article

Collaborative: Channel News

Posted: 8/2003

Channel News

Study: Channels Offer Edge for
Video Conferencing Vendors

Video conferencing systems vendors
are fine-tuning their distribution strategies to focus on "selective
distribution." This aims to provide more profitable business opportunities
to channel partners and higher levels of service to end-users.

New analysis from Frost &
Sullivan, "U.S. Videoconferencing Systems Market: A Strategic Analysis of
Distribution Channels," provides a comprehensive overview of distribution
channels and vendors’ go-to-market strategies.

"The demand for video
conferencing products has not picked up due to a sluggish economy, resulting in
too many channel partners chasing too few customers," says Frost &
Sullivan analyst Roopam Jain.

Consequently, he says, bidding
processes have become extremely competitive. The over-saturation experienced in
recent quarters has instigated heightened competitive pressures, leading to
downward pricing and erosion in margins and profitability.

Vendors now are working to improve
the profitability of their channel partners and their survival, he says. The
model is shifting from the "buy-hold-sell" model to
"sell-source-ship" model, signifying lower risk and financial burden
on the channel, letting them focus on their core competencies

"Vendors and channel partners
need to think outside the box and offer valuable business solutions. Customers
are not interested in video conferencing technology itself but rather in
technology-based solutions that can enhance their businesses and offer cost
savings. The development of an application sales approach is important and will
serve as a competitive differentiator as the technology continues to
mature," Jain says.

While the tough market is
challenging, it also provides opportunities for vendors and channel partners to
offer a consultative approach to develop, deploy and support collaborative
applications for customers.

"To be successful in the
market, vendors and their distribution partners must address primary issues such
as ease-of-use, reliability and cost-efficiency, which have impeded the adoption
of video conferencing technologies so far," Jain concludes.

Raindance Helps Resellers with
Back Office

By Khali Henderson

Raindance Communications Inc. is
helping its exclusive resellers address the challenges of running their back
offices by offering them access to a software program designed especially for
conferencing resellers, at no charge.

The software, based on that
developed by InterAct, a reseller acquired last year by Raindance, has been
retrofitted for adoption by other companies. Carolyn Bradfield, senior vice
president of sales and marketing for Raindance and the former president of
InterAct, says the software originally was built for InterAct by a third-party
developer.

"The concept we are trying to
get to is reseller in a box," Bradfield says. The application manages
billing, accounts receivable/past due, fulfillment as well as daily reporting of
customer activity, she explains. It is set up to take information from Raindance
on a daily basis for both reporting and billing, Bradfield says. The application
is scalable and can be enhanced or modified with published APIs.

Bradfield says one of Raindance’s
reseller partners told her it takes two days to bill its customers. With the new
application, it takes only two hours, she says, noting the potential savings in
personnel resources.

The program was made available in
June and will be rolled out to current resellers first, and then offered to new
partners, Bradfield says. The program has been tested and used by two of the
company’s resellers, she adds.

Global Crossing Rolls Out New
Wholesale Offers

By Tara Seals

Staying true to its name, Global
Crossing Ltd. has made it a priority this year to roll out new conferencing
services, with a special focus on the international market and on resellers.

In the third quarter the company
will announce a new, all-IP video conferencing application, available on a
wholesale basis. The service will run on the carrier’s 200-city, 37-country
private IP backbone, thus offering quality guarantees. It specifically addresses
problems with international collaboration.

"The typical problem is that
most video conferencing runs on ISDN," explains Neil Barua, general manager
for conferencing in Europe and Asia. "You get huge degradation on
international ISDN routes, ghosting, freezing — no one wants to watch stutter.
Hence, the uptake has been slow."

Barua says European interest has
been promising.

This announcement will be the latest
in a series of new conferencing initiatives. In the spring, the carrier added
integrated Web conferencing to its Ready-Access audio service. The on-demand
service, branded for the reseller, allows users to dial in to the Web meeting
using the same permanent numbers and pass codes they use for the audio portion,
in order to share slide presentations and images online. The visuals also can be
recorded in synchronization with the audio portion for later playback.

"This is a simple to use
interface, which is great for the reseller because they don’t want to be bogged
down in tech support and complex user experiences," says Kim Kenney,
director of product management. "This fits right into their product
portfolio, is universally applicable and offers great margins."

