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When purchasing a new VoIP-based unified communications system and choosing a vendor to deploy the system, buyers typically place too much emphasis on upfront cost, according to a benchmarking study on the total cost of ownership for unified communications from Aberdeen Research.

While procurement and implementation costs certainly need to factor into the equation, this approach fails to take into account long-term operational, maintenance and network costs that can easily negate any upfront cost savings.

Aberdeen recommends a more thorough analysis of total cost of ownership (TCO) metrics to establish a clear cost structure. Even if the goal is to simply reduce communications costs, companies must consider all factors that impact TCO.

To accurately calculate TCO, you need to look beyond the sales proposal in order to balance the short-term savings with long-term operational costs.

The 2013 Nemertes Research benchmarking study of IP telephony TCO separates cost data into three categories:

  • Capital: Includes servers and other data center hardware, software licenses, and desk phones or other endpoint devices.
  • Implementation: Includes internal staff time and third-party systems integrators and consultants.
  • Operational: Includes staff time, training and certification plus maintenance contracts and third-party support.

The Nemertes study suggests that product and implementation costs are generally known and fairly consistent, while operational costs can vary significantly from vendor to vendor. However, the study shows that ShoreTel is among the lowest-cost providers for both first-year costs and operational costs in subsequent years.

Buyers need to evaluate real-world data related to implementation and operations to calculate TCO. For example, Mark Arman, vice president of business development at ShoreTel, points out that a hybrid system with inexpensive digital phones may reduce upfront costs, but it prevents you from taking full advantage of unified communications solutions.

Complexity plays an important role as well. According to Arman, deploying different types of technology – time-division multiplexing vs. IP, for example – adds an extra layer of complexity that results in higher system management and administration costs, substantially increasing TCO.

Similarly, real-time voice and video collaboration is more complex than applications such as email, instant messaging and presence. The increased network engineering and monitoring requirements result in increased TCO.

Mobility, device support and video are important parts of the TCO analysis and choosing the right vendor, especially if you’re considering a unified communications system. While VoIP is still the foundation of a unified communications deployment, these areas are driving innovation and need to be scrutinized.

Finally, it’s important to realize that TCO is just one metric to consider when deciding on a VoIP-based unified communications system. Assess your network infrastructure to determine the readiness of your IT environment. Think about your specific business requirements.

Determine what business processes you want integrated with this technology, and which vendor is capable of handling the integration while providing functionality, security, visibility and flexibility. This will help you improve productivity, user experience and customer service.

If you’re considering a VoIP-based unified communications system, avoid the temptation to make your decision based solely on upfront costs. By looking at the big picture and analyzing long-term operational costs, you’ll be able to calculate TCO and make the smartest possible decision.

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