In this Executive Insights podcast, Jim Burton of UCStrategies is joined by Kevin Carswell, President and CEO of The Via Group, to discuss their partnership with HP. "We have ultimately arrived at a really nice place with HP where they bring a complete solution to the marketplace for us," said Carsell. "They’ve got the gateway pieces, the endpoint pieces, the network piece that has become so important... HP has done a great job in their partnership with Microsoft and bringing together that whole solution for us and their support has been fantastic. So we are really excited at where we are at with them."
Transcript for The Via Group: Why they Partnered with HP
Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies’ Executive Insights. This is Jim Burton and I am joined today by Kevin Carswell, President and CEO of The Via Group. I have known The Via Group for many, many years because they have been early adopters in the entire marketplace on Unified Communications and I thought it would be interesting to just ask the first question to Kevin to give us a little bit of background. He has been around for 26 years, and has been a strong Microsoft partner for quite a number of those years.
So Kevin, could you give us a little background about The Via Group?
Kevin Carswell: Sure. Thanks, Jim, and thanks for inviting me to chat with you about this. Actually, I am a little older than twenty-six years, but I have been in the industry for 26 years, and that starts out back in the Tie Communication days but I do not know if many people remember Tie, but they were a strong telephony partner in the 80s. Following that, I started my own business in 1990 and we were focused still in the telephony industry but in the voice messaging space. Just to make a long story short, as The Via Group evolved over the 23 years, in the mid-90s, voice messaging turned to unified messaging. And as you know, Jim, when unified messaging came out, it was other vendor partners and in this case, it was Octel that was integrating with a company’s email platform and in that case, it was Microsoft Exchange in the early days of Exchange 5.5.
I mention that because that’s really where Via came together and started working as a Microsoft partner. We, at that point, had to become experts with Exchange, we had to become experts with Active Directory; we became experts with unified messaging and we really bridged the gap between telephony and the IT world, especially the application IT world around email and collaboration with email.
So as we evolved through that relationship, Microsoft ultimately added unified messaging capability to Exchange, I believe it was 2007, and we were involved in the early launches of that. In that, we got introduced, or asked into start working with LCS in the early days, which became OCS, which was really the start, the genesis, of where we are at today with Lync.
So through that period of time, we have always been early adopters and we have really seen this vision towards where Microsoft was going and the whole UC marketplace was going, and that has led us to be a key player in the marketplace today in integrating Lync.
Jim: Well, great. As someone who has attended the UC Summit every year, you know we have an extensive questionnaire we ask people to fill out. And in preparing for this year’s Summit, I have been doing a lot of research with the vendor community and their channel partners to try to get an understanding of how our industry is evolving. And clearly, there are a lot of new partnership opportunities on the line out there. And you have recently selected HP as one of your vendors. And I am curious as to what led you there and what do you see as the benefits of that particular relationship?
Kevin: Well, I think from an HP standpoint, it was really a natural evolution for us. HP is obviously a great name that everyone knows so there is value there but really, more is where they have become in a completeness of solution around Microsoft Lync and the whole go-to-market strategy for a complete approach that we have been looking for with Lync as we move forward in the marketplace.
As you know, we have been at the UC Summit and you and I have been in this industry for a long time. As we’ve gotten into the early days with OCS and then with Lync, there have been so many vendor partners—many good vendor partners—in that ecosystem. When you are partner like The Via Group, everybody is coming at you from gateways to endpoints, could be call center solutions, diagnostic utilities for the network, but really, just a plethora of devices and software out there.
That has been good but it has also been challenging for a partner like us because as we bring on these different partners—and this is prior to us getting involved with HP and some of those partners we still have relationships with because it does round out the whole solution – but it is a challenge for a systems integrator like Via to really make sure that every one of those vendor relationships, we take advantage of it and it’s good for them, too, because both parties have a big investment in that.
So when you take on a new gateway partner or you take on a new call center partner, I feel committed that we are going to have to be successful together at this and it has been challenging for us to do that. We have learned a lot in the process. This period has evolved since the early days of OCS. When we got involved, I think it was even late 2006 with alpha code. But through that period of seven years to Lync where we are at today, we have learned a lot in these different partnerships. We have ultimately arrived at a really nice place with HP where they bring a complete solution to the marketplace for us. They’ve got the gateway pieces, the endpoint pieces, the network piece that has become so important, so critical. We make sure that we do have network assessments done on our customers so that their Lync solution, it’s like any voiceover IP solution that needs to be deployed out there, you have got to make sure that the proper quality of service is in place. HP has done a great job in their partnership with Microsoft and bringing together that whole solution for us and their support has been fantastic. So we are really excited at where we are at with them.
