The UCStrategies Experts share their expertise in bylined articles, opinion pieces, blogs, and podcasts, to define unified communications, educate you about unified communications technologies, and help you make informed decisions about unified communications solutions.
UCStrategies.com defines unified communications as “Communications integrated to optimize business processes.” The definition of unified communications narrows significantly when you can read and hear about real-world examples that other companies are implementing right now—and apply them to your situation.
This section offers learning tools to help you plan your unified communications implementation.
This section provides a practical, vendor-independent service to any Enterprise that is seeking the benefits of Unified Communications. How do you pull everything together to implement unified communications? Use the tools in this sequence to define unified communications for your business.
The Unified Communications industry changes daily. We keep track of it for you.
UCStrategies is an industry resource for unified communications enterprises, communications vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing unified communications arena.
A supplier of objective information on unified communications, UCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of unified communications since its inception.
In this Industry Buzz podcast, Blair Pleasant leads the UCStrategies Experts in a discussion about the Channel, and a new Channel Study being conducted by several of the Experts. Blair is joined by Orrin Broberg, Phil Edholm, Art Rosenberg, Steve Leaden, Kevin Kieller, and Jim Burton.
Also on UCStrategies.com on this topic:
Blair Pleasant: Hi, this is Blair Pleasant and today the UCStrategies experts are going to talk about the channel and channel issues. But first, I’m going to start off by talking about a channel study that some of us at UCStrategies are going to be conducting, and then Orrin is going to give a bit more information about the study. Then we are going to open it up and talk about some of the challenges that the channel is facing and what some of the market dynamics are that are impacting the channel and what they are going through.
Back in 2000, a group of us did a study on how the channel and the market for converged voice and data products were developing. We surveyed resellers, system integrators, telecom dealers, and other channel partners to get their take on the market and market dynamics, their readiness for it, and the help and support that they were getting from their vendor partners. We got great insights about channel issues including their expectations, what kind of support they got, what they were expecting, where things were lacking, how the vendor partners could help them to better succeed, and how they were getting ready for the new convergence market. And now that it’s 12 years later, instead of the convergence market and convergence technologies, we are talking about Unified Communications and technologies like mobile and video, which we didn’t really look at in the original study.
So we’re conducting another survey now focusing on the business needs of the channel partners, which we call solution integrators – that is, resellers, VARs, system integrators; any of the indirect channel partners. And we are going to be surveying these solution integrators to find out about the key factors that are driving their success in the UC market – things like, how the vendors are meeting their needs or not meeting their needs, what drives vendor loyalty, whether they are considering switching vendor partners, and much, much more. And the main thing we’re trying to find out is how the solution integrators could be more successful and how their vendor partners can help them achieve their goals. And similar to the previous study, this one is going to have two parts. One is a quantitative online survey and the second part is phone surveys where we can really drill down and get more specific information.
We are going to ask the survey participants to evaluate the kinds of support that they expect from their partners compared with what they are really getting, what kind of help they expect in terms of sales and marketing, business issues, training, things like that. We’re also going to ask them about whether they sell multiple vendors’ products and if so, when they recommend one vendor over another and what role vendor loyalty plays, and if they are considering switching vendors.
And during the phone interviews, we ask about which vendors are the easiest and hardest to work with and we also talk freely about some of the issues that the channel partners might be having and how the vendors can help them better. But even though all the vendors talk to their channel partners on a regular basis, as an objective third party, we at UCStrategies can get information that the vendors themselves can’t get. Plus the solution integrators that participate are going to be anonymous so they can speak more freely with us. Based on all this information, hopefully, the vendors will have a better understanding of their partners’ needs, where things are lacking, and how they can better help their channel partners.
Orrin, can you talk a little bit more about what the vendor sponsors will get from the study, what kinds of information, and the sponsorship levels available? And also, we have got another two weeks before we start the survey, so we can have more vendors participating at this time.
Orrin Broberg (3:33): Thank you, Blair. Yes, the vendors are going to get a very clear picture of what is out there in terms of the solutions integrators’ needs. Everybody knows that they’re in transition; many of them reevaluating who their primary and secondary vendors are going to be. And I think for the vendors who are in that primary category, they are going to get a real good picture of where they stand, perhaps, with their reseller community, but also what are their very clear areas of need that they need to integrate the marketing and sales support efforts and that kind of thing. They are going to get some very clear expectations and needs from these resellers, the factors that drive vendor preference, the types of products they’re bringing together, if they’re looking at bundling or what kind of support resources the resellers have in terms of being able to design and deploy their own solutions and sort of do a best-of-breed or pick from best solutions and mash up their own solutions for their client.
It’s going to provide some hard data – qualitative as well as quantitative data – on the state of their partners out there today and looking forward two to five years.
Blair Pleasant (4:49): Okay. Phil, you were talking about how most channel partners used to be single vendor but now they’re multi-vendor. Can you talk a bit about this and also about vendor loyalty?
