Unified Communications RFP design models and best practices

The authors who produce the unified communications (UC) Request for Proposal (RFP) all have different starting points, experiences, knowledge and goals. Who writes the UC RFP will affect the document content, the objectives and the vendors that will be solicited. The UC RFP will be influenced by existing platforms, software and IT staff.

There are three possible unified communications RFP models:

  • Building on an IP telephony system
  • Pursuing a desktop-application approach
  • Evolving from an enterprise-applications environment

The model selected will bind the requirements, affect end-user productivity and determine how the unified communications solution integrates with business processes and limits possible vendors.

This is not to say that one model is better than another. What is important to understand is that any model will emphasize some UC features and values over others, so the list of potential UC vendors is likely to be biased toward the model selected.

The three models are based on different platforms on which UC applications are built. Among the three UC RFP models, most of the end-user productivity values are similar — in some cases identical. And each of the models appears to converge on a very similar set of business-process capabilities, even though the models’ directions may seem divergent.

IP telephony-system model

Platform

In this case, the IP PBX is the building block and foundation of the UC deployment. It is also assumed that Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) capabilities are part of the IP PBX solution. CTI will be used as the mechanism for integrating with IT systems and servers.

IP communications features

The best protocol to use would be the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). SIP is becoming the de facto interface among communications and IT systems. Computer Supported Telecommunications Applications (CSTA) operates as a layer above SIP for telecommunications control functions in support of CTI. The IP PBX should also have interfaces and links to cellular and Wi-Fi phones. It is very likely that Unified Messaging (UM) will be part of the solution whether UM is part of the IP PBX or operates on a third-party server.

End-user productivity

The most probable capabilities for this model are:

  • Presence knowledge and control for the caller and called parties. (View this a primer on presence and unified communications for more information).
  • Instant Messaging (IM)
  • Conferencing and collaboration features
  • Automated call management
  • Mobile device integration and support
  • Screen pops

This is not an all-inclusive list but is presented to illustrate the important elements of this model.

Business-process support

The ultimate goal of most enterprises and vendors is to enhance the business processes of the enterprise through productivity improvements. This includes:

Desktop application model

Platform

A likely platform candidate for the desktop model is Microsoft’s Office Communications Server (OCS) plus the Office Communicator software. IBM’s Sametime software is a major competitor to Microsoft’s OCS. Smaller software vendors may also have viable software solutions. Since these software solutions do not define specific hardware, the enterprise may already have the necessary hardware platforms. If, for example, an enterprise already licenses Microsoft or IBM software, this would bias the selection of the UC solution toward the installed vendor — Microsoft or IBM.

Desktop applications

This model approaches the applications through a Web portal or PC client. The endpoints will be both desktop and mobile devices, especially mobile data devices. One or more CTI connections would link to either TDM or IP PBXs. Speech and speaker access would be supported through the desktop and mobile devices.

End-user productivity

Communications capabilities similar to the IP telephony approach will enhance user productivity, including:

  • Presence
  • Click-to-call and conference
  • Directory calling
  • Incoming screen pops
  • User call control
  • Multiple messaging features (email, IM, voicemail, UM)
  • Enhanced mobile applications
  • A unified interface for the Web portal, desktop and mobile devices

Business-process support

With the same goals as the IP-telephony approach, the business-process support approach aims to enhance business processes of the enterprise through productivity improvements. The goals include:

Enterprise-applications model

Platform

The hardware and software platforms will vary and depend on the installed base. The starting point for the enterprise-application model is different from the desktop model’s. For example, existing applications such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) will be the building blocks for the enterprise model. Vertical-market applications and PC clients are also candidates for the foundation of this model.

Enterprise-application elements

The enterprise-application model approaches applications similarly to the desktop model, through a Web portal or PC client. The endpoint devices will be both desktop and mobile, especially mobile data devices. One or more CTI connections would link to either TDM or IP PBXs. Speech and speaker access would be supported through the desktop and mobile devices.

End-user productivity

Communications capabilities similar to the IP telephony approach will enhance user productivity, including:

  • Presence
  • Click-to-call and conference
  • Directory calling
  • Incoming screen pops
  • User call control
  • Multiple messaging features (email, IM, voicemail, UM)
  • Enhanced mobility applications
  • A unified interface for the Web portal, desktop and mobile devices

Business-process support

The goals of the business-process support model and the IP-telephony approach are analogous; to enhance enterprise business processes through productivity improvements. The goals include:

No matter what the starting point may be, all three models ultimately have the same goals. The best strategy for creating a UC RFP is to combine the three models. Pulling together an RFP team headed by a project manager who is not aligned with any of the three UC RFP models is key to developing a blended and effective UC RFP.

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