How do you convince your boss to buy new UC equipment?


The term ROI, or return on investment, gets a little overused nowadays, but it is inherent in any spending decision made, either by a consumer or a business.  For personal spending decisions, sometimes that ROI is 0% financial and 100% fun, like buying a new fun expensive gadget or purchasing an experience, like skydiving.  Unfortunately, when it comes to business, the bottom line is almost always financial.  This is why justifying new purchases for business communications can be tough. Where is the ROI for clear communications?  How do you quantify the return on something that is not exactly quantifiable?

This conundrum can be difficult to overcome for IT people who manage a company’s technical resources.  Is it better to go for the cheapest option, knowing that there might be an increased chance of product failure?  Or is it better to spend more money up front for a product that is known to be reliable?  How do you convince the boss to buy the better, but more expensive product?

To see what it would take, I talked to two IT professionals in the greater Boston area who have a say in what equipment is used in their work environments.  Emmanuel (Manny) Avila works for F.W. Webb Company as an IT analyst, where he manages servers and technical projects for the company, as well as helpdesk support for end users.  William Hollister works for TJX Companies Inc. as an End User Services Technician, where he trains employees to use and leverage IT tools.  Both had some experience with communications issues and had some thoughts on how to alleviate them with the right purchases.

Emmanual.jpgWhen it comes to communications products, Manny finds himself requisitioning his supervisor fairly regularly.  His company is interested in equipment “with a good customer support base.”  Manny also provided an example of the research that his company typically does when vetting a new product, even going so far as to contact other companies using their candidate products to see what they thought. 

As far as unified communications (UC) is concerned, his company still uses the classic triad of IP phones, cloud servers, and email, and he typically does setup work for conference rooms and boardrooms.  For his part, Manny is “generally happy with the current system, although in the near future [he] would like to see a fully interactive video conferencing system” installed on site. 

Manny envisions a system “…where the users are allowed to interact as if they were present in the room. A good example would be a tablet or board where users can directly interact with by doing drawings, writing, discussing, or just about anything they need to do. Manny likes UC products because he likes “to have all minds come together and pitch in on ideas to make a better plan. It would be awesome if that could happen interactively as well.”

I asked Manny what might convince his supervisor to invest more with UC, and he was blunt: “At the moment I don’t think much will convince him,” adding “As we keep expanding further passed NY and PA he may consider it. Especially if further branches acquire their own IT staff.”  In Manny’s case, the idea of purchasing new UC equipment is moot until there is a new space to put it in. 

This is problematic for a lot of people, as upgrading existing devices that are “good enough” can be a tough sell.  This problem is compounded by the fact that he sees his current system being pushed to the brink as more people work from home and his company branches further out.  This is a specific problem for Manny to tackle, but one that is not uncommon in today’s business environment.  UC is uniquely designed to help facilitate collaboration over distances with minimal infrastructure tweaks, but costs can range based on product type and quality (See our Unified Communication (UC) Solutions post for a small sample of UC options).

William.jpegWilliam, on the other hand, doesn’t regularly work with or install room solutions, but he admits that he is not immune from bad communication woes.  Currently, he alternates between a Sennheiser bluetooth headset for his desk phone and a Jabra bluetooth headset for mobile and PC use. According to him, the Sennheiser headset in particular is “very unreliable at connecting when answering calls. It is designed to act as a PC and Telephone headset, but I will often have to press buttons to try and get the phone call to play through the headset.” While TJX has made it a point to pursue communications products with good service-level agreements for support, according to William “TJX is more interested in business continuity than achieving the highest [audio] quality available.”  This is an understandable position for a company like TJX, but it underlines the “good enough” mentality that companies use when it comes to UC. 

I asked William how he would convince his supervisor to invest more with UC, and he focused back on his Bluetooth issues: “I would sell it on the basis of productivity gained by having clear communication with other staff members instead of having them strain to hear me and eventually disengage with the call,” specifically regarding his training room setup, adding that he would much rather have a “good noise cancelling microphone for recording training video audio with less background noise.”  It is obvious from his tech issues that UC products that aren’t properly vetted can become a hindrance in time.  All the more reason to consider the ROI in spending a little more up front to get reliable products that facilitate clear communications.

I went back and asked Manny how he might pitch his boss to upgrade his current audio equipment, even though his boss was understandably reluctant to make upgrades when the audio setup was sufficient, if not exemplary. 

Manny recommended online demos showing use cases that clearly solve a real world issue, followed by live demos from vendors.  He also said that if he really wanted something, he would enlist his coworkers in making the case for the equipment.  Manny still notes that he typically still gets pushback on higher priced items, especially if there is a comparable solution at a lower cost.

This consistent pushback demonstrates the “good enough” mentality that is rampant in many industries.  And it’s hard to blame the bean counters when the ROI on brand new equipment can be so hard to gauge against the equipment that is already in place.  But as William demonstrated, sometimes this equipment is only “good enough” because of extra effort on the part of the user. 

In the end, it is up to the IT professional to assess their audio equipment and make the determination that replacement equipment is needed to ensure that their company’s audio infrastructure aren’t just good enough, it could in fact be phenomenal with the right amount of research into UC solutions.  It’s never easy to convince someone to spend money they don’t want to spend; the point is to show that it is worth it.

Need help convincing your superiors to approve new/upgraded UC technology? Here are some tactics I suggest:

  • Quantify the minutes lost from productive meetings troubleshooting communications technology. Take it a step further and put an average salary cost to that time.
  • Have them hear/see it for themselves. Most companies will let you borrow a demo unit to test in your own facilities.
  • Don’t just consider the product. Do some research into the company.  Make sure they have a good track record with service and support.
  • Seek out online reviews and testimonials in addition to technical specs.
  • Consider your company’s roadmap. Does it make sense to push for the upgrade now or should you reconsider your timing for a bit later? Perhaps you’ll have an easier time getting approval if you can bundle it with some other company changes.
  • Put yourself in the decision maker’s shoes. Consider how this would make their life easier.
  • Be vocal if you have equipment that isn’t 100% functional. No need to bear the brunt of bad equipment any longer than necessary.