Phil Edholm: I think absolutely, Blair, that this is one of the big changes that’s happening in the market today. Channels used to be highly associated with the – what I’ll call for lack of a better word – “vertically integrated solutions” that were sold in this industry going back 10, 12 years ago. What we all saw in the period basically from 2001, 2002, through 2008 was a fundamental shift in the dynamics of the channel as convergence happened between the voice communication solution and the underlying data network. And if you look across the piece, that change, along with the video orientation and traditionally what were called A/V vendors coming on the video side, began to change the dynamic in the channel. There were different kinds of partners with different levels.
What we’re seeing today is yet another major change coming, and it’s because the rest of the communication system, the rest of UC, is in fact now becoming part of a horizontally structured communications solution that includes servers, operating systems, software of a variety of types from things like SharePoint. And the channel partners that end user companies are looking for to provide those solutions is changing once again. And this is one of the things that the survey and this entire report is designed to really help give vendors understanding is, how channel partners see themselves evolving and the offer set they’re going to offer to customers. And I think this is going to become for vendors in the UC community, understanding how to evaluate their partner base and how their partner base is making those changes is going to be critical to being able to maintain your revenue through a flow through your partner base in the future. And this is something that’s virtually impossible to get – the understanding of what’s happening in the industry versus what’s happening in your channel partners.
The second thing that is a major change that really has happened over the last, say, four years really started, I think, in a big way in 2007, 2008 and accelerated in 2009, is channels beginning to have multiple vendors. The reality is that most channel partners, if you go back 10 years ago, saw themselves as having a relatively high allegiance to a vendor. The combination of Microsoft’s entry into the market, the Nortel bankruptcy, some new entrants with different size points, has really begun to change that where if you look at the average channel partner today, most of them carry at least two – often three – different brands. And they use those in different ways. And one of the things that the survey’s really designed to get to is understanding when does the channel partner sell or try to influence the customer and when do they respond to the end customer’s request? How do they see responding when the end customer asks for something that’s not in their portfolio versus something that is? And how do they make decisions within their portfolio choices about which one to sell to a specific customer? And I think those two items together, if a vendor can begin to understand those, really becomes a way of evaluating how effective your channel is versus these changes. So that’s information, again, I don’t believe any vendor can get directly from talking to their channel partners because their channel partners represent what they want that vendor to hear to give them the best advantage, not necessarily how the channel is actually driving their business.
So Blair, I think those are things that – from a vendor perspective – are invaluable in deciding your channel strategy over the next two to three years. Thanks.
Blair Pleasant (9:00): Absolutely agree, Phil. Thank you. Art, can you talk about some of the requirements and the need for needs analysis?
Art Rosenberg: Yeah. Before you come up with a solution, you have to define the problem and that’s something that’s not so easy to do in detail. I mean, you can say somebody’s unhappy but you have to drill down a little further than that to find out what is the problem. And this could be both internal users, as well as, obviously, customers who want information or want live assistance in some form or another. So there’s got to be a need to understand what the problems and priorities of those problems are, and then identify solutions that could help resolve those problems. And from there, you can go into some new opportunities for helping to implement the solutions in terms of integrations, managing the migrations, and bringing in things like integration with CEBP capabilities. So it opens the doors to all kinds of integrations that I think the channels will be in an ideal position to represent all these providers. And I think that would be my focus.
Blair Pleasant (10:09): Okay, thank you. Steve Leaden, can you talk about some of the dynamics that are going on that are impacting the channel and the VAR community?
Steve Leaden: Sure, Blair. So just to preface it, all the manufacturers, all the vendors realize that the channel is an absolute instrumental crucial part of their sales strategy, their loyalty, their revenue, their market share and really, their success in the marketplace. And yet at the same time, the role of the channel in general is changing overnight, as well as really with the vendors themselves. And it really has nothing to do with the sales strategy or the manufacturers themselves. It really has to do with dynamics going on that are in the marketplace that have nothing to do with the local vendors themselves.
So for example, we’ve got virtualization, we’ve got shrinkage in revenue that has really forced, I think, consolidation of a lot of the channel partners over the last few years. So for example, as we moved away from TDM to Voice over IP in UC, move and change activity has been reduced to upwards of 90 percent so all of that revenue is gone. Maintenance contracts are about half of where they used to be and in some of the vendors’ cases, the vendors at the manufacturing level now require maintenance to be supplied by them and not by the distribution channel. So again, another loss of revenue.
And then you’ve got this other dynamic going on called the cloud. And with the cloud, literally right on the heels of this survey, is going to start getting momentum. We’ll get out of that hype stage and into a more mature stage. And as that starts to take place, the entire revenue centers that have been an absolute source to the channel of a capital model will now move toward a “rentable” or a “forever” kind of model. And the dynamics of income to the channel is going to be huge overnight.
