The vast array of options for hosted or cloud-based unified communications (UC) systems confuses many IT decision makers. To help them sort out the options, communications-technology market analysts at Infonetics Research engaged in some useful fakery. The company issued a request for proposals (RFP) to cloud unified communications (UC) providers for two companies that don’t exist. The goal: assess the responses and provide context on “the complications or ease in evaluating a cloud UC offering,” the company wrote in a white paper documenting findings from the exercise.
The research firm’s bogus buyers differed in size, enabling Infonetics to consider solutions for distinct market segments. The smaller business had 310 users in three offices, and a contact centre with three supervisors and 15 agents. The other fake enterprise had 765 users in 17 locations, and a contact centre with eight supervisors and 35 agents.
The researchers invited a number of cloud UC companies to answer their RFP and then judged the providers’ responses on price, features (unified messaging, mobile client functionality, web conferencing and others), and access to services such as application integration. Infonetics also requested information relating to regulatory compliance, service-level agreements and disaster recovery scenarios.
So what does the imposter experience tell us about shopping for cloud UC services? Three things: The market is strong. Costs range widely. And buyers should compare more than prices.
Plenty of choice
A number of providers participated in Infonetics’ experiment, including a regional network services provider, a national network operator, a cable operator and a pure-play UC firm. This impressive turnout tells us companies have plenty of choice when it comes to the types of providers in the market. Such abundance makes it more likely that purchasing managers will find a partner offering the right mix of products, prices and culture to address their needs.
Bids for the smaller business with 310 employees ranged from $7,000 to $9,600 per month, plus fees for network access, which could be a factor in the final cost. “Smaller sites might be able to run the voice over existing broadband connections, but the larger sites would likely require data access to handle necessary call volumes,” Infonetics wrote in its white paper. Bids for the larger 765-employee company were between $26,000 and $31,000 per month, plus network access charges. Organizations of this size have a big choice to make: “Part of the decision comes down to whether a business prefers a higher monthly expense or a larger one-time capital expense,” Infonetics wrote. One-time costs for solutions for the larger firm ranged from $1,200 (to lease phones) to $238,092 (for a new network to support the UC services.)
Look past the price
Infonetics saw first-hand what many IT buyers already know: comparing cloud UC offerings is tough. “The responses were highly varied… in how the packages were presented and the components included.” Some solutions came with network services. Others included the IP phones in the monthly charges. Some built in long-distance calling and others didn’t. Even when service providers compete with ostensibly similar products, comparisons are challenging. Infonetics recommends emphasizing aspects other than price to conduct a proper assessment. “Customers need to value other capabilities such as UC features, QoS guarantees, conferencing options, business application integration and international support.”
The fact that cloud UC is feature-rich means the technology has grown into a genuine alternative to on-site unified communications systems. For organizations that prefer the cloud to in-house platforms, that’s good news—for real.