By Chris Daly
Cloud-based unified communications services are transforming the way businesses operate. They enable traditional communication and collaboration tools to be mobile and portable creating a seamless communication environment anywhere, at anytime. This new seamless communications environment has helped businesses become more nimble, more responsive to their customers and has helped them streamline their business processes.
Technology and service delivery are evolving rapidly, and not all unified communications solutions are equal. Pure unified communications–as-a-service solutions (UCaaS) lack reliability as well as many of the enterprise features companies rely on that are available with traditional on-premise solutions. Hybrid solutions that combine the best of on-premise and hosted are emerging.
Hybrid cloud unified communications integrates cloud-based UC functionality with an on-premise device that supports advanced telephony capabilities primarily found in on-premise solutions. The multifunctional device, sometimes referred to as a service point, sits on premise and is a plug and play device similar to a set-top box. It is used to manage SIP devices such as desktop IP phones as well as distribute functionality.
The device provides:
- Telemetry tools for end-to-end visibility and proactive management on both the LAN and WAN enabling the highest level of quality and reliability. Having visibility down to the device on the LAN virtually eliminates cross-vendor finger pointing if problems arise.
- Advanced call handling and features such as paging that are technically difficult to deliver reliably via cloud.
- Distributed communication services using SIP trunks from multiple geographically dispersed carriers to create a cohesive multilocation solution with integrated numbering, voicemail and presence.
- Additional failover and redundancy capabilities including the ability to continue to use the phone system internally when external network connections are not available.
- SIP trunk termination without additional hardware. Organizations are choosing to run SIP trunks to the premise to consolidate traffic and to increase call quality, reliability, security and efficiency by maximizing the use of network capacity to drive down costs. With a service point, no additional hardware is needed for SIP trunk termination.
The opportunities for the channel are considerable with the hybrid UCaaS model.
First, this model helps channel partners easily move from an on-premise PBX reseller to reselling unified communications as a service with a recurring revenue model. Typically, a channel partner would earn an activation fee and a recurring monthly revenue stream through the life of the contract. This new model gives channel partners the stability of an ongoing predictable revenue stream as well as the opportunity to bundle network services for a complete turnkey solution.
Recently, the Dali Museum implemented a hybrid UCaaS solution to replace its 20+ year old legacy phone system. The museum is dedicated to increasing knowledge and awareness of Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali. The organization wanted to select a system that would improve customer service and provide worker flexibility with mobility features. They also have had problems with reliability and wanted to run SIP trunks directly to the premise.
The museum selected a solution from a hybrid UCaaS vendor and their network services channel partner, a cable systems operator in the U.S., to provide a combined solution of voice and data services running over the partner’s fiber network. The hybrid UC solution’s service point is able to terminate SIP without any additional SIP to TDM conversion equipment further lowering TCO.
“We evaluated several large and small companies that either offered locally or remotely hosted systems before selecting a hybrid solution. The solution offered the best package in terms of cost, setup, equipment and service," said Eric Crispen, director of information technology for Dali Museum. “The lack of downtime and issues since we have installed the new has enabled us to feel secure in our telecom system, so we can solve other issues within the museum, saving us valuable time and manpower."
Second, reliability is an ongoing concern with a pure hosted UCaaS solution. Epizyme recently replaced its hosted VoIP system with a hybrid UCaaS because calls were frequently dropped, words would fade in and out, and the problem could never be resolved. This is a common complaint with pure hosted solutions because there is no ability to assess the entire network - LAN, access connection, or upstream carrier for call quality and to diagnose the problem. This has resulted in finger pointing among the vendors and lingering issues that cannot be diagnosed and corrected.
The company selected a hybrid UCaaS vendor that had partnered with a channel partner that sold SIP trunks, to increase call quality, performance, simplify administration and future-proof by running SIP trunks to the premise so that they could take advantage of video and other new applications as they become available.
“Prior to installing a hybrid solution, we couldn’t rely on the phone service," said Kevin Kaeding, senior systems administration for Epizyme. “We wanted a VoIP solution that was reliable and easy to administer."
Third, with hybrid UCaaS, channel partners tend to increase profitability. Intelliphone, a voice and data solutions reseller had been looking for an alternative to deploying and managing PBXs at customer locations. Intelliphone President Chuck Garabedian explained, “Hardware margins are eroding, and larger PBX manufacturers are taking deals directly and squeezing out independent dealers. IP voice services tend to have a Web-based interface, eliminating the traditional key profit centers of adds, moves and changes, and once you sell an IP PBX solution there’s no more money to be made. Customers beat us up on price and are hesitant to pay for our services, which drives down our margins."
Frustrated by the eroding margins, Garabedian evaluated alternatives and selected to resell a fully managed hybrid UCaaS solution. “I initially considered hosted services and researched them carefully, but I couldn’t figure out a win-win situation for our company," he said. “The hosted services can’t monitor the access link or the customer premises activity, so I knew that any interconnect companies carrying them would be blamed for call quality issues and services outages that the interconnect companies could do nothing about anyway. My customers don’t want to deal with multiple vendors and our managed hybrid UCaaS vendor takes full responsibility for the end-to-end service as well as for the phones. As a result, I can run at a much higher profit level."
Last but not least, UCaaS gives the channel a strategic stronghold within an account. Business communications are the life blood of any SMB. Paul Faircloth, owner of Mosquito Creek Outfitters, a retail store providing quality outdoor gear and apparel to cater to the outdoor enthusiast lifestyle, sums it up best: “Before we deployed our hybrid cloud UCaaS solution we lost an average of $20,000 a day when the VoIP phone system was down, including irreparable damage to customer relations and reputation, which are priceless."
Chris Daly, chief revenue officer of Whaleback Managed Services , brings more than 30 years of multidisciplined telecom executive experience to his position leading the company's sales, marketing and business development efforts. He was most recently at CMO at Atlantic Broadband and before that was COO at Horizon Servicos Digitais.
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