The Race to the Middle?

By Khali Henderson Comments
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Khali HendersonThe industry has been talking about the convergence of IT and telecom technologies since the mid-1990s — thanks to the emergence of voice over IP.  That the two technologies are converging most everyone agrees; the few dissenters would argue that IT and telecom already have "converged." On the convergence of their respective channels, however, there is little agreement and less still on whether they are engaged in a "race to the middle" and whether one or the other will emerge as the "winner."

Depending on who you're talking to — and most importantly where they are in the IT or telecom supply chain — the perspectives may vary widely. What complicates the discussion of convergence of channels is that it is no longer only about the technology they sell but also about the domain (LAN vs. WAN) they work in and delivery model (cloud and managed services) they use. So, it's not just IT VARs and PBX dealers fighting over control of customers' voice and data hardware/software in the LAN. It also is about VARs and dealers competing with telecom agents for voice and data services in the WAN and, more recently, for delivery of IT and communications "as a service."

"Regardless of where the partner begins its technology journey, there will be no letting up on the increase in partners expanding their capabilities to include these new converged solutions," wrote Gartner analyst Tiffani Bova in a May 2012 research note, "Five Trends Impacting Traditional Channel Programs." "Partners are focused on keeping themselves relevant as the market shifts to 'as a service' models and customers want more solution/outcome-based options."

Indeed, customers may be driving channel convergence as much or more than are converging technologies, domains or service delivery models. "The more potent reality is that customers will drive the continued move toward convergence of IT and telecom attributes among channel partners in both arenas," said Dale Tucker, director of business development for CenturyLink. "In the end they will want comprehensive IT solutions providers. Those companies that fail to adapt — whether on the telecom or IT side — will be marginalized if they do not evolve accordingly."

One such converged channel partner is COLOTRAQ, which sources IT infrastructure and network services for clients. CEO Dany Bouchedid said convergence has been taking place in client organizations for at least five years. Case in point: The telecom manager is all but gone, replaced by his or her IT counterpart, in most enterprise companies. But even small and medium businesses are finding the advantages of converged technologies like VoIP. "Once the two markets are one, maintaining two sales channels to address [their] needs ceases to make sense," Bouchedid said.

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