Uncovering the Channel Play for Unified Communications
By Kate Hunt
One of the most critical steps an author takes when writing a best-selling book is coming up with a solid title that properly conveys the story and draws in prospective readers (motivating them to buy). Without a targeted title and corresponding promotional campaign to capture the attention of teens (and adults), the works of J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer could be languishing in discount bins.
Several IT industry experts suggest that a misleading or far-reaching label plays a significant role in the market confusion related to UC (unified communications). After all, the term is quite vague and a bit too comprehensive for many outsiders and end users to understand — especially when the definition seems to continually change. What started out as the convergence of telecom and IT has become a hodgepodge of solutions and technologies that seems to have no boundaries. “In the beginning, UC was more focused on VoIP, then morphed into presence and SIP trunking before mobility became part of the equation," said Pam Avila, principal and channel expert for the Sierra Summit Group and chair of the CompTIA Unified Communications Community.
The continual transition is not just clouding the conversation within the IT channel and telecom space; it also tends to disconnect their clients and end-user audience completely. UC is a “big fish in a small pond" that can overwhelm a typical small business conversation, especially with organizational leaders who don’t have an in-house IT professional to lean on.
So while it doesn’t eliminate the UC opportunities, it tends to cause confusion with channel companies and their clients. “The challenge is finding a role within this constantly changing strategy, pulling together the parts and pieces to build a solution that their specific clients want and need," stressed Avila. “Customers don’t typically seek new technologies to implement, but they are looking for (and willing to pay for) solutions to address particular business issues." In the health care industry, they may want fast access to physicians or to eliminate the geographic boundaries between offices and related facilities — just a better way to manage their communications.
Providers also need to understand the factors driving growth in this field. “UC is almost a lifestyle choice for many, including motivated sales professionals and the younger generation of users who want it," added Guy Yasika, regional sales manager for Alteva and vice-chair of the CompTIA Unified Communications Community. “What these customers are asking for is more mobility, with solutions integrated and available on both their handsets and smartphones." By understanding what’s driving demand, channel companies can more easily design and implement the most effective solutions.
After identifying clients’ business needs and offering up the options, the biggest challenge is often to find qualified partners with the expertise to fill any skills or knowledge gaps. Successful UC providers either become master contractors, designing and managing a diverse collection of projects that require the expertise of other skilled professionals, or build out their own practice to do it all. The latter approach is championed by Yasika and the Alteva team. “We consider ourselves a training company selling a complete UC solution. That means we offer a complete package, capping it off by ensuring that our employees, clients and end users get all the training they need to achieve a maximum value." Productivity improvements are a key factor in attaining those goals, and in realizing a return on investment for any UC implementation.
The CompTIA Unified Communications Community is a great forum for providers and vendors to collaborate on topics such as future offerings, standards, and best practices, and the group is always looking for new members. Interested in joining the conversation? Just send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kate Hunt, director of member communities, CompTIA , manages the association’s Cloud Community and Unified Communications Community, helping them identify and act on initiatives that will positively impact the entire IT channel. She has spent most of the past decade in the IT channel exclusively and previously served in various roles for VAR companies, channel vendors and channel training organizations.