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Nothing Simple about "Simplified" UC Licensing

Nietzsche was dead wrong when he said "Out of chaos, comes order."

At least that is my experience as a communications technology consultant for 20 years. In this business, "Chaos breeds more chaos."

For example, I continue to be mystified by the licensing programs offered by the major Unified Communications vendors. At a recent vendor conference, a slide was presented with the new "Simplified" licensing model. And while it may be better than the previous model, my first reaction was to laugh, as I thought they may be pulling our collective legs. There was indeed nothing simple about it, as the simplified model still required an entire slide and a complicated matrix to analyze the different options.

Nearly all of the UC vendors have rolled out similar "new and improved" models which end up leaving end users scratching their heads trying to figure out who needs what.

The UC vendors have done a great job promoting UC, if not over-promoting the promise it can bring. They all position themselves as no longer traditional PBX companies--but often, that is what they end up selling: PBX features instead of UC features.

If the promise of UC is that great, and you are a UC vendor, then why make the UC features optional in the first place? And why make things so complicated for your customer? I would theorize that the complication drives sales--but UC sales have been sluggish to say the least. And future projections show only modest growth over the next 5 years.

The underlying problem with the current models is they all assume the following:

1) The customer understands the differences in the licenses
2) They understand the needs of their users
3) They can quantify that need into corresponding license counts
4) They can determine the ROI of something they have never used before and that may take years to penetrate the company

This doesn't even take into account the difficulties in comparing proposals from different UC providers. Nor does it address trying to communicate those items to the executives who are making the final decision.

So where does that leave us? Well, for now, we have to figure out a way to live with the current world, as I don't see it changing anytime soon.

Below are some tips on figuring your way through the current licensing mess:

1) Start with the business. Understand the current issues and problems and begin a rough estimate of the scope that UC needs to address.

2) Develop a budget based on #1. Don't get hung up on grouping them by category yet, but figure a total cost to address all licenses.

3) Don't treat the UC license budget as optional. If your intent is to buy a true Unified Communications Solution, they aren't optional.

4) Simplify the "Simplified" pricing model yourself. For example, rather than trying to segregate advanced users, mobile users, teleworkers, road warriors, and standard office users, put them into 2 groups--basic and advanced--and license accordingly.

5) Request trial access to all UC applications and functions, experiencing them through the full range of licenses. There is only so much you can glean from a pricing matrix--and a hands-on evaluation is the best way to understand the nuances of the different licenses.

Hopefully, a after a few more "simplifications", we will get to the point where UC is no longer a complicated licensing ordeal, fraught with complexity and added expense.

Remember, there once was a time we had to pay a license of sorts to use touch-tone service, so I remain optimistic that UC licensing will no longer be an option in the future, but will be the standard license for all solutions. And we will look back on this period of chaos and shake our heads.

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