5 Tips for Choosing a Managed Service Provider for Your Multivendor Environment

Managed services help enterprises enjoy the benefits of best-of-breed equipment when deploying converged communications.

By Medard Schmidt, Vice President of Global Business Development for Managed Services, Siemens Enterprise Communications

The last decade has seen a revolution in communications with the arrival of mainstream convergence. Managed services can help enterprises navigate this potentially complex environment and provide access to the requisite skills in voice and data communications so they can make the right choices regarding equipment and migration to converged communications.

Because unified communications merges voice and data environments, it is nearly always a multivendor environment. Unfortunately, aging equipment locked in silos can make it hard for companies enterprises to take advantage of unified communications. Some of the equipment is not even suitable for modern services, forcing enterprises to make capital investment decisions to bring that hardware up to date.

In addition, international companies frequently have a legacy infrastructure that has been dominated by local purchasing decisions, which could see individual countries or sites choosing their own locations' favored suppliers. This means that a factory in Scotland, for example, could have a completely different information communications infrastructure (ICT) from the company offices in Germany. PBX procurement has also traditionally been outside of the scope of the IT department's procurement policy. Because it has been left to the site's facilities management, many enterprises will have purchased a local solution -- perhaps the one offered by their local telco.

Although marshalling multivendor environments in the push to unified communications might be beyond the skill sets of many enterprises, multivendor networks are increasingly being seen as offering a competitive advantage. For example, a recent research note from analyst firm Gartner challenged the assertion of Cisco and other large equipment vendors that running a single-vendor network environment is cheaper and more efficient to manage. In fact, Gartner found that the reverse was often true, with multivendor networks being less complex and having a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than single-vendor environments.

Managed services allow enterprises to concentrate on identifying the services they require to support their business rather than worrying about the multivendor infrastructure needed to deliver them. Their provider can help them choose the best-of-breed equipment, migrate their communications services to the new environment, and enjoy standardized unified communications services worldwide.

Here are five points to consider when choosing a managed services provider in a multivendor environment. Although we focus on the communications industry, these tips apply equally well to a wide variety of industries.

1. Choose a vendor experienced in managing multivendor converged environments.

The converged communications realm has a wide range of vendors in its ecosystem, which come from either the data side or voice side of communications, and include PBX vendors, data networking vendors and software vendors. In addition, enterprises are likely to have a complex legacy environment, built up organically over the years, which can include obsolete equipment.

Your managed services vendor will need proven experience working with multivendor environments to make your project a success. You must be able to trust the provider to take over all of your existing equipment and contracts, provide an overlay PBX service, and migrate your organization to new equipment and technology where required.

2. Make sure your managed services provider is aligned to industry best practices and ITIL standards.

A key to moving to converged communications is to optimize your business processes with communications. To make the migration a success, your managed service provider should use the ITIL framework, which defines best practices in ICT processes. This will allow your managed services provider to define and build optimized customer service, which can be rolled out on a global infrastructure, using an agreed delivery quality, backed up by SLAs, regular reporting, and a control structure.

3. Your vendor should provide examples, define a due diligence process, and not rely on "rip and replace."

When assuming control of a multivendor environment, your managed services provider should perform due diligence for all equipment installed and identify all proprietary links or elements of infrastructure that would not scale well or lend themselves to standardization.

Your vendor should also allow you to preserve your existing equipment investment. For example, you could have installed equipment from three different video conferencing vendors, such as Polycom, Tandberg, and Lifesize. Your managed services provider should be able to integrate this existing equipment without having to replace the entire existing infrastructure. Deploying a managed middleware gateway to interconnect the equipment and rationalize the feature sets can ensure all users at each site have the same experience.

4. Look for a managed service that aligns with your business model.

In addition to providing communications and technology benefits, managed services can also offer a new financial approach to deploying communications. Your chief financial officer (CFO), for example, might want a managed services provider that can offer services priced on a pay-per-use basis, allowing the enterprise to scale their demand up or down to match the business requirements.

In addition, managed services can provide much needed global consolidation of all communications spending to provide greater transparency or operating expense models for asset funding in transformation projects.

5. Ensure your vendor is able to deploy consistent services globally.

Managed services can be invaluable in providing consistent unified communications services globally, particularly in locations where the enterprise has no experience or presence. Consider the automotive industry, which has many smaller companies as part of its supply chain. If a large manufacturer decides to move its plant to a new country, the smaller companies must follow. Because they may not have any experience in this new market or have any people on staff in the new location, they will look to their managed services partner to deploy consistent communications services to support the new operation. This also applies equally to other industries such as financial services and energy.

Medard Schmidt is the VP of global business development for managed services at Siemens Enterprise Communications, where he works with large, global enterprises. Schmidt studied telecommunication and is a graduate engineer (Fachhochschule Konstanz/Germany, University of Applied Sciences). You can contact the author at medard.schmidt@siemens-enterprise.com