Whether to OutsourceAnd to Whom?
The previous sections have described a range of potential VoIP outsourcing choices, from which you can choose any or all. But before you sign a contract with an integrator or MSP, think carefully about the resources you already have that make your situation unique. Look internally to make the decisions about outsourcing; look externally to find the right integrator or provider with whom you can work.
Determining Whether to Outsource
The following sections provide some criteria to help with the internal decisions; for instance, whether you should roll out and manage VoIP yourself or work with an integrator.
Is VoIP going to be an area of core expertise for your team? VoIP should be treated as another IP network application, which, like others, needs excellent availability, performance, and security. And perhaps you have decided that such converged IP application expertise is part of a core skill set that your team needs.
What skills does your team have, and which skills is it lacking? Can team members be trained in the areas where their skills are weaker? Does the training fit into your schedule and budget?
In 2001, the city of Dallas, Texas, replaced six separate networks with a single, 8500-site IP network, supporting both data and VoIP applications. Looking back on the project, their IT managers recommend "using an integrator in these early days of VoIP deployment." They reason that, "as with any new technology, staff skill sets are hard to come by until deployments become mainstream." After relying on integrators to provide expertise for many of the planning and deployment tasks, they observe that "while finding VoIP skill sets is difficult, at least we are now training people on one technology, not 10."
Just as it may take many months to plan and deploy a VoIP system, it may take many months to interview and decide upon the right integrator. In addition, the integrators themselves may have their own schedule conflicts because of commitments to other projects; so they, too, can delay your deployment.
On the other hand, you may be ready to start the VoIP implementation as soon as possible, but you may not have the time and personnel readily available to gain the necessary skills. An integrator might be able to get started much sooner than your resources permit.
Other commitments for your skilled team members may be the gating factor in deciding whether to outsource. If you have to start implementing VoIP right away, but your team is committed to other IT projects, choose an integrator.
Like most IT projects, a VoIP project comes with two costs: the initial cost to get it running well the first time, and the ongoing cost to keep it running well. Include both elements in your budgets. Some sample budget spreadsheets were examined in Chapter 2, "Building a Business Case for VoIP," which included salaries and capital expenses, among other items. Using an integrator may be more or less expensive in certain areas than doing it yourself. Look at each item in your budget and decide whether you are spending wisely.
Don't overlook the economics of the package deals that may be available. For example, if another division or location in your enterprise is already using an integrator for a VoIP project, could your group be included for a small additional cost?
Some packages couple deployment and management. You may have the skills and resources to complete a VoIP deployment, but can't take on its ongoing management and troubleshooting. After all, you may have to tackle other, unrelated IT projects in the coming months. Some providers and integrators offer low package prices to handle the entire project.
Finding the Right Integrator
Having decided to consider external outsourcing, whom do you employ? The following sections offer suggestions and questions to help drive your decision-making process.
Quality and Expertise
You should do some research to determine whether the integrator is capable of doing the job you that you need to have completed. Carefully examine his or her expertise and track record. Each VoIP installation is a little different from every other. How many VoIP outsourcing projects has he or she done before? Ask to look at his or her portfolio. Does it meet your quality expectations?
If their staff is well qualified, they are probably certified on the products and equipment they are installing or maintaining. Request copies of the vendor certifications their team has earned, and, in particular, of those who will be working on your project.
A system integrator's customer service team is in place to respond to requests from your team and your employees after the VoIP project is up and running. Look at the process followed by the customer service team. Inquire about its availability, how many calls it receives per day, what the wait time is for calls, how many issues are dispatched each day (by severity and amount of time open), and so on. Observe the customer service team firsthandwould you be comfortable having your team call members of that team?
Chapter 7, "Establishing VoIP SLAs," discusses service-level agreements. What SLAs do other customers have with this integrator? How often are the SLAs met, and what is the penalty when they are not met? Ask to see some real SLAs from other customers, as well as the integrator's track record in meeting them.
Demand excellenceproviding services is what integrators and providers do for a living. The way they do it should constantly amaze youyou should be continually pleased at how they do their job so much better than you could.
Is the integrator a good match for your organization in size and capability? Consider the size of the integrator's team, relative to the size of your VoIP deployment. The size of the projects they completed at their other customers' sites is a good way to gauge their ability to complete your project. If you have multiple branches spread out geographically, the integrator may have to travel. Are they international, nationwide, or regional?
And, finally, you need to judge whether they will indeed be attentive to your project. If it is too small for them, they may not take as active an interest in your needs as you prefer.
After you have examined the quality of the integrator's work, examine the quality of their company. What is the company's reputation in the industry? What is its reputation among your peers? The integrator should be happy to supply a list of the company's customers; talk to the customers. Who else has used the company for similar projects, and what was their experience like? Would they recommend the company for the type of work you are planning?
You also might want to explore the integrity issue from a negative perspective. Has the company had complaints filed against it? If so, how were they resolved? The Better Business Bureau may be a good source of information. (In the U.S., contact the office that is located in or near the integrator's city.) Also, examine the company's financial reportsyou want to be reassured that the company will be strong and viable far into the future.
One more thing to probe is the integrator's security policies. If you outsource your VoIP deployment or management to a third party, that party will end up collecting a lot of information about your organization and your employees. Ask to see the company's information-security policies. How does it protect your information in its databases? Who has access to your information?
One of the reasons to evaluate the integrator firsthand is to get a sense of the relationship you will have with them. Personalities and cultures differ. Were you to evaluate five integrators, there is probably one with whom you would have an excellent relationship, and one with whom the relationship would be poor. Rank the quality of the relationship in addition to ranking the quality of their work. Ask yourself if you want to work with them.
You have a responsibility here, too. Once you outsource, your integrator or provider is part of your company; treat him or her as you would a colleague.
And, finally, there is the question of cost. You have a budget for your VoIP project, and some portion will be spent on outsourcing. Does the integrator meet your budget expectations? Can the integrator meet your schedules, without going over budget?
Often, an integrator's or provider's services are available on a fixed-fee or per-transaction-fee basis. When you agree to a billing and payment schedule, plan ahead for post-deployment needs. Take the time to work out a business relationship that both organizations will be comfortable withone in which both can succeed.
The most desirable goal is a long-term relationship supported by a continually renewable, short-term contract. This gives both parties the ability to adjust things as business conditions change. But be sure to make provisions for a relatively quick and well-defined exit process if things change. Obviously, consult an attorney before you sign any contract.
To simplify, when outsourcing, pick great partners. Where do you go to find such providers? Speak with your current data network and PSTN providers, as well as the potential vendors of VoIP equipment. Their firms may well offer comprehensive outsourcing services. Many will take on direct management of the entire system. If they can't do all that is required, ask them for recommendations for companies that can.
Ask for recommendations from the consultants that your enterprise has worked with successfully in the past. However, if you can't get a recommendation from your provider or your network of contacts, the Internet is always a great way to find candidates for outsourcing just about every aspect of the venture.