Apr
17
2014

Key Questions to ask a Potential UC Vendor

There are a multitude of things to consider when mapping out a plan for UC, and it’s very easy to get bogged down in the technical details and implications for your network. If that doesn’t demand your full attention, you must also get out from the weeds and look upwards to what management is expecting from UC. You could well get very primed for all the great capabilities UC will bring, but if you can’t make a solid business case, it probably won’t get past the great-idea phase.

These are two big levers in making UC a reality for your company, but there’s a third element that sits squarely with IT and will require just as much due diligence. If all UC solutions were created equal, it wouldn’t matter much who the vendor is, but we all know that’s not the story here. So, for the next few posts, I will set aside issues of technology and ROI, and focus solely on the vendors.

Given UC’s broad scope, this may be a bigger challenge than you realize, and to address that, I’m going to examine some key questions about the vendors and what you need to be looking for. The best way to understand certain things is to focus on a motive, and that’s where this series will begin.

Question #1 – why is the vendor offering UC?

Before answering this, you have to consider two basic types of vendors. The primary group are those coming from the telephony space, either legacy or VoIP. These vendors dominate the market, but there are also vendors who are outsiders to telephony, and have different reasons for offering UC.

The core vendors are offering UC not because they want to, but because they have to. They won’t tell you this if you ask them, but when it comes to evaluating vendors for UC, you have to consider their motivation. If most vendors had a choice, they would prefer to remain in the IP PBX business simply because it’s a known quantity and the profits are attractive. After all, the technology was developed ages ago, so they’ve been in harvest mode for a while and don’t see a good reason to change horses.

UC, of course, is that good reason and the way forward is pretty clear. While the status quo is easier, there are trends bigger than telephony carrying everyone into UC. Until recently, no IT decision maker was asking for UC, let alone knowing what it was. As such, UC has been largely supplier-driven, and you could argue that vendors are the only ones who really know what UC is about.

In short, if they don’t shift from phone systems to UC solutions, their survival will be in doubt. Many of these vendors have built up huge installed bases with loyal customers for decades, and they cannot risk losing that by sticking with phone systems. The ranks of standalone phone vendors are thinning, with Aastra’s move into the Mitel fold being the latest example.

With this perspective in mind, here some questions to help you gauge the nature of their motives for offering UC, and just how capable they really are for meeting your needs.

  • How long have you been developing your UC solution?
  • To what extent is your value proposition built around telephony/voice, as opposed to multimedia collaboration?
  • Have you developed new TCO-related metrics for the UC business case, or is it based on more on conventional ROI-style parameters?
  • What has been the trend in your sales growth of UC versus phone systems?
  • What is your 3-5 year roadmap for how your UC offering will evolve?
  • Are you focusing more on premise-based UC or cloud-based solutions?
  • How interoperable and easy to deploy will your solution be in my environment?
  • What segment/size band of the business market are you targeting with UC?
  • Can you share reference accounts and UC success stories that my business can relate to?
  • How are you developing and supporting your dealer network/channels for UC?
  • What is the state of your partner ecosystem, especially for UC applications?

To a large extent, these questions would also apply to vendors from outside the telephony space. These offerings will be more Web-based, with some companies being household names and others being much smaller. I’ll save that analysis for another time, as the core group of vendors represents the leading players you’ll likely be dealing with.

As this series continues, some of the above questions will get an expanded analysis, but we really need to start with the question of why. You’ll have a pretty good sense of that with questions listed above, and these will no doubt lead to others. My advice would be to ask as many questions as needed to reach a good comfort level. Once you’re there, you’ll be ready for the rest of this series.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/key-questions-to-ask-a-potential-uc-vendor/

Apr
09
2014

Going Offline – another Sign You’re Ready for UC

In case you didn’t have enough reasons already, I’ve got another one here to close out this series.  Over the past few posts, I’ve examined various scenarios – clues, really – that tell you your business is ready for UC. A common theme across this series is the idea that you’re not likely to come to this decision in a vacuum. The UC value proposition is too new and fluid for most IT decision-makers to grasp out of thin air.

Of course, the vendors will spare no effort to tell you why you need UC, but if you believed everything they said, you’re probably better off working for them than trying to run a network with way too many moving parts. While the UC vendors are definitely improving their messaging, they are highly motivated to push UC into the marketplace, so it’s incumbent on buyers to make informed decisions that are right for the business.

As you should know by now, UC doesn’t fix something that’s broken, or replace something you already have – it’s additive, and you have to understand where it’s going to fit into your environment. This means you have to make an effort to understand where it adds value, how it streamlines workflows, why it can make employees more productive, when it will have an impact – and not least of which is making IT’s job a little easier. With that last idea in mind, here is your next clue:

Sign #5 – employee use of offline applications is out of control

While UC is very much about making employees more productive, IT still has to support it, and that has several implications. Since you’re already using VoIP and your employees are likely spending more time working on screens than via the IP PBX, it’s safe to say you’ve moved on from the legacy model of command-and-control.

