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UC Decision Making: Requirements or Politics?

It may be just coincidence, but it seems to be the political season for both UC and the U.S.A. Here's the situation: After about 9 years of Unified Communications product development (the first Gartner UC Magic Quadrant was in 2003), almost all the vendors can claim to have a functional UCC solution. When the solutions are described in sales presentations, at major conferences such as Enterprise Connect, and in written RFPs, they all sound pretty much alike.

But like politics, sorting through all the claims and making a good decision requires understanding what the product and system integrator (or candidate) can and will do to address the specific requirements which you rate as the most important. Lack of clarity on your requirements will definitely leave the future up to a lot of chance, very likely with costly surprises and major disappointments.

Thus, it is critical to have your requirements clear before you go shopping for UCC solutions. It is important, too, that the management team be in agreement with those requirements and their relative importance to the business. Make sure this includes management beyond just the IT community of telecom, infrastructure and applications. It may take some effort, but future success and economic efficiency depend on getting the time with business management to have them understand the dramatic business improvements which are possible with UCC and then to participate in making the prioritizations on which your technical requirements will be based.

Here are some steps to take to make this happen:

1. Study your enterprise's strategy. You may be part of a business enterprise with goals of global growth, or of increased Internet interactions with customers and suppliers, or of major efficiencies and cost savings through reductions in travel, facilities or workflow complexity. You may be part of a public sector agency with goals of cost containment, or increased citizen self-service, or redefinition of mission and scope. Whatever the case, look for the changes your organization seeks to make in the next 5 years. Pay careful attention to those changes which will require or can benefit from improved communications technologies.

2. Understand the new UCC functions. New functionality is the basis for almost all technology-based operational improvements. UCC presents a menu of about a dozen new functions from which you can choose when designing improved solutions as suggested in step 1. Get to know the UCC menu so you can explain the leverage points to your management teams.

3. Design the UCC-based solutions, including estimated benefits. Using the information from steps 1 and 2, lay out the possible UCC-based solutions for improvements to productivity, workflows and operations, in concert with your management teams. Estimate the benefits that will be available when the solutions are in place.

4. Prioritize the available UCC-based solutions. This should be done based on the strategic importance from step 1 as well as the relative return from the benefits identified in Step 3. Also, note which employees will need to use each of the new solutions in their daily roles. In many cases, only a subset of employees will need some of the more advanced (read expensive or complex) UC functions.

5. Create your prioritized requirements list. Use the list of UCC functions needed and the priority of the solutions from step 4 to compile a prioritized (or weighted) list of necessary requirements.

This step by step approach will produce a much clearer picture of your UCC requirements than just a list of how many stations, trunks and features are on the current PBX. If that's the list of requirements, then it's a sure bet that the new UCC system will be another PBX--maybe with a new name, new brand or a few new UCC features, but very unlikely the set of functionality needed to deliver new benefits to your organization. In many cases, you will be able to meet your UCC requirements without replacing the current PBX--a much less costly approach as we learned from the Enterprise Connect 2012 RFPs.

Now, back to politics. As George Harrison paraphrased Alice in Wonderland, "If you don’t know where you're going, any road will take you there." Exactly. Without clear requirements, any vendor's presentations and promises can be interpreted as meeting the needs. Then the UCC decision process becomes a political battle between departments, managers and sometimes even executives.

With clear requirements, your RFP or RFI can ask the vendors to specify all that is needed to enable the new UCC-based solutions, including all of the customizations and integrations, installation, and support costs. We can assure you this will make the technology and services choices crystal clear.