CTCA 2015 Conference - What Partnering Means for UC

4 Jun 2015

This week I attended the CTCA's annual conference, and it was noteworthy for two reasons. First, it marks their 30th anniversary, so congrats are in order. Don't get too excited, though, as the CTCA will soon cease to be. The bigger development was a unanimous vote during the AGM to fold CTCA into the SCTC, so one chapter ends with a new one beginning.

The dissolution is a big deal for the core membership that has been running the CTCA for ages - well before my time. However, it lays the foundation for the next generation with a much larger stage and community to draw from for growth. If this sounds like a back-door lead-in about the power of collaboration, you're right. I must say, however, that the voting process was a low-tech - no-tech actually - affair with old fashioned strips of colored cardboard used to signify each class of membership status when it was each one's time to vote. Sorry folks, we didn't use WebEx or Circuit or Google Hangouts to get the job done. Maybe it's a generational thing, but nobody was complaining.

With that order of business covered, I'll move on to what's of greater relevance to our readers. The conference theme was "Partnering for Value," and given that almost everyone there is a telecom consultant, their business challenges are very much in line with what we focus on here at UCStrategies. For clarification, as an analyst, I'm an Affiliate member - and will soon be an Associate member with SCTC - and while my line of work is very different, I find it quite complementary to what consultants do. On that note, I should add that two other UC Experts were at the conference as well - Stephen Leaden and J.R. Simmons.

Partnering, Value and UC

The partnering theme was really about how consultants need to build strong business relationships with clients - that's where the value really comes from. As the channel community well knows, the more you understand the client's business as well as their specific needs and challenges, the better able you'll be at putting together a technology solution. When listening to the presentations, I had to keep reminding myself that these engagements may - or may not - involve UC. Consultants can sell a wide range of technologies, so it's just not about UC. Regardless, the main idea is that today's market is far removed from legacy times where the business was about selling hardware and phone systems.

We heard various speakers present their case studies showcasing how specific technologies were deployed to solve specific problems. One was the City of Winnipeg and how they managed through one of the coldest winters on record. This was mostly a contact center story where the challenge was responding to an unprecedented spike in pipes freezing and bursting, and helping customers get through this. On top of that, their contact center got hit with flooding, so there was a disaster recovery angle to manage as well.

Another notable case study was Dundee Precious Metals. With operations more than a mile below ground, the communications challenges are pretty extreme, and this was a great showcase for Cisco and their Internet of Everything focus. We heard about the challenges of getting Wi-Fi set up and enabling all aspects of the operation with sensors. The driving need was to provide real time communications between people on the ground and those below it - two very different worlds, but needing to work together. Aside from talking about how the technology was deployed to do the job, we heard about the payoff DPM got from the results. The emphasis was on measurable results that make the business better, and in this case, mining output increased four-fold. If that's not enough to make the buzz around IoE real, they also saw savings in communications costs, and improvements in worker safety.

I'm just hitting the high points from these examples, but for me, the UC tie-in has to do with vertical market solutions. Clearly, mining is very different from a municipal contact center, or other examples we saw, such as retail or broadband connectivity for small communities. Consultants stand to add the most value when serving clients in businesses they really understand, and will be even more effective by partnering with vendors that share that vertical expertise. My take away from this is for consultants to go deep rather than wide. No surprise there, but seeing these case studies really drove home why this is the way to go. UC may be a horizontal solution, but when you can shape it to fit a specific set of needs, that's where the best opportunities lie to create value you can monetize.

Where to go from here?

I was one of five speakers on the "Future of our Industry" panel, and so was Stephen Leaden. Again, the focus was more than UC, but the key messages will resonate with UCS readers. We all agreed that keeping up with the technology is a major challenge, but to survive, consultants have to find a way. Adding value doesn't come just from understanding the technology, but rather how it's deployed to address specific problems and deliver specific business outcomes. In this regard, consulting is as much about business strategy as technology, and when you can do both, there's plenty of opportunity out there.

On that note, Stephen Leaden emphasized how there's great upside here for consultants, but it means learning how to sell - and even develop - applications that businesses need. The cloud will definitely give rise to new business models, but for consultants prepared to do some re-inventing they can certainly stay ahead of the curve. Everyone is learning as they go, so it's not too late if you're willing and able.

I emphasized how this might mean taking on some smart, hungry Millennials to get your culture more in tune with the times. More importantly to me is that a few years from now, those Millennials will be making the buying decisions, and they won't be your customer if you don't seem relevant to them. There's a fine balance to strike between experience-based wisdom and being an in-the-moment expert, and we talked about the need for consultants to have both. After all, business success is mostly about human relationships and you can't master that from your mobile device. The future holds as many unknowns for customers as for consultants, and they're only going to make the journey ahead with a partner they trust and feel comfortable with.