Global Crossing also announced
recently the Global 800 service, targeted at multinational corporations, which
offers a toll-free access number for each country. Participants dial in, and the
traffic then is backhauled to the carrier’s North American pool of ports, so
each participant ends up on the same bridge regardless of location, meaning that
everyone has the same commands and the same automated voice prompts, and it
allows central billing. In tandem, a call center has been established in
Montreal with reseller-branded customer care and in-language support. The
average customer service rep speaks 3.7 languages, says Kenney. The carrier also
is trialing a version of its Global 800 service in the United Kingdom that uses
voice over IP.

"We’ve put $20 billion into our
network," says Barua. "There aren’t many conferencing providers that
are carrier class. We’re going to use our backbone."

Global Crossing also will soon
announce a deal with the largest fixed line carrier in Hong Kong for its Global
800 service, which will be re-branded as "One Touch Conferencing."
Global Crossing will provide all the sales force training and back-office
support necessary for the carrier to sell the service effectively.

A particularly hot wholesale market
is the Asia-Pacific area, says Barua. "Because SARS happened, people are
now looking at conferencing offers to make sure that if something happens that
prevents them from getting to the office, they can still do business. It’s like
the disaster recovery mentality in the U.S. after 9/11."

In the second quarter, Global
Crossing saw its conferencing revenue in the region jump about 78 percent over
the first quarter. "Our conferencing products are really kick-starting our
reseller efforts," says Kenney. "We’re focusing this year on offering
good solutions they can leverage."

Swedish Manufacturer Taps
Channels for N.A. Rollout

By Khali Henderson

Sweden-based Konftel, a maker of
VoIP-functional conference room, desktop and mobile conference phones, is
developing a distributor/dealer network to support the commercial launch of its
U.S. and Canadian subsidiary, Konftel North America. The company planned to
begin shipping products to the channel in July.

Founded in 1988, Konftel’s products
are distributed in about 20 countries, and the company develops for other
brands, such as Ericsson, Telstra and Tenovis.

Konftel offers three products for
the conference room — Konftel 100, 200 and 200/NI — and one, Konftel 50, for
the desktop. The Konftel 100 is designed for smaller meeting rooms. The 200 and
200/NI are better for larger rooms because they can be equipped with expansion
microphones and a remote control. The 100 and 200 connect to analog lines and
the 200NI also connects to digital (ISDN) lines. The Konftel 50 is designed for
SOHO, enterprise and desktop settings. The unit connects to any IP phones, PCs,
cordless or mobile phones through the customary headset jack to offer clear
hands-free conversation.

Ralph Anaforian, vice president of
Konftel North America, tells PHONE+ the company plans to sign six master
distributors in North America. It already has named three, including Communitech
Inc., Quagga LLC and GBH Communications Inc. These companies will control the
pipeline to the dealers, managing the sales support. Konftel will provide tech
support directly.

Anaforian says the United States is
a particularly important new market for Konftel, citing statistics that show 70
percent of global business flows through the country. He says the company hopes
to replicate its success in Europe where the company claims 15 percent of the
market.

"We want to give them a choice
in a one-player market," he says, referring to the dominance of competitor
Polycom Inc. Konftel’s pitch is a lower price range — ranging from $399 for the
50 and 100 models to $749 for the full-blown 200 model with expansion
microphones and remote control. Partners can expect to earn about 40 percent on
the sale.

"We are trying to get
[partners’] attention with a profitable item, but there are others out there
that are profitable, but performance-wise, they haven’t done so well,"
Anaforian says. He says Konftel has patents on its OmniSound technology, which
uses a single, multidirectional microphone and three speakers, enabling and
projecting audio on both ends of the call. In contrast, most others use three-
directional microphones and one speaker. Konftel’s approach, he says, avoids
problems with gating and echoing.

Click to Meet Express 2.0
Available to Channel

By Khali Henderson

First Virtual Communications
announced in late spring the release of its newest version of its Click to Meet
Express premise-based Web-conferencing solution. The server-based software
platform is sold to service providers and to end users directly or through the
company’s channel partners.

Bob Romano, vice president of
marketing, says some of the enhancements to the platform are as a result of its
service provider customers seeking greater scalability. For example, concurrent
user licenses now are available in four-, 10-, 25-, 50-, 75- and 100-port
configurations. Prices range from $1,460 to $1,850 per port. In addition, he
says, larger deployments now are possible by linking multiple servers together
in a distributed topology.

