In the search to understand unified communications (UC), I found myself wading through a complex technology that spans multiple disciplines. Cloud computing added another layer of complexity, and then there were multiple vendors from each discipline to consider.
How would I access my requirements, find the right vendors, and ensure it all integrated with my business processes at the lowest possible cost? Relying on a single vendor could easily lead to a biased decision.
I recently attended a meeting of the Community of Telecommunications Consultants in Toronto. I posed my question to Wendy Swan, chief operating officer of the telecommunications consulting firm Neotelis. Swan responded:
Working with an independent consultant who is unaffiliated with any vendor is a big step towards getting an unbiased assessment of what could work for your organization. But you still need to do your own homework and make sure that the consultant understands how you work and what you need or want.
That led me to my next questions: What is an independent consultant? And what are the criteria for selecting one?
I had arranged to film a web commercial for a community planning board at the Fox Group corporate offices when these questions came up. Roberta J. Fox, the chief innovation officer at Fox Group, has a wide-ranging background in IT and consulting that includes working with AT&T, Deloitte Consulting, EDS, Hewlett-Packard, and Citibank. We videotaped some of that discussion and posted it here, so Enterprise Conversation readers can see Fox's answers for themselves.
Fox gave us four reasons an independent consultant is valuable in the acquisition process.
In-house staff may not be up to speed on current technologies.
Product vendors may not bring your best interests to the table.
Complex acquisitions require structured processes that your staff may not know.
Experience across all vendors is critical to the evaluation process.
She also said technology changes all the time, and IT departments, already burdened with keeping up with their current needs, don't have time to explore what's new.
Technology is changing monthly and weekly. Our clients are so busy supporting technology that they cannot keep up to what is going on. We spend a lot of time and money keeping up to date.
Independent consultants stay on the leading edge by constantly researching industry trends and vendor offerings. Many belong to an association, such as the Community of Telecommunications Consultants or the Canadian Telecom Consultants Association. These groups provide a forum where multiple vendors show their offerings and consultants get a face-to-face opportunity to explore vendor attributes, competencies, and product releases. They also have the opportunity to chat with other independent consultants and compare notes on various vendors and products.
In addition, independent consultants require "the ability to get people to work together, communicate, and sometimes play together," Fox said. "A lot of people think it's just about Gantt charts, timelines, and spreadsheets and emails."
A consultant who has managed multiple UC projects is likely to see the risk of a project going off the rails before it happens, and the ability to work with everyone involved can go a long way toward keeping a project on the tracks.
Fox also talked about acquiring, testing, and evaluating emerging technology and maintaining technology certifications to maintain an edge in the industry. This would naturally lead to making comparative assessments between vendors and bringing the results of that learning curve to the assessment table. "It's important to look at the skills that your people have and understand the future skills they're going to need."
In this part of the conversation, she emphasized the need for assessment and training. It is not enough to plug in new technology. The integration process must include a "people" plan. Fox said the best way to achieve this is to use online tools that allow you to map out a development plan using benchmark data.
There are 11 different attributes worth considering when choosing an independent technology consultant, she said:
Business process design
A disciplined methodology and approach to matching your business needs with an unbiased solution
The ability to analyze and compare vendor technical and financial offers within a structure RFQ/P acquisition process
The ability to help clients with technical and pricing analysis to ensure they get the right solution and support
Working with clients in vendor negotiations to ensure successful project implementation, service, and financials for the length of the vendor contract
The ability to assess and perhaps provide training to assure that technical staff can manage the new solutions
I came away from that conversation with a far better understanding of the challenges involved with complex acquisitions and where to look for unbiased support. UC offers significant operational advantages, but it remains a complex acquisition for which many companies are not prepared. An independent technology consultant is a good place to start.
When it comes to UC, who can you trust? The vendors have their own agenda, so who can you turn to? How about an independent consultant instead. They offer a lot of experience without being tied to one specific vendor. They can help meet your company's needs. Here's a look at how one consultant views the world of UC and what you company can do to improve its communications. Does anyone else have similar experience with an indy consultant? Would you recommend one or not?
One issue that is lost in our discussion of 4G and LTE is how secure these technologies are. After all, more employees are using their own devices, and businesses are relying more and more on wireless. Who’s talking about security?