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Hiring a UC consultant can bring guidance or grief

Smaller businesses or even larger enterprises that don't have the time or know-how can hire a UC consultant to help make those first steps down the UC trail less lonely.

A seasoned telecommunications engineer might not have to hire a contractor to replace an aging PBX, but what happens when the CIO utters that phrase that makes one's eyes cross: "unified communications (UC) strategy"? Engineers who don't have the time or know-how can hire a UC consultant to help make those first steps down the UC trail less lonely.

"With almost everyone I talk to who's done a recent UC deployment, if I ask them if they could do something again in their deployment, the most common thing they say is, 'We would get more help up-front,'" said Zeus Kerravala, a distinguished research fellow at Yankee Group who also does consulting work.

In a recent survey of the purchasing intentions among readers, 44% of respondents said their organizations lacked the expertise to implement UC projects in-house, and 68% of respondents acknowledged that they needed to learn more about unified communications.

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"[UC applications] are unlike any application most network managers have dealt with before, and there's only a couple ways to get that experience," Kerravala added. "I always maintain you should never do your first UC deployment on your own."

Enterprises usually overlook or underestimate the non-technical aspects of planning and deploying unified communications projects, which is where a UC consultant can help IT departments, according to Roberta J. Fox, president and senior partner at Fox Group, an independent telecom consulting firm based in Mount Albert, Ontario.

"It's not as simple as putting in a circuit," said Fox, who was recently engaged by a client to navigate a six-vendor-deep, two-year UC deployment. "This is more business consulting than technical architecture."

Experience with UC consultant services can range

But not every UC consultant story has a happy ending. A network engineer from the Mid-Atlantic region, who spoke on the condition his name and employer would be kept anonymous, said his team's last attempt at using a vendor's UC consultant services for a VoIP project became a waste of time and money.

"To be blunt, it was awful. We knew nothing about Avaya's product line but still knew more than the [consulting arm of a Fortune 500 technology company]. They would literally show up with an Avaya worksheet and start filling in the blanks," the engineer said. "We would have received better service hiring a cement block."

We knew nothing about Avaya's product line but still knew more than the [UC consultant].... We would have received better service hiring a cement block.  
Network Engineer in the Mid-Atlanic region,

The team is evaluating VoIP solutions again and decided to revisit Avaya, the engineer said -- though dealing with them directly this time.

"This reinforced our view that consultants and resellers that try to sell technical services are generally not worthwhile," the engineer said. "On the contrary, we have had terrific experiences working with engineers for the actual vendor, and [we] try to cultivate those relationships with prospective companies."

Enterprises can choose to hire a third-party UC consultant or work with a vendor, service provider, local value-added reseller (VAR) or systems integrator. Each offers a different value, Kerravala said.

"A lot of it depends on the customer base. I think the network operator may try to push you toward managed or hosted paths, and if that's what you want, then that's fine," he said. "I'd only use a local VAR if he had a lot of references and [if I worked for] a smaller company. For a Fortune 500, go with a [systems integrator]."

Verizon Business recently beefed up its UC strategy to sell and manage not just the connection over which voice over IP (VoIP) traffic travels but also the UC consultant services that go into drafting the business plan, measuring the return on investment, and implementation and integration into business processes.

Verizon will offer prospective customers 15 to 20 "standard templates" to help determine the size and scope of project and identify where they need assistance, according to Mike Holtgrefe, senior consultant of UC&C Consulting Services at Verizon Business. From there, he said, it's a custom fit.

"We're finding customers are really struggling with finding a partner that can address the entire spectrum of services in all of the areas that things can touch -- not just in core communication, but in collaboration, voice, video, etc.," Holtgrefe said. "We see a lot of the best practices companies are going through, and we think we have a really unique perspective to help customers come up with an unbiased solution."

Although Verizon Business sells products and services that it could recommend to customers over competitors, Holtgrefe said there was a "maybe 5% to 10%" overlap and that competing against its channel is "a rarity."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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