Business Opportunities in the UC Channel - Part 2

19 Mar 2012

This is the second of an eight-part weekly series of articles that leads up to the UC Summit 2012 that will take place May 6-9 in La Jolla, CA. See the UC Summit website for more details.

Last week I started this series with an overview of business opportunities for the Telecom sales channel to re-invent itself for the unified communications (UC) era. This week we will be focusing on the vendor selection phase of the UC transition.

In order for UC to justify the cost and disruption of a major technology transformation, it had to be both better and cheaper. Industries rarely disrupt themselves, so the initial UC product offers came not from the incumbents, but from new entrants. As we know, not all the telephony incumbents survived the transition and, for those who did, their new technology was often acquired from innovative smaller companies. So now we have some new and some old vendors offering new technology perhaps mixed with older technology; and this presents a significant challenge to your business. However, the opportunity to guide your customers through a technology transition is a service in itself; which also leads to the opportunity to deliver the follow-on business of migration and implementation (see later installments).

The term "unified communications" has been defined and redefined by the marketing specialists following their own commercial agenda. There have also been many attempts to "stack rank" the various vendor offers, some of them quite detailed in their methodology. However, the pace of development in technology renders any detailed study almost immediately obsolete. Therefore, rather than present another prescriptive list that favors vendor A over vendor B, what follows is a set of guidelines that you can develop into a methodology to help your customers with their vendor selection challenge.

1. Longevity: many of the strongest brands in enterprise telephony have disappeared in the last few years, some to bankruptcy, some have been divested. Of those that remain, and from among the newcomers, you need to decide who will be around in the longer term. Neither you nor your customers want to invest in infrastructure that won't be supported and enhanced in coming years.

2. Unification: it is an oxymoron to suggest that unified communications should be, above all else, unified. I wrote a longer paper about this some time ago. However, suffice to say that there are certain user experience hallmarks of a true UC system that are not evident in all UC offers:

a. Single sign-on: do I use the same username/password to connect to the system from whatever device I am using, and when I change that password - is it changed for all devices?

b. Modality escalation and ad-hoc conferencing: can I convert a 2-way IM chat into a multi-party video and data collaboration from within the same "session" or do I have to hop around from one system to another?

c. Rich presence awareness: if I am unavailable in a meeting, do all my contacts know that, or do I still get "calls?" Can I define the set of people who I want to be able to reach me in given situations?

d. Uniform routing: if I am in another part of the building (or the world) do all my "calls" follow me, or do I find text/voice/video messages when I get back to my desk? If I move to a different department, do my emails follow me but my voice calls go to my old "phone number?"

e. Capability awareness: when I try to contact a colleague, do I get a generic "no answer/voicemail," or will the system inform me that the device the user is signed into cannot accept IM/video/etc.

f. Migration and co-existence: can I still communicate with the people who are still on the "old system" (i.e. a PBX or a video conference suite) or does the old system first have to be upgraded to a newer version?

3. Innovation: is the vendor the third or the fifth to implement a particular feature? Did the vendor implement the feature themselves, or did they acquire a smaller company. If the latter, how well is that newly acquired technology going to be integrated into the user experience; how long will it take and will it force another "upgrade?" (See Unification above.) A good proxy for innovation is intellectual property and I wrote another paper on that subject last year.

I think that it is fair to say that the best choice (or mix) of UC vendor(s) will be different for every customer, because they all come from a different infrastructure starting point and are pursuing different business objectives. This is where the science ends and the art of customer relationship management starts; and that is the forte of every good channel vendor.

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