This assumption may not be true if you think VoIP is a step down from TDM, and that the network better serves the business when IT has control end-to-end. Times have changed to the point where that’s no longer possible or practical, but the other extreme poses a different set of challenges.

With the combined rise of VoIP, the Web and mobility, end users simply have too many touch points that are beyond IT’s control. One can correctly argue that the PBX worked so well because employees were end users and nothing more – for every savvy employee with a good idea, there are many others who do more harm than good and waste IT’s valuable time sorting out simple problems.

Clearly, this is a risk management issue, and IT has to make decisions that serve the greater good. Thinking about UC, however, there really are two factors at work here. First would be the technology changes cited above; all of these shift the balance of power for network utilization from IT out to end users. Second, however, is an interrelated trend in the form of demographic change.  As the workplace gets younger, Millennials bring a native sense of tech-savvy that is often ahead of what IT can deal with.

Their experiences in the consumer world have conditioned them to believe they can – and should – have total control over their online activities, and those expectations have carried over into the workplace. Part of this is a sense of entitlement that comes with Millennial sensibilities, but another part has to do with their always-on lifestyle that blurs the lines between work and play. Whether employers like it or not, they have to go along with this to a point – otherwise they’ll never be able to attract and retain quality talent.

Defining a reasonable accommodation here is a slippery slope, but it’s fair to say that for many businesses, offline activity is way beyond their comfort level.  While you have to allow some degree of personal time communication at work, there’s a bigger concern when work is getting done this way.  When employees are using the likes of Google and Skype for work, these sessions are beyond your purview. Whether it’s for voice calls, chat or ad hoc video conferencing, these forms of work are taking place without any direct connection to the tools employees use everyday under IT’s watch.

I’ll leave the Big Brother angle for another time, but in this context, it should be easy to see the appeal of UC. The vast majority of offline applications that employees are using for work can also be done under the UC umbrella. All UC solutions can support various forms of native Web-based VoIP, chat, video, etc. While changing habits isn’t easy, by getting employees to work this way, IT gets total visibility into how they’re working.

More importantly, employees will work more productively since they’ll now have all their work tools integrated with these applications. Conference calls will be easier to run, files will be easier to share, and employees will have more tools to collaborate with.

This is just a high level picture, but it should be enough to show how things would be better for both employees and IT if that offline activity could be shifted over to a UC environment. Getting people to change their behavior is a topic unto itself, but for purposes of this series, I hope you can see why this can be a driver for adopting UC.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/going-offline-another-sign-youre-ready-for-uc/

Apr
03
2014

Collaboration – another Sign You’re Ready for UC

If you’re an IT decision-maker, chances are your investments in communications technologies are network-centric. In other words, the priorities are inside-out, whereby you first do what’s best for the network and your overall IT environment. After all, your budgets are probably getting squeezed and you have to find ways to operate more cost-effectively. Not only that, but you’re being asked to deliver more and keep pace with all the data-hungry applications that are placing heavy demands on your network.

All of these things make IT a very challenging job, and your preference no doubt would be to only deal with new technologies having a clear purpose and benefit, as well as being easy to deploy on your network. In most cases, UC is none of these, so it really wouldn’t be your first choice for the next investment.  To whatever extent you’re familiar with UC, you probably wonder about how it can really benefit the business, and are likely aware of the challenges often faced integrating these solutions into the network.

This post is a continuation of a series where I’ve been examining various factors that tell you when your business is ready for UC. In some cases, I’ve shown how the clues can be both clear and strong, making it fairly easy to connect the dots. For the most part, I’m assuming you have a working knowledge of the UC concept, but still have lots of questions as to whether it’s good for your business. UC isn’t something businesses normally go out and buy – the vendors typically have to educate the market and show where and how it adds value.

Sign #4 – an outside-in mandate from management

The above likely describes how UC has shown up on your radar, and there’s nothing wrong with that. This means the vendors are doing their job and helping to diffuse the latest technology. This is a good time to mention that these vendors weren’t selling UC a few years ago, as most of them were in the phone business. As such, they have a vested interest in educating the market to make sure decision makers like you understand their evolution and that they’re well positioned to continue serving you with something better than a PBX.

A big part of doing that involves a common focus that UC vendors have embraced – collaboration. Again, vendors weren’t talking about collaboration a few years ago, but they sure are now. For selfish reasons, they know the PBX is in terminal decline, so reinvention is necessary. Instead of focusing on personal communications – which is how PBXs are generally used – the shift is on to communications that support groups and teams.

