ShoreTel – Defining Value for IP Telephony and Beyond

Updated: August 18, 2010

For IT and communications decision makers across all sizes of businesses, ShoreTel's value proposition is built around a simple slogan - "beat complexity". This may not sound like much, but complexity is definitely a challenge, especially for SMBs, who typically have limited IT expertise. When businesses look to upgrade or replace their phone systems, the choices today are greater and more involved than ever before.

Even if no changes are made, there are important issues at stake. The business could look at various options and decide they're better off keeping their system, especially if it is still functioning at a high level. Cost could be the determining factor here, but it's more likely that the array of choices is simply overwhelming, and the decision to make a change gives way to paralysis. Or, for whatever reason, the business decides that these options offer limited improvement, and prefers to stay in its comfort zone by buying a new version of the system they already have.

In either case, the status quo will not serve them well over time. The business may not give up much in terms of everyday telephone service, but they will miss out on all the advances and cost savings that come with IP telephony. Unfortunately, these decisions will be based more on the uncertainty that comes with the complexity around new options, than they will on the certainty for staying with the tried and true.

ShoreTel has focused on addressing this challenge in every aspect of their business. They have done this in three basic ways. First is their overall architecture, which is designed to be both modular and highly scalable. They can provide communications solutions that are centralized on-premise, hosted in the cloud, or a hybrid mix of both. The key here is to offer as much flexibility as possible in how businesses deploy IP telephony. There is a growing trend towards outsourcing telephony - either in full or in part - and ShoreTel is trying to make this transition as seamless as possible.

On a product-based level, they demonstrated this with their IBM Foundation demo. Dubbed "UC in a box", ShoreTel's solutions are now integrated across IBM's full collaboration portfolio. Both companies recognize the magnitude of the SMB opportunity, and how this level of interworking very much takes complexity out of the equation.

The second way they "beat complexity" is their overall organization. ShoreTel has worked hard to develop the right mix of partners through their reseller network, which drives virtually all their sales. SMBs have been the company's sweet spot, and being relatively small themselves, ShoreTel understands this market arguably better than any of their competitors. They make full use internally of the solutions offered to their customers, and know how to properly support their resellers. This was consistently validated across the various conversations I had with their channel partners during the conference.

Finally, ShoreTel addresses complexity on the cost issue for IP telephony. Whether businesses are taking their first steps with simple VoIP, or more comprehensive UC solutions, the cost will be based on a mix of both products and services. The conventional ROI model is not the best metric here, and ShoreTel focuses instead on TCO - total cost of ownership. They understand that the cost factor itself is a major element of complexity that makes it difficult for businesses to make good decisions.

To address this, they have partnered with Alinean Inc., and during the conference they launched their online TCO tool. ShoreTel positions itself as having the lowest TCO in the industry, and while that claim may be open for debate, they understand the need for businesses to have easy-to-use tools that help them break down and compare cost factors.

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