Unified Communications Product Evaluation
Unified communications product evaluation is never an easy work to do. There are various floating and static factors which dictate the whole process. During my stint as a unified communications professional, I have been luckier to have worked in the UC product company, consulting positions, infra manager etc… In this article I have tried to capture my experience in this space.
Understanding the Organization
An important part of the process is to understand the organization for which the evaluation is taking place. I firmly believe that you can’t select a right product and prepare either short term or long term roadmap, if you don’t understand the organization in detail. For example, what's the business goal of the organization? How is this organization structured? How different functions or verticals within firm communicate with each other? How's the work culture regulated/maintained within the firm? You need to understand the geographic presence of the firm… etc.
Modalities of Unified Communications
Unified communications enables collaboration in different means; chat, presence, audio, video, application sharing etc. It enables collaboration between two or more than two people located at same place or different places. The participant could be located inside the network of the firm or on internet. They could also be located in a secured network within the firm. In order to evaluate a Unified communications product you should first list out the requirement of your firm. Do you just want chat? Do you want data collaboration capability enabled to the users? Etc.
Additional features are always good to know and evaluate. However, it is important to ensure that you exactly know what features you look forward to embrace for your firm first. Anything above or beyond your essential list comes second until you want to be trapped by sales.
Securities challenges of the firm
Different type of firms have different security challenges. For example, a university may have different security challenges than a financial firm. It's important to list down the security standard the company follows. Especially, how the DMZ is architected? How's authentication handled for internet users? How's media traffic being handled when publishing it to the internet users? How internal http applications is are published to internet? Etc. It's not a bad idea to have intensive engagement from security team during the evaluation process. In fact it helps a lot when you let the security team handle the product demonstrators and you play the role of a moderator.
Networking of the Firm
An optimum network is the requirement of a better unified communications experience. There is always a comprehensive involvement of network systems in successful implementation of unified communications. Hence, it’s imperative to understand the routing and switching concepts of the firm at high level. You also should bring in the context of wireless deployment in the firm. This is a major spoiler of a better UC experience, If not configured properly. It's also important to understand the network at site and inter-site level.
Interoperability & Open Standards
Historically, unified communications product from major companies have not embraced the open standards. Thus, giving us less range of devices and client to choose from. However the trend is changing a lot. Unified Communications systems with more open standard and better interoperability program are winning the race. A UC system with more open standards give option to choose wide range of devices. It gives us option to retain or reuse existing devices as well.
Feedback of the product
Ask product companies to provide case studies and reference meetings. Also, it is good to get some feedback from industry and internet without keeping the product company representative in loop.
The UC product should seamlessly integrate with existing communications & collaboration technologies or related technologies in the roadmap of the company. This increases the efficiency dramatically.
Roadmap of the Product
The product company should be asked to deliver a detailed presentation on the roadmap of the product. It's always important to ensure that your UC roadmap & product roadmap align with each other well.
You should also list down environmental factors to consider during product evaluation.