10 questions to ask your potential collaboration vendors

Having a hard time deciding between collaboration vendors? Ask them these 10 questions to help you choose the right service for your business.

Part three of our four-part guide on facilitating business collaboration provides IT leaders with a list of 10...

pertinent questions to ask your potential collaboration vendors. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you choose the right collaboration vendor for your organization.

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

Questions to ask your collaboration vendor

To choose the right business collaboration products, the following list of questions is critical, and you should consider the collaboration vendor's answers when making your choice.

  1. What capabilities does the vendor offer in its solutions? Collaboration vendors typically either offer "best-of-breed" solutions that are focused on one segment of the collaboration market (i.e., voice and/or video) or on "end-to-end" solutions that cover everything from voice to social collaboration. Best-of-breed solutions may offer the most features, but end-to-end vendors can simplify integration.
  1. Who are the vendor's key partners? Vendors typically supplement their product lines through partnerships, both with other collaboration product vendors and with third-party delivery channels. Certified partners can reduce implementation headaches and increase delivery speed.
  1. What are the delivery models? Most collaboration vendors are moving away from standalone platforms running on dedicated servers and toward software-delivery models that can even support virtualization. Through partnerships or via their own offerings, most collaboration vendors embrace cloud delivery models that reduce upfront costs and allow for easier scalability.
  1. What standards does the provider support? In the collaboration world, support for open standards, such as SIP, SIMPLE, XMPP and endpoint coder/decoders (codecs), such as H.264 and G.711, ensure that you have the widest possible choice of solutions and aren't locked into a proprietary vendor architecture.
  1. What options are available to manage the solution? Management goes beyond simple configuration and tracking of changes. With real-time collaboration applications, including voice and video, you must be able to manage end-to-end performance, especially when delivering solutions that integrate products from two or more vendors. Make sure management tools extend to the desktop and mobile devices.
  1. What capabilities are there to support mobile policies? This is especially important for companies adopting bring-your-own-device mobile support models. Make sure your vendors support a wide variety of mobile devices and operating systems and that they can integrate solutions just as well on the mobile device as they can on the desktop. You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you are forcing your users to run different applications on their mobile devices for different collaboration channels.
  1. What security controls are offered? Securing collaboration applications from unauthorized use is an increasingly important requirement, especially for companies that need to enable collaboration beyond the firewall. Security controls can range from encryption to access based on identity, role or type of data. A good security capability should support real-time monitoring, proactive testing, intrusion detection and zero-day attack prevention.
  1. How does the solution integrate into existing applications? Collaboration-in-context is the key to overall success. Users should be able to access collaboration tools in the context of their day-to-day activities. One shouldn't have to drop out of an inventory management system to initiate an instant message to a supply chain manager. Instead, a user should be able to access messaging tools from directly within their other business applications.
  1. What can the provider do to help you build a business case? It's still difficult to build a business case for collaboration based on quantifiable metrics such as cost savings and increased revenue. But those business case examples do indeed exist, especially for specific verticals or processes. Make sure your providers can help you build a business case for your collaboration investment by working with you to understand opportunities for improved collaboration for specific, tangible benefits.
  1. How does the vendor support external collaboration? For most companies, collaboration isn't something that simply occurs behind the firewall. Employees need to collaborate with partners, contractors, suppliers and consultants in a manner that is not only secure, but that also doesn't limit the ability of individuals to collaborate based on what platform they are on or what service provider they are using. Look for solutions that securely federate presence and collaboration services in a secure manner and that guarantee application performance.

View the last part of this tip series to decide between collaboration services.

Dig Deeper on Unified Communications Architecture and Service Models