The coming year will feature more communications-industry M&A, while carriers and suppliers make more tools and services available to partners.
Those were the key messages out of the PlanetOne Telecom Tour event held on Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz. As part of its final road show stop of the year, PlanetOne hosted agents in its own backyard, rounding up 11 channel chiefs to talk about their companies and what partners can expect in 2013. The participants were Windstream's Jeff Howe; CenturyLink's Blake Wetzel; Telesphere's Clark Peterson; EarthLink's J.R. Cook; XO's Shane McNamara; Masergy's Chuck Ward; MegaPath's Jeffrey Pearl; Ernest Communications' David D'Antonio; tw telecom's Dale Kammerich; Level 3's Michael Jerich; and PGi's Dan Papa.
The overall theme? Change is in store.
To that point, M&A remains front and center in the channel. EarthLink's Cook said to anticipate more deals "like we've seen in 2012" — so, look for additional data center- and cloud-focused transactions. At the same time, expect the channel chiefs whose companies are engaging in M&A to keep hammering the importance of the channel. This is happening at CenturyLink, where maintaining an indirect-friendly culture is a top concern. Wetzel noted that not all of the firms his company has snapped up appreciate the channel; teaching them about the value of partners takes time and patience.
"It's just a constant education process," he said.
CenturyLink has been among the busiest buyers in the communications industry over the past couple of years. And providers' M&A appetite doesn't appear to be fading. When asked if their companies are in acquisition mode, eight of the 11 channel chiefs raised their hands. The representatives from Level 3, tw telecom and Ernest Communications abstained.
M&A isn't all that partners can expect from their vendors in 2013. Several suppliers are deploying or beefing up automation, an important – and, many would say, overdue – capability. The most significant activity is coming from XO and Ernest. At XO, the impetus is sales. The provider wants channel partners to bring in 50 percent of total revenue in 2013; to help partners achieve that goal, it's rolling out a quote-and-order platform. As such, the tool's first two functions, quoting and contract, will be available in December. Then, the ability to place and track orders should be ready not long after.
XO is "doubling down," said McNamara.
Meanwhile, Ernest has been rebuilding its back-office platform. The new one, based on Salesforce.com, soon will launch with features including mobile access for agents. Indeed, mobility will play a big role in suppliers' interaction with partners starting in 2013. PGi, for example, has new apps for its products, as do Telesphere and MegaPath.
Other automation improvements are taking place at CenturyLink, Windstream and Level 3, the respective chiefs said.
Looking for more? Please click here for our video of the PlanetOne event.