FVC channel partners return margins
of 30 percent to more than 40 percent depending on their volume commitments.
Service providers also can purchase the software license at a discount off
retail.

Romano adds that the company has
"done stuff under the covers" to make it easier for the platform to be
customized for a particular use (e.g., distance learning) or localized for a
particular geography/language.

Another key upgrade is on the
content management side, he adds. Each user has a directory with document
preloaded into the system so that they can easily flip back and forth between
them. This also enables participants to download the presentation after the
meeting instead of waiting for it to be emailed to them later.

Among the other enhancements to the
platform is Microsoft Windows Messenger integration to make creating conferences
or inviting people into a conference possible during an instant messaging
session. And, using the Click to Meet Conference Client through their Web
browser, users choose from a selection of customizable "skins" for
personal control of their conferencing environment.

ClearOne Unveils Expandable
Tabletop, Wireless Conferencing Phones

By Tara Seals

ClearOne Communications Inc. has
introduced Max EX, an expandable tabletop conferencing phone with the audio
quality of an installed system, and Max Wireless, a portable conferencing phone
that combines audio wireless functionality from Arkon Technologies Inc., a
developer of wireless digital telephone technologies. Both are available via its
channel of dealers and distributors.

Both phones offer audio processing,
full-duplex performance, distributed echo cancellation and noise cancellation.
They also feature 360-degree microphone coverage to ensure all participants can
be heard and one-touch conferencing, so users can access a conferencing services
operator who can connect an unlimited number of participants to a call. There
also is a speed dial that stores 10 frequently dialed numbers and recording
output on base unit, which connects to a recording device to capture both sides
of the conversation.

Max EX links up to four complete
phones, instead of just adding microphones for use in larger rooms. The company
says this provides even distribution of microphones, loudspeakers and controls
for better sound quality and user access.

Max EX units can be combined or
separated as needed to match a wide variety of room sizes and configurations,
from small conference rooms or executive offices to large boardrooms or training
rooms. Other Max EX features include automatic level control, which keeps
participants voices audio-balanced and consistent, and first microphone
priority, which eliminates hollow "tunnel" sound by activating only
the microphone closest to the person speaking.

Max Wireless has a 150-foot wireless
signal range so companies can use it in several rooms without moving the base
station, and an eight-hour talk time allows participants to conduct longer
conference calls without recharging the battery. The ClearOne phones will be
available this month. Suggested North American retail price for Max EX is $549
per unit; Max Wireless is $699 per unit.

Arkon, ClearOne’s development
partner, will distribute its own wireless conferencing phone based on the same
technology as Max Wireless. It will be sold through retail channels under the
brand name Olympia and through various other private-label agreements.

Sonexis Expands Channel

Sonexis Inc. is expanding its sales
channel and has released a new conferencing product.

To support sales of the Sonexis
ConferenceManager audio and Web conferencing system nationwide, the firm
expanded its VAR network by 60 percent by enlisting an additional 30 VARs. As a
result, the firm now has about 80 VARs across the United States, which represent
about 200 sales representatives.

The company also expanded its
enterprise account management team to improve service to large enterprise
accounts.

In other news, Sonexis began
shipping ConferenceManager 3.0 in May. The enhanced system introduces SIP
support, in addition to H.323 and TAPI.WAV standards already available. Adding
SIP enables Sonexis ConferenceManager to integrate with IP-based PBXs, VoIP
Gateways and desktop applications. Sonexis ConferenceManager 3.0 also offers new
Web conferencing enhancements, including application-viewing capabilities that
allow conference hosts to demonstrate any software application during a
conference, regardless of the participants’ desktop applications.

Expertcity Adds DesktopStreaming
to Channel Program

Expertcity Inc. announces it will
extend its channel partner program to include Desktop-Streaming, a secure
solution for remote assistance and IT support that is Web-based and uses
screen-sharing technology.

"Progressive solution providers
and direct resellers are realizing the value of integrating real-time
communications, support, collaboration and training solutions into their
services to increase return on investment and significantly increase customer
loyalty," says Shannon Jessup, director of channel partner programs at
Expertcity. "With DesktopStreaming, our partners have a productivity
solution that maximizes their customers’ return on investment and customer
satisfaction."