Jim: Well, I know the networking piece is so critical. In fact, I know in the early days as Cisco was getting into this business, they had a few challenges along the way, as well. Of course, they have corrected those. But I guess it’s a two-part question here – is the importance of the HP networking as part of your relationship with them and then the second part of that kind of question is how do you see this combination then of Microsoft/HP networking to compete with this Cisco/ UC bundling story that they have?
Kevin: From a networking side, HP has brought us into more of being that network partner. We work on the networks but we traditionally have not been the racking and stacking network partner. So for instance, we are not a Cisco partner. We work on networks and we have certified network people on staff and we use utilities within our network assessments to make sure that the networks are secure.
But one of the things that we are really excited about is HP's networking position in the marketplace and their synergy with Microsoft and working with Microsoft on the networks to make sure that that quality of service for that Lync customer is there and it is ensured from the endpoint, from the SBA all the way back to the core. So we are excited about the whole networking portion that HP brings to us and being more involved. Since we have become an HP networking partner, we are winning more deals collectively with them because of that partnership where we can bring the whole solution together.
Prior to that, we would do our network assessments and we would work on whatever network they have and we still have to do that because it is not realistic that we can go out and replace everybody’s network. But where we have the opportunity to partner with HP and with the HP network infrastructure there, it’s really been a win and those customers, we have them in State and local government where we have done really well, and in education and also one of our biggest commercial partners recently, we are working with them with HP and together that’s been a real positive solution.
I guess that kind of brings me to your second question of how that works in a complete solution with Cisco. I believe that is what you asked me. It really does give us the confidence that we have a complete solution that we can go to market with, with our customers from end to end and working with HP with Microsoft Lync.
Jim: That’s really good. You know, it seems to me that you have just given me kind of two general answers, which is kind of interesting, about your partnership with HP – that you are really well aligned with them when it comes to the technical side of things and you started getting into some of the vertical markets, which to me, is kind of like the marketing component of the market. Can you expand a little bit more on some of these vertical markets that you have gone after? Because I know HP is well known for how they deal with certain vertical markets and it sounds to me like you have piggy-backed on some of their strengths and have had some success going after that yourself.
Kevin: Yes we have, and since the relationship came together, there is one in particular. I don’t think we have asked to use their name but a significant State government agency where we kind of met together there, and we were working on Lync and HP had been working towards getting in there from a networking solution, and once the customer found out that we were both there, it really helped us both win that customer together.
So from a marketing standpoint and coming together, it’s been tremendously helpful in telling that complete solution for the customer. I am not sure if I answered the exact question you were looking for, Jim.
Jim: Kevin, I think that you have. Customers will always want one throat to choke, so having a complete solution is so important. And the other part is that there is no question that what Cisco has had great success in having the networking component as part of their solution and now with HP and Microsoft working together with channel partners like you, you are able to match that, and I think that is a very important thing for Microsoft and HP partners and I think for the industry itself.
Kevin: Exactly, and we are looking to really benefit from that because that is how we see it. We see it as a complete solution where we can go to market, just as you mentioned Cisco does, with HP with world-class networking and with Microsoft with a world-class software UC solution. So we feel it’s a huge win for us and like I said, we have already seen this in opportunities that we have won and we have won them because we have that complete solution from HP.
Jim: Kevin, I have a final question for you. We all know working with big companies has its strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes service and support is great, sometimes it’s not. Can you give me your honest assessment of what it has been like partnering with HP?
Kevin: Oh, yes, absolutely. To reiterate, it’s been a long journey as we have worked with many vendor partners along the way, as I have stated earlier in our conversation, but arriving at HP today, and we have been working with them throughout 2013 and developing that relationship and like I said, having a few really nice wins along the way. The other part of it that’s key has just been the support that we have gotten from HP. They have been fantastic. Their vision around UC, their commitment to it, and really understanding partners like us and being part of that as they have their completeness of vision, with partners like us has been key. They have been tremendous in training and supporting, and that has been a very key piece of our partner development with them and being able to win in the marketplace.
So I have to say that from 23 years in the business and the relationships that we have had with partners, that HP is right at the top. They have been tremendous.
Jim: Well, that’s great. I know that there are going to be two communities listening to this podcast that may have additional questions for you. One of them, of course, are prospective customers for you and the other are other channel partners who are Microsoft and may be considering HP as a partnership. Would you mind if we included your contact information so they can reach out to you?
Kevin: Oh, not at all. Absolutely, I am happy to talk to anyone and share our experiences, so absolutely. (Reach Kevin directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Jim: Well, as you know attending the UC Summit, that’s what the Summit is all about is an opportunity for you and your colleagues to work together and talk and share information. It just helps both your companies grow but helps our industry grow. So I appreciate that and Kevin, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Kevin: Thanks, Jim. I appreciate it too, and I look forward to seeing you at the next UC Summit.