SCTC 2019 Conference - New Opportunity There for the Taking
The Society of Communications Consultants has been around a long time, and is currently undergoing its own version of digital transformation. The challenges will be familiar for the BCStrategies team, as many are consultants, but only one of them was at the conference. Our team is also comprised of several analysts, and being the only analyst who is actively involved as an SCTC member, I’m in a unique position to wear my BC Expert hat and share some takeaways from the recent annual conference in Chicago.
The takeaways are important for two reasons. First is to address the existential challenge facing consultants as telephony fades from center stage, and what the next chapter could look like for those willing and able to adapt to new technologies. Second would be to put this in the context of our readers, who generally will be on some form of a buyer’s journey for collaboration technologies. They need to know that the age-old telephony pedigree of consultants still very much matters, but also that consultants can provide great value when considering today’s technologies.
Some consultants have adapted better than others to these changes, and for those who have, they could well be your best resource for making the right decisions. Not only do you need to make the right bets on technologies – cloud, mobility, AI, IoT, SD-WAN, etc. – but also to make informed choices about which vendors to go with. Things will keep changing rapidly, and the choices keep expanding, so it’s never been more important for buyers to have a trusted partner that has a good read on the market. Consultants are ideally positioned to play that role, especially those who are moving with the times.
Getting Beyond Telephony
SCTC members are well aware of the need to make moves to get beyond telephony, and there were clear messages about that throughout the conference. Telephony isn’t going away any time soon, and consultants are still very much needed to help clients with phone systems. However, the growth and the business value going forward lies in other areas – all of which are largely cloud-based – and here are some highlights to illustrate that from the sessions.
- Eric Krapf of No Jitter gave the opening keynote, and set the tone by talking about how emerging technologies like AI, IoT and 5G are changing the communications landscape. One implication is how wide open the vendor landscape has become, with more options than any buyer can possibly assess. A second implication is how these technologies are changing the workplace, and in particular, Eric talked about the need for new employee skills and organizational structures. Communications technologies have a key role to play in all of this, and consultants who keep up with these changes can bring a lot of value. To keep that theme front and center, my lock note presentation to close out the conference book-ended Eric’s presentation with very similar messaging.
- Mitel’s CIO, Jamshid Rezaei, provided a detailed review of their own digital transformation journey. This was a nice change of pace from hearing vendors talk about their offerings, and made a lot of the technology challenges real for the audience. He talked about digital transformation being a $7 trillion opportunity, and while much of this is out of scope for consultants, it’s a bigger pie than telecom, so with the right expertise, consultants are in a great position to leverage their IT relationships. For consultants, the key will be more about understanding how IT’s role will change and helping them adapt, rather than getting into the weeds with new technologies. I know this is easier said than done, and the starting point is to become more strategic in helping IT address these bigger challenges. As Jamshid said, “be ready for surprises – you don’t know what you don’t know.” The stakes are high for IT with digital transformation, and there’s room here for consultants to develop a new value proposition.
- Fellow BC Expert Steve Leaden led a panel session with other consultants that reflected what that new value proposition needs to look like. Several SCTC members have done a great job of getting beyond telephony, and the panel shared insights to show the way for other consultants. Steve’s theme was “adapting to stay relevant,” and his key message was shifting from transactional to transformational relationships. The panel noted several areas that are growing rapidly, and while they all hold promise for new forms of business value, telephony was conspicuously absent. Key vectors include contact center, AI, UCaaS, SD-WAN and biometrics. SIP trunking was also noted, but it’s really more about supporting these applications than telephony. Bottom line – there are plenty of areas for consultants to pivot from telephony – some will be adjacent, like UCaaS – while others will be entirely new, like AI or biometrics.
- And then there’s AI. No tech conference is complete these days without at least one talk on this all-consuming topic. We had two good ones, and both were built around improving CX – the customer experience. This flows from the contact center focus that is driving so much business in our space now, and is another example of where consultants can pivot effectively by being strategic instead of tactical. CX has become de rigueur now for management to tout for making the business more successful, and every vendor in our space now has a CX story. Both presentations focused on this as a prime use case for AI – Frank Tersigni of Altivon, and George Despinic of Mitel. AI has many applications within this use case, especially around mapping the customer journey and automating customer service. Aside from AI being new, it’s constantly evolving, with a seemingly endless stream of features to improve CX. For consultants who choose to pivot here, IT will surely welcome the help; and as Frank noted, “they need us more than ever.” No doubt.
The Vendors Need Consultants Too
For those of you on any of the above buyer’s journeys for collaboration or even digital transformation, it’s important to keep both sides of the coin in mind. Consultants bring value in many ways, and arguably, the most important is serving as a bridge between buyers and sellers. As Steve Leaden rightly noted, consultants are vendor-neutral, and that can go a long way when buyers suddenly realize there can easily be over 100 partner choices for UCaaS or CCaaS. That’s a far cry from the world of telephony where you can pretty much count the viable options on one hand.
This is actually a key tenet for being an SCTC member, where consultants are independent and not tied to any vendor. That can be a strong assurance for buyers, especially those who are considering these newer technologies for the first time. Taking things a step further, consultants can be a valuable channel for buyers to learn about new vendors in an objective fashion, as opposed to fishing online where it’s much harder to ascertain which sources are reliable and relevant for your needs.
A great example came from one of the last speakers at the conference, Murph Krajewski. He’s the VP of Marketing at Sharpen, an up-and-coming CCaaS vendor. Much of the company’s DNA comes from Interactive Intelligence, but it’s much harder getting mindshare when you’re new and not a household name. SCTC provides a community for companies like Sharpen to get on the radar of consultants – as does BCStrategies – and presuming they perform as advertised, buyers stand a much better chance to learn about new choices. Getting on the radar of consultants is one thing, but staying there is the end game, and that will only happen if the vendor is ready for prime time. For buyers who are willing to go outside their comfort zone of the usual suspects, consultants can reduce the risk associated with considering new vendors, and by extension, shortening the process for making a buying decision.
All three players in this milieu are going through the same challenges posed by technology change – buyers, sellers and consultants. Nobody has all the answers, and good help is, as they say, hard to find. As noted, some consultants will adapt to change better than others, and for those who do, there’s lots of opportunity ahead. SCTC represents a fraction of the broader consultant community, but it’s fair to say that the learnings from this conference apply to all of them. BCStrategies is a great resource to help buyers find the right consultant, and choosing wisely could be the most important decision you make on your journey to digital transformation and beyond.