Finding new ways to improve business through better communication.

Considering the number of e-mails, voicemails, telephone calls, instant messages, blogs, websites, and social networking sites the average employee encounters during a given day, it is clear that companies today need a set of tools and technologies designed to streamline these communications activities.  Unified Communications (UC) allows day-to-day business communications to be integrated and work together. Developing a UC strategy for your end-user customers can seem like a daunting task at first because there are so many things to think about – feature-rich technical components, mobility, collaboration, presence, conferencing (audio, video, and web), and so much more.  To help you get started with UC, IMPACT NOW magazine asked vendor partners across the ScanSource, Inc. sales units to outline the things resellers should consider as they begin to develop a UC strategy.  We’ve also talked with thought leaders Marty Parker, principle at UCStrategies.com, and James Sevier, founder of Convergence Readiness, Inc. to share their insights on UC.  Read on to learn some helpful hints and strategies to ensure a successful UC deployment.

How’s It Growing?

Olivia Cole, Adtran’s Distribution Marketing Manager, offers exciting statistics about the growth potential in the UC Industry. “It is expected to grow to $30B within five years,” claims Cole.  “And for every $1.00 spent on UC, $3.00 is spent on complementary equipment, such as handsets, switches, routers, servers and gateways, creating additional opportunity for pull-through revenue,” Cole says.  This is partly because UC systems are no longer the exclusive luxury of large enterprises, contends Annette Lorenz, ShoreTel’s Director of WW Channel Marketing.   “Many organizations have already begun moving their legacy systems to an IP-based UC solution, taking advantage of the advanced features and innovative capabilities made possible by the evolution of IP-based tools: mobile connectivity, collaboration from anywhere, video conferencing – all great productivity tools created for today’s busy professionals,” says Lorenz.  Another contributing factor, says Ron Myers, Polycom’s Vice President, Global Channels, is the adoption of standards-based UC platforms like those from Microsoft, IBM, BroadSoft, Avaya and ShoreTel. “Businesses are ready and waiting to benefit from UC technologies and services,” says Myers.  From the basic to the most complex role-based organization, UC provides value-added applications to deliver ROI savings.  David Martin, Vice President, Marketing at Edgewater Networks, adds that partners can provide not only networking and communications equipment, but also professional services around the proper design, installation and maintenance of the systems.  As resellers, you are in a unique position to add UC solutions into your customers’ product portfolios at the beginning of this demand curve.

What Are We Talking About

Marty Parker (UCStrategies.com) defines UC as “communications integrated to optimize business processes,” which emphasizes the importance of achieving new business impact – on users, processes and customers – while ensuring that all types of communications are better integrated to make this optimization easier.  Lawrence Byrd, Avaya’s Director, Unified Communications Architecture, contends that, “If people and organizations need to use multiple forms of communication, and they do, then it becomes imperative for vendors providing any kind of communications solution to show how these can be better used and better integrated – delivering a ‘unified communications’ experience.

Jeremy Burton, Dialogic’s Distribution Manager, Americas, sees an emphasis on efficiency as a major trend in the enterprise market, particularly as it relates to deploying and delivering technology in the most cost-effective way. “IP networks and software-based technologies support this trend by reducing costs and leveraging common infrastructure for all communications types – in particular, delivering voice as an application in the data center and on the data network,” says Burton.

Russ Knister, Sr. Director, Product Marketing, Enterprise Networks & Communications (ENC) Motorola Solutions, explains that their company distinguishes between traditional UC and Mobile UC for operations.  Knister says the key benefits of mobile operations UC are improved customer service and higher employee productivity – particularly in retail and healthcare. “Retailers leverage mobile operations UC to answer customer questions right away with less hold time and fewer call transfers. An outside customer call can be routed straight to a sales associate on the store floor rather than being put on hold while waiting for someone to respond to an overhead page,” says Knister.   In healthcare, the benefits are improved patient care and much higher nurse productivity. “With nurse-call integration, a patient can get a faster response and the nurse can make fewer trips back and forth just to get information, providing a quieter environment that can help the patient get more rest,” Knitter explains. With fixed reimbursements, this can have great economic impact.

Amy Huson, Director of Marketing, Unified Communications at Plantronics, adds that resellers should look at convergence points that can really deliver that UC promise to the person trying to do their job day in and day out.  You’ll have some customers who need to support both mobile and computer communications while others are trying to support IP PBX and softphone use together.  “Look closely at the companies that your customers are currently using as all of the vendors are focusing initial sales efforts on evolving their current installed base,” says Huson.

How to Talk About It

Unified Communications is a sales approach that starts with organization and user needs, and then uses the flexibility of an overall UC solution to target the right communications applications to the right people and processes. “Today’s increasing business demands, coupled with the increasing breadth and complexity of different forms of communication, make a ‘unified’ UC sales approach essential for all partners delivering any kind of communications solution,” says Byrd (Avaya).

Keep It Simple

VARs should choose a communications platform that is easy to deploy, manage, scale, and use so it is readily adapted and helps eliminate data center complexity, suggests Annette Lorenz (ShoreTel). This also means fewer support calls and simple maintenance processes that don’t require extensive training, helping to free resources and eliminate churn in order to focus on new business. “Developing a Unified Communications competency and investing in training and certifications provide VARs with an understanding of how a Unified Communications system can align with the customer’s business goals, and supporting growth and productivity gains while reducing costs is imperative to VAR success,” says Lorenz.

Tell the Story

“We see customers coming forward every day who have realized tremendous gains from their UC deployments,” shares Ron Myers (Polycom).  “They are saving millions of dollars and thousands of hours on travel expenses because employees can do their jobs without traveling between offices or to customer sites, decisions are made more quickly – all thanks to face-to-face communications,” says Myers. The stories are endless, and the examples are real. Our partners should be taking these stories to their current and potential customers to help them understand the ways in which UC can benefit their organizations.

Team Up

Peter Nelson, Director of Business Development at NET, believes that a VAR who can bring together the best solution for the customer and solve the main issues with UC integration will win the opportunity.  “The best partners will create a practice team who will offer services to design, deploy and manage a UC network. The long-term relationships that will develop from successful deployment of a UC platform will reap rewards for VARs over time,” says Nelson.

To develop a mobile operations UC strategy, Russ Knister (Motorola Solutions) encourages VARs to look at their customer base and see if they have customers in retail, healthcare, manufacturing, and distribution. “They should investigate how the communications are currently done and explore the opportunity to provide mobile staff telephony and PTT (??) on the go. They should also look at the mix of technical skills they have,” says Knister. Mobile UC typically requires expertise in networking, WLAN, and IP telephony so VARs should consider adding the skills they need or partnering to obtain the skills.

Similarly, Dave Martin (Edgewater Networks) argues that one advantage many VARs have over single source suppliers is the ability to deliver best-of-breed products that make up the entire Unified Communications solution.  “This provides the VAR with the opportunity to get started by supplying one or more components of the solution that they know very well and then learning about the other areas that make up the solution through partnering with other integrators that are not direct competition,” says Martin.

In today’s global environment, it is important to gain any competitive edge you can. Unified Communications (UC) is the tool that can give you that edge. With UC, you can increase revenue and simultaneously enhance customer relationships all while reducing costs.  Carl Blume, Director of Enterprise Solutions Marketing at Acme Packet, is optimistic about the potential UC brings to the channel. “There are tremendous opportunities for partners to add value by sourcing these new applications from the leading Unified Communications vendors and working with service providers to integrate them into end-to-end IP communications solutions,” says Blume.

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Impact Now Magazine is a quarterly publication from ScanSource, Inc. profiling the technology that will impact your business now.

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