Collaboration has certainly gotten the ear of management, as they understand the changing dynamics of the workplace. As noted in my last post, decentralization is a key organizational trend, and related to that is the fact that employees are increasingly atomized. Not only are they widely dispersed across multiple locations and geographies, but they’re also constantly on the move. Team work is essential in a knowledge-based economy and conventional tools cannot do the job.

For a challenge of this scale, management prefers simplicity to a complex solution, and this is where UC comes into the picture. The name alone conjures up the answer they’re looking for, and once they make the connection that better communications begets better collaboration, UC rises up the priority list pretty quickly.

While not quite a “thou shalt” decree, if and when management decides collaboration is now a driver of business strategy, it stops being a technology issue.  You’ll know that the business is ready for UC when management tells you instead of asks you. At that point, IT’s role will be to find a suitable partner and implement UC as fast as possible.

While one could argue this takes the pressure off IT to get management buy-in for UC, it also takes ownership away from IT. Regardless of whether you have long been lobbying for this – or are just getting tuned in after the fact, this will be management’s decision and management’s glory. If it goes well and productivity rises, they’ll look good to their board and/or shareholders. Even if you’ve been advocating UC for ages – IT will take the hit if things don’t go well. Management can take the high road and say they had the right idea, but the vision was undermined by a poor implementation.

This is where a little knowledge can be dangerous, and IT should pay close attention to the tea leaves. Management can easily fall in love with an idea, and to protect yourself, as soon as you hear UC drums in the distance, you need to be proactive and insert yourself in the thought process. Otherwise, you risk being at the whims of management who will not likely have a clue about the complexities around UC.

As such, you need to keep your ears up about the need for more/better collaboration. There’s no reason why UC cannot be an inside-out process where IT identifies this as a solution to enable the collaboration that the business clearly needs. However, if you miss the clues, UC will be outside-in, and even if you get it right, it will never be your UC.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/collaboration-another-sign-youre-ready-for-uc/

Apr
03
2014

Part 3: Channel Partners – 10 Reasons to Recruit ADTRAN’s ProCloud Wi-Fi

As the final post to a 3-part blog series validating what I’ll label as “over the top” partner-value of ProCloud Wi-Fi, let’s now direct our attention to the final three, of the promised 10 reasons (see ProCloud Wi-Fi Part OneProCloud Wi-Fi Part Two) ADTRAN’s ProCloud Wi-Fi is unequivocally the best channel solution to build a wireless practice around. With a guaranteed 99.99% uptime and proactive 7×24 monitoring, ADTRAN’s “no worry” managed, business-class Wi-Fi service will be the best business decision you’ll make in 2014. Why? Because you’ll quickly discover how easy it is to become a leading wireless infrastructure expert in your respective market(s). Drum roll please; here we go – and the final three of the ten incredible reasons that ProCloud Wi-Fi is the absolute best channel partner solution for wireless infrastructure are;

  1. ProCare Help Desk; ADTRAN is the only managed wireless infrastructure provider to offer channel partners a round-the-clock, 24×7 help desk service on behalf of your customer, or your customer’s customer or guest when they’re experiencing wireless connectivity issues. If your customer wants to direct guests and clients to a “first response” help desk for wireless connectivity and usage questions, but neither you nor they have ample resources or manpower to staff one, then ADTRAN’s ProCare Help Desk is a perfect solution.  As part of our award-winning ProServices portfolio, resellers can address hospitality, education, retail and other SMB sectors to capture new revenue opportunities and improve end-user satisfaction by offloading help desk support to ADTRAN.  Another opportunity to think of ADTRAN as an extended part of your team!
  2. Scalability; with no hardware controller to worry about on the customer’s premises, ProCloud Wi-Fi is the perfect “no-worry” managed vWLAN IaaS in response to customer BYOD challenges. You’ll never have to be concerned about customer scalability as the user control and network management software operate in the cloud – thereby, the virtual controller doesn’t have to be on the same LAN as the APs – making ProCloud a great solution for a distributed network environment spanning across multiple locations. Simply deploy the necessary access points and point them to our managed cloud service and you’ll recognize a significant decrease in TCO and resource requirements.
  3. System Management & Reporting; I know what you’re thinking; “Hhhmmm, if ADTRAN is managing the customer’s wireless infrastructure in the cloud, why would they promote system management and reporting.” Great question and you’re absolutely correct; ProCloud Wi-Fi is a managed cloud-based (wireless) Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) with a guaranteed uptime of 99.99%.  ADTRAN manages, ADTRAN monitors, ADTRAN responds to alerts, and ADTRAN consistently evaluates system reports. However, at your discretion as the solution provider, you have access to ProCloud’s performance dashboards to also monitor the customer’s wireless environment in real time. Coupled with that, and if you so choose, you can create multiple customized reports (as they’re dynamic) to present perspectives of the wireless network in its current state or reflecting historical trends.

