How To Write an Effective RFP: Bridging the Divide between Premises-based and Hosted PBX Solutions


Guy Yasika, regional sales manager at cloud-based unified communications solution provider Alteva, boils down complex technical thoughts into business use scenarios. IT solution providers should help customers determine if a hosted solution is right for them, and then tailor the solution to further meet their needs. Here are some of his thoughts on how to get the RFP process started on the right track.
—Jennifer Bosavage, editor

Consider this situation: a consulting company is asked to do an RFP and the customer is considering both hosted and premises-based options. The hosted provider receives the RFP, but feels that it’s slanted more toward premises-based PBXs because it addresses requirements for system features, installation and ongoing support, but does not specify the technology required to provide them. Or, perhaps the RFP is titled “Request for Proposal of Telecommunications Equipment”, which implicates a specific mindset of considering only premises-based solutions.

Imagine how hard and frustrating it would be for the hosted provider to answer questions that don’t “fit” their solution. Then, imagine how much harder it is for the consultant to compare the responses when the proposals from the hosted and premises-based providers are turned in.

[Related: How To Make the Case for Unified Communications]
There are some basic steps you can follow that will help clients determine which direction is the best fit for them and address the types of questions that should be included to complete an RFP.

First Things First

When you are going through needs analysis, start off with the purpose for the RFP: What is the goal? Is it to find the best solution? Is it to find the best cloud solution? Is it to find the best premises-based solution? Have they been down the path of evaluating the cloud? Get those questions answered up front and establish a clear objective.

To the Cloud… or Not to the Cloud?

It is helpful to determine whether or not the client wants a cloud strategy before you get into what the cloud has to offer. If you can determine whether they want to zero in on hosted or premises-based solutions before writing the RFP, it will make the process more efficient and less confusing to all parties. Questions like the ones below will help determine which solution best meets the customer’s needs. Make sure to find out as much as you can about the customer’s environment:

• Does the client have a preference for hosted or premises-based?
• What are their future plans – is the company growing or shrinking?
• Do they have remote workers or multiple branch offices?
• Are they looking to future proof their business by bringing on capabilities like UC?
• What is their existing contract status?
• What is their current network infrastructure?
• Are they looking for Disaster Recovery (DR) capabilities?
• Will the IT staff take on the burden of maintaining the solution or will it be an outsourced type of arrangement?

Once the decision of premises vs. hosted is out of the way it makes the entire decision cycle much easier because you can dedicate RFP questions to a specific set of solutions.

Hosted Solutions

If the customer decides to go with hosted, ask the providers the following questions:

• What types of switches are being used?
• Do you own them or are you switchless?
• Public, private, ILEC, CLEC, or other?
• What is the network’s ability to survive a regional disaster?
• What does the network topography look like?
• How do you manage QoS on the carrier side, within the LAN, and how do you connect the two?

As the educator, you must explain what hosted platforms offer, how they differ, and the types of features and functions available to them.

Premises-based PBXs

Nobody is going to get fired for doing what they've always done. It's the safe way to go, but consideration must be given to the lifespan of the equipment being bought. This might come as a shock, but the current premises-based PBX has a three-five year lifespan. The reality is that the PBX itself is very quickly on the declining side of the technology curve. Going with a premises-based box has certain limitations that should be considered.

Look at it from a features standpoint. People that bought a PBX three years ago need to implement significant upgrades to become current with the standards and features available today. It's also important to think about the advanced features of your “new PBX”. One of these features, a fixed mobile convergence (FMC) feature known as twinning, ties your mobile phone into your desk phone extension. In premises-based solutions, this will pick up extra lines (inbound and outbound) which must be factored in. Are these new features going to impact the carrier contract?

The Importance of Education

Regardless of whether your RFP will address hosted, premises-based or both, the first step is to make sure that as a trusted consultant, you understand the benefits of the cloud versus premises-based solutions. If you don’t know, how will the customer know? And how do you help the customer make an informed decision? Education plays a huge factor; a lack of it will make it easier to default to a premises-based solution, even when it is not the best solution to meet your customer’s needs.

At the End of the Day

RFPs should include things like carrier bills, PBX support, and PBX upgrades as part of the consideration factors. We want to get the soft dollars from the IT involvement, training end users and retraining. We want to look at everything holistically as we possibly can, “being green”, scaling concerns, all the different possibilities to make sure that we bring it all into that cost analysis phase to make sure that we open that umbrella up as much as possible to determine if it is time for your client to embrace the cloud.

It’s important to continually expand the way in which you think about telephony infrastructure. Reducing hosted platform comparisons to mere features and functions takes away the opportunity to consider all of the advantages of a cloud-based solution. The more segmented it stays, the more likely you’ll see only a premises-based model.

Ultimately, the goal is to provide the most helpful information possible to your client to help them make the most informed decision that is in the best interest of their business. To do that, it’s imperative that you take the time to look at your RFP process with a fresh perspective.