Brilliantly Easy - ShoreTel's Partner and Analyst Event
The ShoreTel worldwide partner and analyst event last week was hot, hot, hot - literally - it was over 100 degrees in Chicago, plus humidity. But the event itself was also hot. I got to meet the new CEO, and speak with ShoreTel execs, customers, technology partners, and channel partners. In my mind, the theme wasn't ShoreTel's tag line, "Brilliantly Simple," but rather "Brilliantly Easy." Each and every customer and reseller I spoke with repeatedly used the adjective "easy" when describing the Shoretel solution and technology. Easy to use, easy to deploy, easy to manage, yada yada yada. At one point, I tweeted about a new drinking game we should play, where we take a drink each time someone says the word "easy." It's a good thing we didn't actually play the game, because we would have been over the legal blood alcohol limit!
Humor aside, it was abundantly clear how much both customers and channel partners appreciate the ShoreTel brilliant simplicity. During the Customer Executive Panel with the analysts, we heard from three customers, all of which said the word "easy" at least five times each.
Nickina (Nicki) Roberts, Network Services Manager, Robert Half International, noted that the solution is easy to use, which cuts down on training. She also stated that her company is In the process of integrating their ShoreTel solution with Microsoft OCS, and it's "really easy to do." I have my doubts about this, but didn't have a chance to follow up with her.
Christian Salanon, Chief Technology Officer, Dover Product ID Group, also commented that the solution is "easy to set up, easy to use."
Charles (Chalie, and no it's not a typo) Wodack, Manager, Voice and Data Service, Hay Group, talked about how the solution is "Easy to deploy and train, easy to make adjustments." As a Microsoft shop, Wodack commented on the ease of integration with Sharepoint, He also quoted several of his end users that also reiterated the theme. One end user noted, "I love how easy it is to look up an extension and dial it with a double click. No more shuffling through my paper directory. All my Outlook contacts are there."
As you can see, I'm really glad we didn't play the drinking game!
Another area where ShoreTel's Brilliant Simplicity model has gained traction is in the contact center. Several resellers I spoke with said that since the release of Contact Center 7, which provides single agent queues, they've been having great success. The latest release provides most of the capabilities that ShoreTel's customers are looking for, and they now have a compelling solution. Or should I say, an easy and compelling solution...
As Jon Arnold pointed out in his recent blog (http://jonarnold-analyst.blogspot.com/), things might change as ShoreTel adds more advanced mobility, video, and collaboration capabilities. While ShoreTel has some basic offerings in these areas, more advanced solutions are outside of the company's comfort zone. Also, there was no discussion at all about social, which also adds a new layer that is outside of ShoreTel's comfort zone. During a private discussion I had with one of ShoreTel's contact center experts, I learned that the company is investigating the use of social software for customer care, but wants to do it right and is taking a slow and cautious approach. That makes sense, but don't wait too long or it will be too late.
While ShoreTel is missing some pieces from its portfolio, particularly social, my bigger concern for ShoreTel is the impact of Microsoft. Two of the customers I spoke with mentioned that they're integrating Microsoft OCS or Lync with ShoreTel, and that they're using Microsoft for presence, IM, conferencing, and pretty much everything except for voice. A couple resellers mentioned the same thing. I wonder what role ShoreTel will play in 2-3 years when these companies start feeling more confident in Microsoft's ability to deliver voice. ShoreTel has a great story to tell, and its customers and channel partners are clearly very happy with the ShoreTel solution. But, like every other voice player, ShoreTel will need to fend off Microsoft. For customers looking for Brilliantly Simple solutions, Microsoft doesn't fit the bill, and ShoreTel can easily demonstrate its value. But for those who are already using or will be using Microsoft Lync, ShoreTel will have a more difficult time proving its value add beyond providing real-time voice.
In all, it was a great event and I'm feeling good about ShoreTel's prospects for continued growth in both revenues and marketshare. Happy channel partners are the key to success, and ShoreTel definitely has happy channel partners!