail and collaborative workspaces that include multiple presence sources, such as desk phone status, mobile client status, and user settings, but can't find any brand that has all the pieces you need (e.g. call centers and collaborative workspaces and e-mail platforms).

In all of these cases, you can probably achieve a major savings by not replacing every system component with a single vendor's products. Sure, you may have some out-of-pocket costs to set up the interoperation and you may have some added help desk costs for certain situations, but it is likely you will have significant net savings.

You will see this in detail by attending the three RFP sessions at Enterprise Connect from which you can compare the cost of a new IP-PBX with UC or a new cloud-based IP-PBX service with UC to the cost of just keeping the PBX you already own and adding the best UC solution for your business through interoperation.

* Better Solutions: It is unlikely that you will find that only one vendor offers all the components you need for your business solutions. Or, if one vendor has all the components, it is often the case that one or more of those components represent some compromise of functionality, development roadmap, price, or support. If your team needs to deliver solutions that are best for your enterprise, you will very likely find the need, at least in some cases, to have a multiple-vendor solution that will, by definition, require interoperation.

* Business Flexibility: If you build your IT and Communications team to expect and value interoperation, you will also create flexibility for your firm. If you have a multi-vendor policy you will likely get better pricing options from both vendors. A multi-vendor strategic approach will give you options when one vendor or the other is not taking their roadmap in the directions you need. An interoperation strategy keeps the door open to innovations in the industry that probably won't justify replacing your entire infrastructure, but will need to interoperate with your primary vendors' solutions.

Interoperation planning is also likely to make it easier to extend your UC and Collaboration and Social systems into Communication-Enabled Business Processes, the latest source of high ROI for communication system investments.

If one or more of these reasons to plan for interoperation make sense to you, then you will likely be pleasantly surprised as you look at the options. Even though they don't promote interoperation, most IP-PBX and UC and Collaboration vendors do offer standards-based interfaces to their products. Sure, you may spend a bit on systems integration, but we know from the successful history of contact centers that the system integration investments can deliver major benefits and ROI. Also, you will find that an increasing number of the more common points of interoperation are already well documented or packaged as an add-on feature or third party module.

Finally, you can take comfort in the wide range of gateways and similar hardware appliances and software modules which will provide interoperation even when the vendors aren't cooperating; sometimes, gateways even provide more function and flexibility at lower cost points even when the vendors are cooperating.

In summary, there are lots of reasons to embrace interoperation and very few reasons to be buffaloed if you encounter vendor resistance. I hope to see you at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2013 and look forward to talking with you about interoperation.