And so really, when it comes down to it, UC in collaboration in addition to video and Lync integration and other kinds of dynamics like that, the channel really needs to be refocused on where the revenues will be and they also need to be refocused also on how the dynamics of UC are going to play into their model. So for example, UC is fundamentally different than Voice over IP. Enterprises know how to use the phone but they really don’t know – even to this day – know how to use UC in a collaborative kind of environment. The enterprise needs to be trained on this. UC requires specialized training and specialized channel resources. And really, at the end, channel partners have to really reeducate themselves just like they did for the call center years ago. If they want specialize in contact centers/call centers, then they also need to be specializing in UC as a way that they can deliver on these kinds of professional services.
So with all of that, I think this kind of survey, Blair, will deliver, I think, the kind of data that the vendor community, as well as the channel partner community really needs for feedback in order to determine again where the success is going to be, what’s their market share going to be going forward, and where’s the customer loyalty and what’s the rigidity or the flexibility of where they’re going.
And just to Phil's point a little bit earlier about the multiple vendor channel, it’s very, very interesting. We were just speaking a little bit earlier to one of their larger vendor partners, Black Box. And Black Box is now a consolidation of multiple regional and highly specialized VARs. And I was just speaking to the VAR this morning and literally, they can sell legacy Nortel, they can sell Avaya and they can sell Shoretel, Cisco, Siemens, Mitel. They can really sell any of the vendors out there. And because they are so large, they determine who they’re going to sell – less driven by the vendor and the restrictions that the vendor community places.
So a lot of dynamics going on, Blair, and I think, again, the survey will help everybody at large here.
Blair Pleasant (14:08): Yup, great insight, Steve, thank you. Kevin, do you have some things to add to this?
Kevin Kieller: Thank you very much Blair. There is an ancient Chinese Proverb that states – “May you live in interesting times.” Well it’s clear to me that in the unified communication world, these are interesting times. So if you are a vendor, if you are a channel partner, we are living in times that are bringing incredible change, incredible opportunity, but also incredible challenge. And Jim is going to talk in more detail about why vendors should participate and sponsor this study, but from my perspective, if you are a vendor it is clear that you need to have access to these detailed results of what makes the channel successful.
And with that, I want to talk a little bit to the channel partners. Voice is very different than unified communication. Now the good news for vendors and channel partners that have traditionally focused on voice is this: details are still important. So gathering the detailed user requirements, dealing with things like cabling, networks, QoS, class of service – those things that you did to make a voice implementation solution successful are also incredibly important to make a UC solution important.
The bad news for vendors and channel partners that previously focused on voice solutions is that unified communications brings with it an entirely new vocabulary and terminology and this can be confusing. This confusion means that your skilled voice implementation experts will require retooling. They will require a skills upgrade and you, as a channel partner, will need to invest. You, as a vendor, will need to figure out a way to help your channel partners invest and upgrade the skills so that they can successfully deploy your UC solution.
These are interesting times. There are challenges and it is clear to me that understanding the details – and that’s what this survey and study seeks to flush out – is incredibly important to any of the vendors that participate in this space. Back to you, Blair.
Blair Pleasant (16:38): Okay. Thanks, Kevin. Jim, can you wrap it up and talk about the value of the study and why vendors should become sponsors?
Jim Burton: Thank you, Blair. It’s hard to summarize after all the good content that everyone has provided already. I think everyone said it all, but let me take a little bit different twist on this. One of the things, in talking with the prospective vendors who are going to participate in the study, is an appreciation that there are some who really understand that we are going through a very significant change, and others who don’t. And I’m going to write an article for NoJitter and talk about this more in detail. But the bottom line is that I think that there are a number of vendors out there who are really leading the way. They are doing a great job; they understand the change; they understand the needs of the community that they sell through.
However, there is another group that I don’t think really get it at all. They are continuing to go down a similar path as they have in the past, and it’s going to be challenging for them. And it’s going to be challenging for the resellers. I believe that those people who figure out are going to do extremely well, and quite frankly, I think that those vendors who can’t figure it out are going to be at high risk. I think all of us can agree that there is going to be industry consolidation for a variety of reasons, but when you’ve got a group of companies that can’t deliver and support their channel as they’re going through this difficult change, it’s going to be difficult to see how they might make it.
I’m excited about seeing the results; I’m excited that we will hopefully have a document and information available for those vendors who haven’t quite figured it out yet to nudge them along to help them make the changes that they need to make in their program so that they can help their community of interest. Thank you, Blair—I’ll turn it back to you.
Blair Pleasant: Okay, well thank you, everybody. Some great insights and I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there for all of us to learn more about the channel and some of the issues out there. And if anyone does have questions about the study and becoming a sponsor, you can contact myself or Jim or Orrin. Just send us an email and we’re looking forward to getting the results and getting more information on this topic. So thank you, everybody. Talk to you next week.
All Content Copyright © 2013 UCStrategies.com. All rights reserved.
Communications Integrated to Optimize Business Processes.
UC integrates real-time and non-real time communications with business processes and requirements.
Uses presence capabilities for coordination, and presents a consistent unified user interface and experience across multiple devices and media types.
Learn more at What is Unified Communications all about?