With the rapidly changing world of information technology—BYOD, consumerization of IT, new software versions, updated hardware, fluctuating bandwidth requirements, shadow IT—organizations are constantly trying to find the best way to stay on top of and manage budgets and resources. During those conversations, it is inevitable that outsourcing and cloud, hybrid or on-premises models come up for debate.
Selecting a unified communications partner is not as life altering as, say, finding a soul mate on The Bachelorette, but the decision can be just as thorny and will have significant impacts on your business. Considering that less than one-third of small and medium-sized businesses that contract IT providers are satisfied with their service, finding the right match is harder than it seems.
Here are five questions any organization should keep in mind when evaluating potential Unified Communications (UC) providers, or reassessing their current firm:
1. How well do they understand our business challenges and goals?
A UC provider that works exclusively with enterprise clients may not have a solid grasp on the unique pain points or needs of small businesses, and vice versa. That lack of understanding can lead to project friction, delays and half-baked product implementations later on.
A firm that has a solid grasp of your current business processes and challenges and where you want to be in one, five or 10 years will have an easier time navigating your company’s regulatory and operational landscape while putting together a solutions roadmap.
2. Does the firm accommodate a variety of UC channels and vendors or just one?
If your company is devoted to Cisco hardware or collaboration tools, it might make sense to partner with a provider that exclusively implements and maintains Cisco products. But in the event of a merger, acquisition or IT preference change, some businesses may want a provider that’s well versed in different vendor platforms.
Similarly, check out how many types of conferencing options a potential provider accommodates. Your company may only be interested in web and audio conferencing now, but choosing a provider that also offers mobile and video services gives you flexibility in the future and could prevent a painful migration to a new provider.
3. What value-add services do they offer?
Any provider you choose should know the ins and outs of UC implementations, system integration and maintenance. That said, it’s important to learn about any additional, even nontechnical services the firm offers its clientele.
Providers that deliver consultative support (e.g., strategic IT rollout planning or user adoption training) go beyond the solution provider mold and often become true business partners for their customers.
4. How often does the firm innovate or add new offerings?
When weighing your options, try to gauge how often each provider refreshes its products and services. A firm that stays on top of trends in conferencing, voice networks, IT security and mobile technology—and adjusts its portfolio accordingly—is better positioned to help customers access the latest and greatest solutions.
A capable partner should educate your staff about new communication technology features and benefits, not the other way around. Innovation can be both revolutionary and evolutionary—a good partner should be innovative with battle-tested solutions as well as cognizant of and offering the newest shiny object.
5. Will the firm benefit—or burden—your in-house resources?
Companies seek out UC service providers to eliminate internal IT staff’s stress and minimize their workloads, not to add frustration. Look for firms that offer 24/7 managed services or helpdesk support, which can dramatically reduce the time your people spend troubleshooting.
During the selection process, be candid about what your organization expects from the relationship (e.g. daily or weekly updates, monthly reporting, in-person meetings) to filter out providers that aren’t equipped to meet your expectations.
Any other tips you’d recommend for vetting UC providers? List yours in the comments section.