Selecting the right UC consultant

Finding a UC consultant is not easy. Anyone can style himself a consultant, but the title itself does not reveal much, if anything, about what the person actually does. Is he just providing programming services, staff augmentation or technology consulting? UC has not been around that long, nor have there been that many implementations of a complete UC suite of functions and features. Most enterprises have implemented a piece such as unified messaging (UM) or some conferencing service or mobility solutions — rarely the whole menu.

The qualifications for a UC consultant go beyond knowing technology because UC crosses several technological boundaries, and knowing one technology does not translate into knowing the others. The technology knowledge and experience should include:

  • PBX features and functions
  • VoIP and IP telephony
  • Voice, video, Web and data conferencing
  • Instant messaging (IM)
  • Softphones
  • Call centers

Another factor is the vendor landscape for UC products. There are several UC vendors and types:

  • Legacy PBX
  • IP PBX
  • Converged PBX
  • Third-party software
  • Microsoft
  • IBM
  • Middleware

Each of these vendors offers one or more products of varying capabilities and calls itself a UC vendor. A UC consultant should be familiar with all of them because each enterprise’s starting point for moving to UC differs with different incumbent vendors. The UC consultant should also be familiar with desktop software and technology such as Google, Yahoo, WebEx, Citrix, and so on.

The real difference in UC consulting is the consultant’s understanding of business processes. UC delivers user productivity improvements. It is not a cheaper way of doing today’s business, nor will it save on long-distance charges. The primary goal of UC is to make users more efficient in their use of time. The UC consultant should understand the business processes of the customer.

The UC consultant should be able to see how the customer’s business works and offer changes through the use of UC that will promote a more competitive enterprise and eliminate delays in supporting internal operations and the enterprise’s customer support. Knowledge and experience with call centers is beneficial, since the call center productivity goals are the same as the goals of UC.  UC systems will integrate with other enterprise applications such as SAP, and Siebel products. Knowledge of these applications and how they would be used with UC is also important for the UC consultant.

UC services will be accessed through a Web portal, another piece of knowledge that a successful UC consultant needs. Many of the UC users will be mobile, with a range of devices: BlackBerrys, PDAs, laptops and smartphones. The operation and limitations of these mobile devices will enhance or limit the distribution of UC capabilities.

The UC consultant needs to understand that UC does not benefit all of the enterprise staff equally.

Those less likely to benefit from UC are:

  • The stationary desk jockey
  • Lower-level personnel
  • Possibly a majority of the employees

Those most likely to benefit from UC are:

  • Those who use the phone or messaging often
  • Traveling and/or mobile users
  • Executives, sales, call center, consultants, financial, team leaders/members, distributed work groups, and IT

Not every communications consultant is a UC consultant and, in conclusion, finding consultants who are vendor neutral can be a difficult task.