Collaboration services: Decision criteria and sealing the deal

This guide looks at the key criteria for choosing business collaboration services and final factors to consider when selecting a vendor.

In the fourth and last part of this guide on facilitating business collaboration, we look at the key decision criteria

when choosing collaboration services. Here, we analyze collaboration delivery models, support options, product functionality benefits and final factors to consider when selecting a collaboration vendor.

As we noted in part two, business collaboration architecture types and vendors, collaboration isn't a single product. The trick is to pick the best products in a variety of technology areas and integrate them with each other as necessary and with your data center's legacy and other business systems. To create this collaboration architecture, Nemertes Research recommends the following five-step process:

  1. Evaluate where you are today: What systems are in place? Where is your equipment in terms of depreciation? What is most in need of replacement in the short term?
  2. Develop short- and long-term requirements: What are users asking for that you aren't providing? How are work locations changing? What is the impact of wireless and mobility? Do you need to support desktop virtualization? What compliance and security requirements affect your technology decisions?
  3. Evaluate vendor roadmaps: What are vendors delivering that you haven't thought about? How are your current vendors adapting to trends?
  4. Analyze the gaps: Can you support short- and long-term requirements? If not, in what areas do you need to invest?
  5. Develop the roadmap: A roadmap is not a project plan, but a high-level list of milestones that you need to reach in order to transform your collaboration environment.

Table of Contents

Part 1 - Assessing business collaboration benefits

Part 2 - Business collaboration architecture types and vendors

Part 3 - Questions to ask your collaboration vendors

Part 4 - Collaboration services: Decisions and final factors

Picking collaboration vendors involves looking at a variety of solutions. Rarely will a single vendor offer a solution that covers the entire range of collaboration applications. Larger companies like Avaya, Cisco, IBM and Microsoft offer a wide breadth of services and solutions -- including instant messaging, unified messaging, Web conferencing, voice and video -- and use partners to extend their portfolios where necessary. Smaller, "best-of-breed" vendors offer collaboration services and solutions targeted to areas like social computing, video, contact center and mobility.

Given the market landscape, one of your fundamental early decisions in crafting a collaboration strategy is determining whether to use a best-of-breed or single vendor/strategic partner (only using third parties when the primary vendor doesn't offer a solution of its own).

In a best-of-breed approach, you pick the best possible vendor in each technology area by evaluating each individual application on its merits -- including features, ease of support, interoperability and cost. In a single-vendor approach, you try to standardize as much as possible on one platform or product family to establish or maintain strategic partnerships, reduce integration concerns and/or simplify management, even if there are some feature tradeoffs compared to the best-of-breed approach. Licensing considerations drive the decision to stick with a single vendor, whereas reliability and feature considerations lean toward a best-of-breed decision.

On-premises vs. cloud collaboration services

In addition to evaluating specific vendor roadmaps, you'll want to cast a wide net for different types of collaboration solution vendors. One hot area in the market today is cloud-based collaboration services, in which a vendor delivers the application via a mobile or desktop application, or a Web portal for a fixed per-user fee; all back-end infrastructure and administration is managed within the provider's own data center.

Cloud-based offerings support ease of startup, the conversion of costs from capital to operational budgets and the ability to take advantage of accelerated roadmaps for new feature deployment. Many cloud vendors add features weekly or monthly with minimal disruption, whereas on-premises vendors may release new software updates only a few times a year. Cloud services may offer an easier path to external collaboration, either via federation with public services or through managed intercompany connectivity offerings.

The biggest caveat to cloud-based collaboration services is typically support, especially for real-time applications where the cloud provider may lack insight into endpoint performance or the data network. Another is cost. Nemertes finds that for applications like voice, there is a point where cloud-based services become more expensive than "roll your own," and the monthly per-person cost exceeds the cost of up-front investment and ongoing maintenance.

Even if you don't go to the cloud, you'll need to evaluate the role of managed services in providing implementation and ongoing support. Managed service providers (MSPs) often use their experience to address interoperability issues that would take a great deal of time for an IT staff to solve. More than 70% of firms currently use MSPs for all or part of their communications and collaboration management and operations.

Sealing the deal: Final factors to consider for your collaboration service

To create a successful collaboration architecture, answer the following questions:

Where are you on the technology curve?

Do you want to deploy the latest and greatest technology for competitive gain, or do you prefer to deploy more established technologies? Each approach carries risk. Your answer will depend on your overall attitude toward technology and your ability to balance risk with potential gain.

Should I use on-premises, cloud or managed collaboration services?

Where should the applications live? Who should manage them? This isn't an all-or-nothing decision. Most companies integrate a mix of on-premises, hosted and managed collaboration services as part of their overall collaboration strategy.

What are the costs and benefits of your technology?

Are there clear benefits to the collaboration technology? Is a business case required? What business processes can you improve? Your answers will depend on your ability to translate your technology investment into tangible business benefits.

How do I support VDI and/or mobility?

Evaluate competing products on their ability to deliver solutions that support a growing variety of endpoint options.

How do I get there from here?

How can the collaboration solutions you are buying for tomorrow integrate into what you have today? Do you favor a rip-and-replace or gradual migration?

Learn how to better understand UC with these SearchUnifiedCommunications.com resources.

This was first published in July 2012

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