Kevin Kieller
Kevin Kieller is a partner with enableUC, a company that helps measure, monitor and improve UC and collaboration usage and...
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Kevin Kieller | February 22, 2016 |


Success with Skype: How to Evaluate Your Options

Success with Skype: How to Evaluate Your Options Not only do you need to determine the best features for your enterprise, but also build consensus around the choices.

Not only do you need to determine the best features for your enterprise, but also build consensus around the choices.

As I mentioned in my recent post, "Success With Skype: Knowing What You Need," in the last year Microsoft has loaded up Skype for Business, nee Lync, with many changes, improvements, and significant new options. While having more choices is good, it does make for more complicated evaluations. In order to move forward efficiently, you need a process for evaluating all the available options and making a recommendation as to which are best for your organization.

In this second article in my "Success With Skype" series leading up to Enterprise Connect, coming March 7 to 10 in Orlando, Fla., I will give you a strategy on how to evaluate your options. If you are planning to attend Enterprise Connect, consider this and the other articles in this series as pre-reads to help you get the most from my session, "Succeeding with Skype for Business: Decoding the Cloud, Licensing, and Hybrid Options." If you are unable to attend Enterprise Connect, these articles should help improve your chance of success.

Evaluating Your Options
Once you have defined and documented the objectives of your UC program, you then need to evaluate the available options in order to determine the best fit for your specific organization.

To be successful, the evaluation process needs to fulfill two key goals:

  1. Determine a good solution choice
  2. Build consensus around the choice

Note that I intentionally focus on finding a "good" solution as opposed to identifying the "best" solution. A good solution is one that has a high probability of delivering on your documented business objectives. Keep in mind that the value a solution delivers is based on choosing wisely and executing well. Often you won't have enough information during the evaluation phase to rank one good solution better than another good solution. In these cases, it is more important to identify the multiple solutions that would meet your business objectives than to try and figure out the absolute best solution; you may have multiple paths to success -- and this is a good thing.

Building consensus through the process is necessary if you hope to have the traction necessary for moving forward with the solution choice. Organizations that fail to gain cross-departmental consensus often make recommendations but fail to implement any solutions; sadly, they seem to repeat this process year after year.

I have had a high degree of success facilitating a transparent "pros and cons" process in order to achieve both evaluation goals. I use a template that looks something like this:

The evaluation process proceeds as follows:

1. Identify several viable solution alternatives (these are inserted in the columns).
I typically evaluate between three and eight options. More than this is unwieldy. If you evaluate fewer options, someone may question your thoroughness. I regularly include "status quo" as an option; exploring whether to keep things the same often helps uncover pain points with the current state and can crystallize potential benefits associated with new options.

The options you evaluate can be solutions from different vendors or different flavors of one solution. For example, evaluating on-premises Skype for Business versus Microsoft-hosted Skype for Business versus Skype for Business hosted by a third-party provider is frequently relevant. Options could also be different integrations -- for example, Microsoft + Cisco via SIP or Microsoft + Cisco via "call via work" or Microsoft + Cisco using CUCILync. (Off topic: I have not seen good success with many of these multivendor mash-ups.)

I typically enforce a rule that only available options be evaluated. Evaluating the next version is problematic because most vendors claim the N+1 version will fix all existing deficiencies and in reality this is rarely the case.

2. For each option, focus on material differences, where one solution is decidedly better or worse in a particular area.
Depending on the comparison and the business objectives, I may add different evaluation criteria as rows. For instance, if cost savings was a key project objective, I would add a row labeled "Cost savings" and then evaluate each option. These evaluations could be quantified (for instance, Option 1 will save $1 million over five years and Option 2 will save $1.5 million) or relative (option 2 is expected to save 50% more over five years). If all options are expected to save a substantially similar amount of money, then do not list savings as the difference as it is not materially a pro or con for any solution.

Examples of specific criteria I have used in the past include:

  • Level of internal expertise with solution
  • Estimated total cost of ownership (TCO) over five years
  • Speed of implementation
  • Support for Apple laptops (many executives at one organization used Macs)
  • Ease of use
  • Ease of administration
  • Support for remote users
  • Multilingual support
  • Alignment with solutions used by key partners and suppliers

(To re-emphasize, you need to align the evaluation criteria with your business objectives!)

Avoid listing features that all solutions possess. The template is meant to identify differences. Every pro can be stated as a con. It is not necessary to list a "pro" for option 2 as "less expensive" and a con for option 1 as "more expensive." In general, cons are often more important to identify than pros.

3. Review and discuss the pros/cons with a wide variety of team members.
Encourage debate and discussion and be open to adding new pros or cons, respecting the rules above.

These discussions are often where team members develop a better understanding of the various options and where consensus emerges. It is OK if you need to agree to disagree. For instance, if you can't reach consensus on which solution is easier to use, either you can omit this as a difference, or you can flag a couple of options as "Potentially easier to use." This serves to visibly document a point of non-agreement.

4. When the team is convinced you have captured all the material pros and cons, look for the solution that has more positive rankings, or fewer negative rankings.
Often a single solution bubbles to the top.

Ideally the team should vote on the options with the goal of identifying one as the team's recommended choice. Occasionally, when you have no clear winner, you might need to flag two options as "Recommended."

Special cases include a situation in which no option is notably better than the status quo. In this case, you need to do more research before proceeding on your UC journey. Similarly, if all options are rated equally, then you likely have more work to do. Sometimes each option would provide you with measurable business benefits; however, it is unusual for three of four options to be equally rated; normally this is an indication that you will need to undertake further analysis and debate.

I use the above process to help select a solutions platform, and then continue to use it to evaluate and build consensus related to supplemental choices, such as headset or desk phone selections.

Evaluating your solution options using a methodical and transparent process aligned with your business objectives helps drive UC projects forward. Building consensus during the evaluation process will help assemble a team that is more likely to implement and execute well.

For more insight on how to succeed with Skype for Business, please consider this a personal invitation to join me at Enterprise Connect 2016 when I host the "Succeeding with Skype for Business: Decoding the Cloud, Licensing, and Hybrid Options" session on Tuesday, March 8, at 1:30 p.m. Register now using the code NJPOST to receive $200 off the current conference price.

And, watch for my next article in this series, coming soon, on how to assemble an implementation team that can succeed.

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