Will UC Improve the Maintenance Picture?

5 Jul 2012

Isn't it time for some innovation in communication system maintenance? Don't you think that UC solutions might actually bring some new options for maintenance and support, just as they bring new approaches for communications methods and solutions? It seems that should be possible, but there is little evidence of this occurring to date.

Most solutions which are labeled UC today are produced by the IP PBX vendors who perpetuate their high-priced maintenance offers. Since each vendor essentially has a monopoly on the maintenance of their software and their proprietary devices, maintenance is only subject to competitive pressures when an enterprise is replacing the entire communications system or bidding an entire system for a new location. In such cases, vendors may offer special pricing to win the competitive bid.

Even then, the special terms may only apply to the first year or two or three which are covered by the initial purchase contract. It may be hard to maintain special discount terms during subsequent maintenance contract renewals, unless there are accompanying major purchase decisions on the table.

Both the traditional PBX-based UC vendors and the new software-based UC vendors are consistent in charging for software maintenance on the basis of user licenses. While they argue that this fairly distributes costs across all of the users, it does not account for the complexity of the core system, which varies more by which features and configuration options are invoked than by the number of users.

Also, most vendors make it hard for customers to self-maintain their systems. Usually, access to updates and patches requires at least the minimum level of maintenance contract. This probably accounts for the high maintenance contract levels in the IP PBX-based UC category. The general estimates are that only 10% to 15% of enterprise PBX buyers take on the difficult task of self-maintenance of their systems, i.e. 85% to 90% of customers buy at least the basic maintenance contract. Nobody wants to be accountable for not having maintenance when the telephone or UC system goes down.

None of this is a trivial cost in Enterprise TCO calculations. Generally, minimum maintenance contracts range from $25 to $35 per station per year including voice mail, but not contact centers. Maximum protection maintenance contracts (24 x 7 coverage, monitoring, alarming, backup site options, on-site tech, etc.) can range between $70 and $95 per station per year. Thus, over a 10-year system life, maintenance of a $600 IP PBX station might cost between $250 and $950 per station, or between 42% and 158% of the initial purchase price.

Of course, one option is to move to cloud options, where maintenance is included in the service price. However, as shown in our Enterprise Connect 2012 TCO analysis and report, the cloud options are not the least cost, especially over a five-year term.

So, what might be done about this? Here are a few suggestions for both vendors and enterprise communication system and IT managers:

  1. Vendors: Improve your software so that maintenance costs can be lowered. Most customers would pay more initially for software that was demonstrably more reliable and manageable, especially if the improved reliability and manageability was reflected in a lower annual maintenance price.

  2. Vendors: Expand customer options through better, more transparent Partner maintenance programs and certifications. If multiple tiers of support were offered by a variety of Partners, customers could likely assemble the support model they preferred with the optimal cost structure, rather than being constrained by current vendor contract options. This would be especially attractive if IT Partners are able to participate, since those Partners are already involved in other infrastructure layers from Operations Centers, to servers and virtual machines, to desktop computing devices, to network connectivity.

  3. Vendors: Be real with your commitment to industry-provided hardware. Most enterprises already have optimal hardware and virtual machine procurement and maintenance contracts in place for those UC components.

  4. Enterprises: Consider variations in UC solutions and configurations based on applicable Use Cases. If you can place some users (e.g. mobile, remote, collaboration-intensive, etc.) on lower-TCO UC solutions, you can reduce your recurring maintenance costs. You can see some of these options in the report referenced above.

  5. Enterprises: Consider de-duplication of UC and IP PBX licenses and interoperation of the systems. In many cases, you already own multiple licenses per user and can meet the needs of most users with only one license and, therefore, one maintenance charge. System interoperation via SIP trunking or federation will allow all users to communicate with each other, even though each user is on a single specific system.

  6. Enterprises: Don't hesitate to negotiate on these points. Make your maintenance cost expectations known to your vendors. Your requests will have even more leverage if you have implemented or are at least pilot testing options such as suggested in points 4 and 5 above.

Hopefully, this post is a starting point for action and dialogue that will reduce the cost of the high-priced, single-source communication system maintenance contracts which most enterprise customers are experiencing. Preferably, costs will be reduced by making the products more reliable and manageable.

Your comments are welcome below, and your inquiries on this topic are more than welcome.