When assessing vendors for any major IT purchase, you’re making a big commitment in time, energy and budget. You’re putting trust in your vendor to deliver certain benefits and functionality. If your vendor doesn’t deliver, you and your company could suffer because of it.
For business phone system and collaboration vendors, you have to take into account things like value for cost, features and benefits, integrations and interoperability, deployment models and more.
Lately, one seemingly innocuous factor has become increasingly important—vendor stability.
The reason vendor stability has become so important in business communications today is twofold.
First, the speed of change and quick rise of new technologies are changing the communications landscape at a blistering pace, shaking up the traditional order of things. Old vendors may be displaced, but fast-rising vendors may fall just as quickly as they ascended.
Second, vendor stability actually affects a huge number of other factors that affect the relative success or failure of your IT decisions, which we cover in this post.
With so much at stake, it’s important to understand exactly how your communications vendor’s stability can affect you and your company so you can make a truly informed decision.
Ability to strategize
Technology decisions are no longer single points in time. Technology (including business communications and collaboration technology) is changing at such a rapid rate that the decisions you make today will affect your entire IT strategy roadmap down the line.
Your decision becomes less of an isolated event and more of the crest on a wave. You have to make decisions anticipating what changes will come. It’s no easy feat. And it gets even harder with an unstable business phone system vendor.
Uncertainty puts a big kink in your ability to come up with a reliable long-term strategy if you don’t have high confidence in your phone system vendor’s longevity and direction.
Without the confidence that your vendor will still be around long term and the understanding of where they’re headed with their technology, you’ve built unnecessary uncertainty into your own plan.
It’s hard enough to navigate a solid communications and collaboration IT strategy in optimal conditions. There’s no reason to add additional uncertainty to your strategy.
While most IT pros don’t think about a communications vendor’s vision or philosophy as something that directly affects their daily lives, the indirect results of those philosophies certainly can.
If a vendor creates all of their offerings with simplicity and user-friendliness in mind, your company probably comes to rely on those qualities. Likewise, if a different vendor ensures everything they offer can be customized to the hilt. There are endless examples.
Your communications vendor’s approach may even be part of why you selected that vendor in the first place. So, if your vendor’s stability comes into question, will leadership continue to operate under the same philosophy? Will the same leadership even be in place?
Will the user-friendly company start releasing tech that’s harder to use? Will the low-price leader raise their prices? Will the customizable vendor start locking down your choices? You can’t say for sure. But an unpredictable change in philosophy could send your IT strategy for a spin.
When you make a major technology purchase, you and your vendor make several commitments to each other. Your commitment is typically a financial one. Their commitment is typically to deliver technology (and possibly services) that meet certain requirements.
If your vendor gets into financial trouble, will they still be able to deliver on their commitments?
If you purchased ongoing support services, will they continue to offer them—or could they drop the contract in bankruptcy? If your contract included future upgrades, could those evaporate in restructuring? If you’re midway through a phased deployment, could they leave your project half done?
Regardless of the specifics, you don’t want to get left high and dry if your business phone system vendor gets into financial trouble.
Relationships and continuity
IT involves a lot of technology, but most people don’t realize how much it relies on relationships. IT pros often get into a rhythm with their day-to-day contacts from certain vendors.
People and teams that know you and your systems can become a huge asset.
Just think of how much time it takes to get a new person up to speed when your vendor changes one of your contacts. Months, sometimes months or years of hard-earned familiarity can be lost. Something your previous contact would have understood without saying now requires 45 minutes of background and half a dozen emails with network diagrams and configuration details.
When a business phone system vendor starts to get unstable, you can expect plenty of personnel changes. Your contacts could get reassigned or let go tomorrow. And there’s no telling how long your new contacts could last.
In fact, you don’t even know if your communications vendor will maintain the same approach to contact with their customers. Historically, if you had a problem, you’d call Jeff, the amazing tech who would stay on the phone until your issue was solved. With instability, trying to call Jeff might get you an automated message that tells you to check out their online FAQs.
Every business has a finite amount of resources. When a company’s stability comes into question, the company typically devotes a lot of time and resources to trying to right the ship.
People that may have previously been dedicated to functions that mattered to your success may have big chunks of their time sucked up in efforts to restructure the company or dramatically change the product portfolio or figure out a blitz of special promotions.
