Choosing a Cloud Provider: 10 Must-Haves in Your Enterprise RFP

From application software to web servers, many companies have embraced the cloud as a way of doing business that is fast, innovative and flexible. But even with the explosive growth of cloud computing, many companies were not prepared for a global crisis that would necessitate having their entire operations managed in the cloud.

As a global pandemic took hold, companies were left scrambling to quickly implement a virtual office and empower a remote workforce. Some fared better than others; organizations without an existing cloud infrastructure faced many challenges keeping teams connected and switching from on-premise operations to a fully remote business.

The question is no longer if you should migrate to the cloud, it’s how fast you can migrate to the cloud. And the answer is, as quickly as possible.

With time of the essence, you’ll likely be exploring partnerships with cloud providers that will help keep your business moving as usual in these challenging times. Many organizations will start with a request for proposal (RFP). When choosing a cloud provider, set the right terms in your initial RFP to ensure you make the right selection. An RFP allows you to shop around among multiple providers to find the right one for your business. Of course, missing the mark on your RFP could mean getting stuck with a completely wrong cloud provider experience.

To save you from that scenario, here are 10 must-haves for any enterprise cloud RFP.

1. Top-Notch Mobility and Collaboration Tools

Enterprises are no longer settling for second-class mobility and collaboration tools, not in today’s new world. As an example, think of your employees' business identity as their office phone number. With an ideal cloud communications solution, they should be able to communicate using that identity with any device they want, such as their home computer, personal smartphone, or tablet. With a sophisticated cloud solution, the business identity is no longer tied to the office phone. In fact, even before this crisis sent us working from home, many companies starting doing away with office phones altogether.

2. Rock-Solid UCaaS

Top cloud providers are no longer selling a phone system — they're providing a communications platform that is connected to your business processes. So, if you have customers, you need unified communications as a service (UCaaS). Most users within an organization regularly rely on a core set of features, and they must work well all the time on every device. Create a list of "X" features that are necessary for day-to-day operations, such as reliable VoIP connections and easy mobile integration. If certain employees have additional requirements that are specific to their jobs, such as receptionists, executive assistants, or call center agents, be sure to include those must-haves as well.

3. QoS Guarantees

Enterprises can't afford to compromise on quality when they're determining how to choose a cloud provider — nor can they spend half their communications budgets every month just for clear calls. Make it clear up front that you expect providers to offer reasonably priced quality of service (QoS) that includes guarantees about uptime and call quality. SD-WAN technologies provide an attractive option for achieving this level of service, particularly for businesses with multiple locations.

4. Real-Time Support

Ask a cloud provider for 24/7, real-time support, and it will say "yes" every time. What you need to ask — and what needs to be in your RFP — are questions about how this service is provided. Where are support agents located? How quickly can they be reached? How do they handle VoIP call quality issues? Are they proactive or simply looking at historical outcomes? Are they actively sampling calls? Look for clear, concise answers free of heavy tech jargon or assertions that "it's never been a problem before."

5. Integrations and APIs

Cloud systems don't operate in isolation. Your communications provider must be able to integrate its services with existing business tools, such as CRM and business management applications. By also offering communication APIs, your development team can efficiently create new applications — or enhance existing apps — that enable custom, real-time communication experiences with customers. As your business grows, it can quickly and cost-effectively add powerful capabilities like social media chatbots and e-commerce support bots using APIs.

6. Scaling Up

One key tenet of the cloud is the ability to scale. It's not enough to assume scalability, however — your RFP needs to ask providers which steps they're taking to ensure they're prepared to meet evolving demands. For example, how well are they staffed? How are staff trained? How much automation (if any) is happening on the back end? Do they allow self-service options? Cloud providers worth your time should offer specialized BSS/OSS solutions paired with solid analytics.

7. Chain of Command

The choice between working with multiple providers or consolidating services under a single provider is often simple: When things go right, companies want "one back to pat" (or perhaps one throat to choke should things go wrong). Despite the interconnected nature of cloud services — from network, to UCaaS, to collaboration services — enterprises know that dealing with multiple vendors means multiple levels of responsibility and accountability. In effect, providers start playing the blame game. Instead, look for providers that directly handle problems and come back with solutions.

8. Street Cred

When you're selecting a cloud provider, your RFP should also ask for details about any industry accolades it has earned, as well as its ongoing commitment to innovation. Look for offerings mentioned by reputable research firms and ask which providers they're partnering with to drive innovation. Then, follow up with specific questions about those innovations.

9. TCO

What's this all going to cost? Any RFP should include a section on total cost of ownership (TCO). Look for providers that let you pay for what you use, and make sure they're including all "extra" costs, such as 24/7 monitoring and support, in any running totals.

10. BSS/OSS

Last but not least, look for robust business support systems (BSS) and operational support systems (OSS) offerings. These systems are tailored to the services that you provide to your customers and help your employees do their day-to-day jobs. Cloud providers worth your time should offer specialized BSS/OSS solutions paired with solid analytics.

Your organization's efficient migration to the cloud begins with a well-conceived RFP. Start by asking the right questions — and making the right demands. With a detailed RFP in hand, you have a much better chance of selecting a cloud provider that will consistently deliver on your requirements both now and in the long term.

Doug Bonderud
Doug Bonderud Contributor

Doug Bonderud is an award-winning freelance writer with a passion for technology and innovation. His ability to create compelling, thought-provoking and timely content helps empower the voice of corporate vision. From UCaaS to VoIP to cloud computing, Doug has experience covering all aspects of evolving digital environments and their effects on both people and policies.

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