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The Challenges in Employing Research Reports to Make Purchase Decisions

The following is a discussion paper published by TRG December 18, 2007

There are a number of sources where call and contact center operators can gain insight into the offerings of contact center telephony vendors. The majority of these are provided or sponsored by the vendors and as such are suspect to greater or lesser degrees. There are a few research organizations that research and provide assessments of the vendors. Even these though are not perfect as many are based upon vendor submissions and interviews and can only be as good as the research analysts’ questions and depth of research completed.

In reality each call or contact center is unique and has unique requirements. Whitepapers and research studies can be helpful in assessing which vendors may be able to deliver possible solutions for your center. There is however no substitute for conducting a detailed assessment and analysis of your own requirements.

Selecting and purchasing call/contact center telephony is a significant decision. For organizations that rely upon their center as a primary customer interface, and who doesn’t today, a bad purchase decision has significant financial and career limiting impact. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see people and organizations relying on ‘research’ from big name firms to validate their own findings and in some cases as the primary basis of a purchase decision.

Before committing to a business decision based upon a research study, it is important to understand the methodology and objectives of the study. For example Gartner in describing their methodology for their ‘Magic Quadrant’ research studies, state that their study provides “snapshots of markets and their participants1”. Further Gartner also states in explaining their methodology, “is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of every vendor in a market”.

A look at the methodology employed by Gartner maybe cause to examine more closely the suitability of their study as a basis for a business decision. The Magic Quadrant scoring is broken down into two components “Completeness of vision” and “Ability to execute”. On the surface few would argue about the value of these two assessment criteria in an assessment; but a deeper dive surfaces more than a few questions.

The research is heavily weighted to information provided by the vendors through briefings, product documentation, and client provided references. This approach increases the likelihood that the vendors are able to secure a superior review due to the effort they devote to disclosing and managing information provided to Gartner. This is likely more often the case in “completeness of Vision” which deals to a large degree with the product roadmap and future development. The “Ability to Execute” by nature is focused on the information and references provided by the vendor. Every vendor has clients who love them and will provide a positive and flattering point of view.

While the results reflect the data generated by the process, it is not without challenges. All potential purchasers would be wise to keep a few relevant points in mind:

1. The vendors assessed are not all inclusive. Some organizations do not participate in the process. The vendor may be too small or simply not focused on the contact center market space.

2. Magic Quadrant results may not be representative of the real world customer experience. For example, Cisco ranks very high in the Gartner assessment, below.
Figure 1. Magic Quadrant for Contact Center Infrastructure, North America, 2007

Source: Gartner (August 2007)

Yet Cisco implemented in spring 2007 their new ‘A2Q’ (Assessment to Quality) process. This requires all resellers and integrators (this includes their top tier ‘Gold Certified Partners’) to allow Cisco two weeks to review all code before it is deployed. This is certainly a positive step given the inherent complexity in the Cisco solution. It is designed to provide a superior end result. It can also be seen as a response to significant stability issues that Cisco has had with their contact center product.

In one case that TRG is familiar with a client was unable to complete call routing and reporting for almost six months following a change to their auto attendant messaging. Yet in the 2007 Magic Quadrant Cisco received the highest marks for ‘Ability to execute’. Cisco is not the only example:

Oracle touts their Oracle Seibel hosted CRM as being recognized as a leading platform. Yet this too has been plagued by stability issues, unresolved help desk tickets and an ineffective offshore help desk. In this case Gartner identified Oracle as a ‘visionary’. A less flattering label may well be that of vaporware, because the solution doesn’t deliver what it promises.

The Magic Quadrant assessment does not include all vendors in the market. Some are too new, some are too small and some simply elect not to participate in the process. One example of an omitted vendor is ShoreTel. ShoreTel is a publically traded IP telephony vendor (SHOR) which was a late entrant into the call and contact center market space. The company deployed their first IP PBX solution in 1998 and did not have a fully featured call/contact center offering until 2004.

ShoreTel however has an advantage over many of their competitors in both the IP PBX and Contact Center markets. They developed their solution from a blank page. ShoreTel is not encumbered by legacy equipment and a desire to ensure compatibility and future migrations from a legacy base. Nor have they assembled their code based upon acquisition and the inherent integration of thousand of lines of code to complete specific or discrete tasks and activities. Freedom from these restrictions has allowed ShoreTel to develop and deploy a good call/contact center platform. While the ShoreTel solution may be somewhat less robust
than other solutions on the market today, depending upon the user requirements it may well be the best alternative for a significant percentage of contact center operators.

Specific user requirements were developed (41 mandatory and 14 future requirements). Bids were solicited from 14 firms including all of the major players in this sector including: Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, NEC, and Interactive Intelligence, as well as Mitel, ShoreTel and others. Cisco, NEC and ShoreTel were short listed. At the end of the process it was ShoreTel was number 1 in the rankings ahead of Cisco as #2. There were a total score of 625 possible.

The results above are not to suggest that ShoreTel is the best solution for every company. Nor that ShoreTel has the best functionality for every application. It doesn’t. It does suggest that when companies examine their needs and look for the vendor that best meets those needs they may be surprised, with the result. ShoreTel for example offers a competent call center solution, with many of the enhancements organizations are seeking today.

Clearly while the Gartner Magic Quadrant is very informative and does provide an insight into the vendors selected, it is, at the end of the day a “snapshot”. A snapshot that is skewed based upon Gartner’s vendor selection and assessment model. This research is a good starting point of reference for understanding the vendors. But by its very design it is skewed to those vendors who invest the greatest amount of time and resources to manage this process. This should be a point of caution for any organization that bases
their purchase decision on this or any other similar reports; and thinking that “nobody gets fired for buying IBM” (or basing their purchasing decision on a well regarded research report).

So what is the preferred method for making a purchase decision? As stated previously, each call or contact center is unique. So should be the solution to meet those needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The best solution will be one that meets the company’s’ needs today and expected future requirements. Employing an independent consultant can assist an organization is clarifying and weighting the functional requirements for today, the ‘nice to have’ and functionality expected to required in the future. This may also be completed internally if the resources and competencies exist. Developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) that sets out clear requirements is a logical next step in the process. Scoring the responses against the predetermined criteria ensures that the best vendor to meet your current and future needs is identified. Lastly, complete due diligence to prove the ability of the vendor to deliver the desired functionality in the manner required completes the assessment process.

Follow the above steps ensure that you and your organization end up with the solution you need and not just one that has received research accolades. You will own this decision for a long time. Make sure it is the right one for you.

For more information about The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. please visit our website at thetaylorreachgroup.com.

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