Make the Right Tech Request

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When organizations consider outsourcing their speech-enabled IVR needs, they frequently start by issuing a Request for Information (RFI), with the purpose of collecting written information about the capabilities of potential outsourcing suppliers.

Commonly, the potential suppliers will use the RFI to call attention to improper use of the organization's current platform or IVR applications that may not best meet the generating organization's needs, and use their expertise to recommend a better approach.

Typically, after the RFI process has been completed, the organization generates a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Quotation (RFQ), upon which it expects contractually binding pricing and will ask for payment terms, agreement on service levels, and other contractual items.

An efficiently managed RFP process results in fully informed parties in agreement about the requestor's requirements, even if they do not agree about pricing or other contractual points. Therefore, the more detailed the specifications, the more accurate the quote will be and more comparable across potential suppliers.

In the interest of reducing costs, a trend is developing in which organizations investigating outsourcing options are forgoing the use of third-party consultants to assist them in their RFP development and proffering to relevant vendors. Unfortunately, this shortsighted perspective results in higher bids and increases the risk of a failed relationship.

Many organizations are generating RFPs hundreds of pages long, yet do not include relevant information that is critical for all parties to come to an understanding. Furthermore, many RFPs do not clearly state whether applications are included, or if the request is only for platform management and the requesting organization or a third-party application provider will develop and manage the applications under a separate contract. In larger enterprises, the cost of developing applications can run as high as seven or eight figures, and if not clearly called out in the RFP, will result in pricing that will not reflect what the generating organization is asking for.

Following are several of the most critical pieces of information that outsourcing providers require to begin to understand your speech-enabled IVR platform and application requirements and goals.

Call volume details: Providing high-level volumes on an annual or monthly basis is nearly worthless. IVR hosting providers need to understand your call arrival rates down to the hour level by day. This provides the basis for IVR port, media gateway, and/or session border controller availability and other capacity calculations for components such as Media Resource Control Protocol, Web application, and cache servers, and other components like load balancers. Unbelievably, many RFPs do not provide any detail below monthly volumes and neglect to include line of business or other important details when requesting application quotes.

Current call flows: Often the response when an organizer is asked for call flows is: "We're going to change everything, why do you need to see what we have now?" Understanding where you are coming from is as important as understanding where you wish to be.

Current IVR application reports: This information provides prospective outsourcing partners with a view into your customers' behavior in your current applications. Coupled with call flows, these reports can provide seasoned IVR experts with sufficient information to educate them to the level where they understand your current situation.

Current application technical overviews: This information allows the bidders to grasp how much existing programming they may be able to reuse. Stating that current applications are "VXML 2.1 compliant" is not enough. You need to state if the apps are in a proprietary framework from an IVR application services provider or were written using your IVR platform vendor's application tools or other means. Frameworks provided by IVR application services firms sound nice when sold as being portable across multiple IVR vendor platforms, but they present their own challenges.

Each approach provides both opportunities and also challenges to saving costs when moving your applications to an outsourcing provider, but you must be clear about which approach your applications are supported under.

Speech Technology magazine readers naturally are curious about how to stay ahead of trends, but my advice on the trend toward blind bidding is to skip it and stick with good communication through more information. You will end up with lower costs, higher service levels, and dedicated partners in line with your goals.

Kevin Brown is managing director at VoxPeritus, where he specializes in speech solutions consulting. He has 19 years of experience designing and delivering speech-enabled solutions in premise and hosted environments. He can be reached at kevincbrown@voxperitus.com.

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