Selecting a Collaboration Platform in a Hybrid World
We at Weidenhammer have seen countless technological innovations evolutions over our more than 43 years in the business. Much has changed over that time, but the importance of effective communication has remained consistent. This is true in both our personal and professional lives. While the number of communication tools we have at our disposal has increased substantially, it seems at times this has led to a decrease in the quality of our communications. It is more important now than ever before that organizations select a collaboration platform that integrates the many forms of communication available to us into a single cohesive user experience. Voice, video, messaging, presence, file and screen sharing are all now key components of a modern collaboration platform. The emergence of so many options (be they point products or comprehensive packages) is empowering, but it can also be overwhelming. Here are a few things (out of many) to consider as you go through your own evaluation.
Separate point products or a comprehensive solution?
With so many different ways to collaborate these days, it’s easy to find an application that excels at one particular contact method. Using a collection of separate best-of-breed applications for voice, instant messaging, meetings, etc. is the way a lot of companies operate, sometimes by choice, sometimes because that’s just how things developed. That approach works well if there is a single, best way to communicate that stands out far above the others within an organization. If a group almost exclusively uses instant messaging, for example, it’s worth exploring the best instant messaging platform, even if the complementary tools are weaker.
If an organization has a mix of users, partners, and clients who like to communicate in different ways, or who prefer different tools for different purposes, we recommend looking for a solution that is comprehensive, integrates all of the communication technologies and applications together in a seamless way, and is backed by a provider with a proven track record in each of these technologies.
On-premises, in the cloud, or hybrid?
Traditionally, phone systems (PBXs) have been physical boxes installed at each client location. While the hardware requirements are much different than they once were, on-premises deployments were still the most popular options until very recently. These systems allow for capital budgets to be used (although financing can allow for creativity here), for the fullest and most robust feature sets, and for the maximum level of control for the buyer. On premises systems work well when all, or most, of the users are on-site, but as we all know, COVID has fundamentally transformed the way most organizations work, making collaboration a challenge. Supporting a remote workforce with a solution designed for on-prem users can be challenging to say the least. Keeping up with security patches and feature updates can become a full-time job.
Many organizations are moving some or even all their critical applications (of which collaboration is just one) to the cloud. Cloud-based models allow clients to purchase capabilities as a service, just like a power or water utility. This approach affords flexibility, a low cost of entry, and easy scalability. Cloud solutions natively support remote workers, allowing users to work at any time from any location, as long as they have a quality internet connection, making collaboration easier. Finally, cloud solutions are maintained by the provider, so you never need to worry about scheduling maintenance windows for security patches or feature upgrades.
Some organizations find themselves caught in between on-premises and cloud needs. They may have contracts on exiting telecom circuits they need to leverage. They may have regulations or policies that require certain components to be on site, they may have investments in existing hardware that has not yet depreciated, or they may want a disaster recovery option that isn’t limited by their own locations. There are options available that allow for hybrid deployments, allowing you to architect a seamless solution that leverages the strengths of both the cloud and on-prem solutions.
Endpoints – General Purpose or Purpose Built?
A common trend today is to leverage the laptops that users already have for voice and video conferencing needs. This can be a great solution as it minimizes the hardware investments required to adopt a new solution, but it also has its drawbacks. Laptops generally lack the high-quality speakers and microphones with echo cancellation found in a headset or endpoint such as a desk phone. Built-in cameras are often sub-par and may not be placed optimally to provide the face-to-face experience available with a dedicated video endpoint. Other applications running on the computer may consume resources resulting in choppy or distorted audio. Finally, users may struggle with settings to make sure they have the correct audio and video devices selected in their operating system to provide the optimal experience. For these reasons, many organizations still choose to leverage dedicated endpoints providing the best and most reliable experience for their users.
Go Direct (DIY) or Use a Partner?
Many options allow for an organization to place an order for phones and service right from a website, with a phone number available to support the buyer through the setup and configuration process. This option is appropriate for organizations with experienced technical staffs, confirmation that their network and connectivity environment are capable and prepared for real-time communication, and basic telephony needs. When used by trained personnel, this approach can save on implementation and support costs. The downside is that it presents considerable risk, and it requires considerable time and resources from the organization.
Most voice and communications systems are deployed by a certified partner. That is because telephony and real-time communications require specialized skill sets, and small errors can have big impacts. Since most organizations only deploy a new phone system every several years, it typically doesn’t make sense to keep people on staff to architect and deploy those solutions. The tradeoff with the partner approach is that there is an upfront cost to it, but if an organization has moderate-to-advanced needs and does not have experience deploying critical communications systems, using a partner is likely the best bet.
What do you do next?
Given the number of options and things to consider when choosing a collaboration solution – and the criticality of timely and effective communication to every organization – this is a decision that should be given ample weight and thought. Third-party analysts and trade publications can be helpful, and we at Weidenhammer are always happy to share our insight and experience to help you make the right choice for your organization.