The list of activities is long, but the result is the same. All of the activities a communications vendor undertakes to try to re-stabilize the company inevitably takes major resources away from the company’s core activities. That means you get a little less of everything they previously offered.
Changing pricing and cost structures
Business communications vendor instability isn’t always an apocalyptic scenario. But even the adjustments a company can make to try to stay viable when they’re unstable can have a big impact on your business. Take pricing and cost structures.
Your vendor might try to raise margins on certain products to make up revenue, squeezing your IT budget. They could attempt to change one-time purchases to a recurring cost model. They could package up features that were once available a-la-carte. The list goes on.
The point is that your ability to budget for your business communications and collaboration expenses can get very shaky when your vendor is unstable. If you don’t have cushy cash reserves and a very understanding boss (and finance department), you may want to steer clear.
Updates and new features
Even if a communications vendor doesn’t dissolve completely, instability can still spur less obvious disadvantages. Unstable vendors may stop delivering the same kind of innovation – or even just regular updates and new features – that you expect. Their stable competitors aren’t waiting around for them to catch up, either.
That cool new integration your competitor’s phone system vendor just added? You’re not getting that for eight months. That feature that’s all the buzz at this year’s IT conference? It’s not even on your vendor’s radar.
If you go with an unstable communications vendor, be prepared to answer a lot of questions about, “Why don’t we have that, yet?”
Integrations and interoperability
No business communications and collaboration system lives in a vacuum. It has to plug into CRMs and ERPs and database after database. So ask yourself this question—will all the vendors of products that integrate with your communications system continue to support those integrations if your vendor starts looking shaky?
Companies (like CRM providers) that integrate with many other companies’ offerings have limited time and budget for product development just like everyone else.
If your business phone system vendor begins to falter, your other vendors may begin pulling back support for integrations with those systems.
You may get compatibility for new features later than companies on communications systems from more stable vendors. They may elect to suspend updates until your communications system vendor’s situation has become more concrete. If you’re in a highly competitive industry, even these less catastrophic setbacks can chip away at your competitive edge.
Let’s say you get your phone system set up just the way you want it. It should run perfectly from then on, right?
Anyone in IT knows that’s not the case. Sooner or later, something will stop working the way you want it to.
Maybe a firmware update clashes with custom coding. Maybe your call controller decides it doesn’t feel like talking with your endpoints. Maybe provisioning a new user mysteriously breaks your CRM integration.
There’s not always a rhyme or reason to what goes awry, but even the best system will eventually give you something to figure out. And when it does, you need to know—will your vendor and relevant partners be around to continue offering support for their technology?
If your vendor has a history of stability, you can rest easy knowing that there will be someone there that can bail you out five, 10 even 15+ years down the road.
If your vendor is a little unstable, or just new enough you don’t know how long they’ll be around—they could be out of business before your product licenses expire.
Nobody has time for that. You don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable to running unsupported technology.
Timing of IT initiatives
Completing a major IT purchase can be a huge commitment involving lots of complexity. So why burden yourself with the added complexity of an unstable vendor?
If the communications vendor you’re focused on isn’t on solid footing, what are the chances your IT project will go ahead on schedule? People who have to approve your purchase may want to delay it just to see how your vendor’s situation works out. Can you afford that delay?
Even if you do get your purchase approved, organizational and personnel changes due to your vendor restructuring and downsizing could add their own unforeseen delays.
Whatever you thought your timetable looked like for your communications purchase and deployment before, you better start planning for big delays if you have an unstable vendor at the center of your project.
Let’s face it, when you have to make decisions about technology for your company, those decisions reflect on your professional reputation. If a vendor you choose becomes unstable or even files for bankruptcy, how do you think it will affect people’s perception of you?
Will they have the same confidence level? Will you get greater scrutiny on the next IT purchase you have to make? Will your company reassign the responsibility for purchase decisions to someone else? Will questioning your judgement about your communications vendor turn into questioning your judgment about other matters?
IT already gets too much blame for circumstances beyond your control. Is it really worth risking your reputation on something that’s within your control?
When your investment affects your business, you want to make sure you get the right combination of rock-solid stability and innovation to succeed.
It’s impossible to see the future, but there’s a lot of diligence you can do to give yourself confidence in your decision and protect yourself from undue risk.