Independent Perspective on Technology Projects - when and why it makes sense for SMB companies

Created by Joe Nemastil on 2016-01-13

When and why does it make sense for small and mid-sized companies to get independent perspective when there are internal staff that profess knowledge about an area of technology being considered?  Here’s a real life example of what can happen. 

As an independent cloud consultant and technology broker, I recently helped a client who needed to replace their aged and often-breaking phone system.  My job was to help them specify and purchase a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) solution.  During the specification phase of the project, we uncovered the fact that a little under two years previously, the customer had purchased and installed two different video conferencing (VC) solutions for their three conference rooms.  In each of the three conference rooms, the VC system incorporated almost thirty distinct pieces of equipment.  The resulting VC systems added almost one hundred pieces of hardware to the company’s technology infrastructure, for an organization that numbered thirty-five people.

For audio capability, the VC systems also required a physical network connection to a phone system that was required to be located on the customer’s premises.  The VC systems couldn’t connect with cloud-based UCaaS solutions.  This posed a conundrum for the customer, because the senior management team liked that cloud, or “hosted” UCaaS solutions not only provide the tactical benefits of an improved communications infrastructure, but they also provide strategic benefits - First by enabling disaster recovery for the technology comprising their voice and other communications applications, secondly by incorporating all support and maintenance for their communications infrastructure into the flat monthly service fee for UCaaS, and thirdly by allowing them to move communications technology costs off of their balance sheet by making them a predictable expense item.

Because the VC systems were relatively new, they hadn’t been fully depreciated.  Their original purchase cost approached $30,000.  Removing them wasn’t an attractive proposition for this customer.

We ultimately got around the problem by using a small premise-based voice switch to connect the VC systems to the public telephone network, allowing the customer to continue down the path of hosted UCaaS and to keep their VC systems.  However, this added two additional vendors to the ongoing support scenario, added complexity to the local and wide area networks, and the customer still had to support almost one hundred pieces of VC hardware, as well as the voice switch that enabled the VC audio.

There are multiple cloud-based video conferencing solutions, including WebEx, GoToMeeting, and others, which have been around for many years.  In fact, two of the UCaaS vendors we studied for this project had their own cloud VC solutions!

Bottom line, if a different decision had been made when the VC systems were purchased, the customer could have had a far simpler vendor environment for their entire communications technology infrastructure.  At the same time, they could have incorporated disaster recovery for the entire infrastructure without adding expense.  And they could have saved thousands of dollars in ongoing support and infrastructure costs.  Instead, their environment is more complex and they’re stuck maintaining a bunch of VC hardware that has little ability to be cost-effectively included in their disaster recovery plan.

You might ask – “Who made the recommendation to purchase these VC systems?”.  It was the internal IT folks.  It’s not the first time, nor do I suspect it’ll be the last, where the people whose interests of job security and having the latest and greatest gadgets are best served by building a premise-based, complex solution.  To be clear – these are well-intentioned and honest people, but they’re not in the best position to make decisions that carry strategic impact on a company’s future.

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