And there you have it, ten (10) extraordinarily unique and important channel partner reasons (benefits) which validate ADTRAN’s ProCloud Wi-Fi as the world’s leading wireless infrastructure solution for channel partners and end user customers alike. In review, they are; (1) Simplicity, (2) Quicker Market Response, (3) Disaster Recovery, (4) Unmatched Security, (5) Partner Cloud, (6) Freedom to Migrate, (7) ADTRAN’s ProServices, (8) ProCare Help Desk, (9) Scalability, and (10) System Management & Reporting.

Collectively, they’re why ProCloud Wi-Fi is the preferred wireless infrastructure choice of channel partners and carriers throughout the globe.

Learn more about ProCloud:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ap86AVHV90c

http://www.adtran.com/web/page/portal/Adtran/wp_products_services

 

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/part-3-channel-partners-10-reasons-to-recruit-adtrans-procloud-wifi-2/

Mar
30
2014

A Critical Oversight Amongst UC Solution Providers; Ignoring Wireless Infrastructure

Inevitably, a solution provider will call me to share their opinion of ADTRAN’s ProCloud Wi-Fi; a “no worries“, business-class wireless infrastructure service managed in the cloud. If I were to isolate the conversations of those who had little to no wireless experience in the past (prior to implementing ProCloud), the predominant perspective is, “that was easy”.  While the remaining channel partners who’ve learned from The Wireless School of Hard Knocks (with other vendors) are undoubtedly convinced that no other provider is able match ADTRAN’s value proposition.

Another perspective heard from either channel segment is one of what I’ll refer to as solution uniformity. What I mean by solution uniformity is choosing to carry complementary line-cards in order to avoid the appearance of a miscellaneous smorgasbord of technology offerings.  As an example, it might appear rather random if a reseller carries a portfolio of two-way radio solutions and then adds an Oracle line card to the mix. Typically, and please correct me if I’m wrong, the effort is to maintain a cohesive solution portfolio which provides a greater degree of synergistic value. “Ok, but why is that significant?”

It’s relatively important because in the context of solution uniformity and evaluating wireless infrastructure as a unified communications reseller, it plays a role in customer satisfaction – something that’s near and dear to us all. As I attempted to explain in my last two blog posts regarding ProCloud Wi-Fi; ProCloud Wi-Fi Part One and ProCloud Wi-Fi Part Two, the customer experience ultimately transcends what the channel partner initially promoted; ease of use, simplicity, security, market response, disaster recovery, choice of services, freedom to migrate, and ADTRAN’s ProServices. This in turn prompts a high customer satisfaction rating as the customer’s expectation is then exceeded.

Yet, I’ve spoken to a number of Unified Communication (UC) resellers who aren’t necessarily convinced that WLAN belongs on the same palette as UC or contact center. The dichotomy of this perspective is that wireless infrastructure, albeit different, shouldn’t be excluded from the UC portfolio as the customer could very well perceive the experience to be one and the same.  Particularly if you consider Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) solutions from vendors like ShoreTel, Mitel or others as they extend UC functionality out to mobile users. With FMC functionality such as VoIP over Wi-Fi or automatic handoff (between cellular and Wi-Fi), resilient wireless infrastructure is paramount to integrate smartphones or tablets with enterprise UC applications. It would be fairly irritating for your customers to experience poor in-building Wi-Fi coverage when cellular services can’t be attained, yet still be relied upon for mobile UC functionality such as presence, collaboration, or conferencing.

When it comes to mobile communications, UC resellers should invariably consider wireless infrastructure synonymous with UC deployments.  In addition, a subtle reminder that certain UC vendors use customer satisfaction (rating score via customer surveys facilitated by a 3rd party) as a criterion for program benefits, i.e., additional discounts, accreditation badges or levels, support, etc. If so, you certainly have a vested interest in establishing the best wireless infrastructure experience possible. And that’s where ADTRAN comes in.

If you’ve traditionally thought of wireless infrastructure as a peripheral or passive sort of offering in the market, it may behoove you to rethink its place within your line card portfolio, considering the wide array of solutions that are dependent upon it: Mobile UC, RFID Wi-Fi asset monitoring, physical security (IP cameras), or any number of enterprise software applications enabled by tablets (iPAD) that aren’t registered or capable of receiving cellular data services. It could have far greater implications than originally thought.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/a-critical-mistake-amongst-uc-solution-providers-ignoring-wireless-infrastructure/

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