"DesktopStreaming provides the
ideal complement to Expertcity’s remote-access solution, GoToMyPC Corporate,
enabling us to administer a complete end-to-end Web-based remote-management
solution that greatly enhances the end-user experience," says Pardeep
Dhupar, president and CEO of RedOp Solutions, an Expertcity channel partner.
"We are seeing strong customer demand, and it’s exciting to work with our
customers to lead them through the optimization of their infrastructure."

Expertcity’s channel partner program
offers a three-tiered model for solution providers and resellers. Large
resellers that handle their own pre- and post-sales support and back-end
processes, such as billing, will receive a commission of 30 percent for an
annual contract. Resellers relying on Expertcity for back-end support will
receive a 20 percent commission, and referral partners will receive a commission
of 10 percent when Expertcity closes the sale.

SpeakEasy Launches

SpeakSpace Inc. has rolled out
integrated voice and Web conferencing offering called SpeakEasy, available
through the company’s resellers.

SpeakEasy was designed for ease of
use, and operates across a range of participant connection speeds, including
dial-up. "With so many Web-conferencing options out there, SpeakEasy is
giving us a competitive advantage because of its capability for user-friendly,
robust data collaboration and application sharing that works well at any
connection speed," says Thomas Behan, president of SpeakSpace.

SpeakSpace offers customers one
inclusive bill and one source of customer support for both voice and data
conferencing services. While a benefit for customers, this also helps SpeakSpace
streamline management resources and operating costs, says Behan.

Application sharing is a key
component in the new offering. Building data collaboration into the service
offering has allowed SpeakSpace to be more competitive in a crowded market
space, it says. With the new application in place, SpeakSpace can target a wider
range of potential customers, including product and software developers,
technical support staff and crisis management professionals, who need real-time
application and desktop sharing.

Raindance Packages Professional
Services

Raindance Communications Inc. has
packaged its professional services for users of its Web Conferencing Pro Seminar
technology. While Raindance always has provided professional services, this is
the first time it has offered a formal service, which rolled out in June. It was
to be made available through channels in July.

Raindance Web Conferencing Pro
Seminar is an online conferencing solution with expanded planning and scheduling
tools designed for one-to-many presentations with internal or external
participants. While Raindance’s technology gives users tools to reduce the time
spent handling activities associated with an online seminar, sometimes users
require additional help with marketing or content development, explains Carolyn
Bradfield, senior vice president of sales and marketing. High-profile online
events can involve extensive planning, management and follow up.

Raindance addresses these
requirements with three levels of service: Under the Premium option, Raindance
manages and coordinates all pre-event activities, assists with content
repurposing, customizes registration pages, conducts product training, attends a
rehearsal, attends the live event, provides live technical support, manages
post-event wrap up and customizes recording options.

Under the Advanced option, Raindance
coordinates all pre-event activities, manages registration, conducts product
training, attends a rehearsal, attends the live event, provides live technical
support and coordinates post-event wrap up.

Under the Basic plan, Raindance
assist in coordination of seminar functions, conducts product training, attends
a rehearsal, attends the live event and assists with post-event wrap up.

Verio Offers Cybozu’s
Collaboration Suite

NTT/Verio Inc. will offer Cybozu
Corp.’s Share360 Collaboration Suite to its small to medium-sized business (SMB)
customers under the company’s Shared and VPS Web-hosting plans on FreeBSD. Verio
says it hosts about half a million sites in 146 countries.

Centrally managed on a Web server
under Verio’s shared Web-hosting platform, the Share360 Collaboration Suite is a
portfolio of Web-based collaboration applications that provide ready-to-run
Intranet solutions. Share360 integrates 12 productivity and communication
applications that allow groups to access information remotely, such as e-mail,
schedules, contacts, announcements, shared files, company forms and projects.
The product runs on FreeBSD, an operating system derived from BSD UNIX.

Verio is offering Share360 to SMBs
at no cost for 60 days after a customer signs up for the service. After the
60-day free trial, Share360 is offered in two packages: Share360 Standard and
Share360 Complete. The applications can be complemented with Share360 Sync for
Palm OSR or Sync for Pocket PC. Cost of the Share360 Standard suite starts at
$898. This is a one-time fee.

Leader Technologies Inc. is in a
soft launch of its partner program for its new collaboration technology,
Leader2Leader.

CEO Mike McKibben says the company
is seeking indirect sales partners from among systems integrators, professional
services firms, CLECs and ILECs. The program is set up for commissioned sales,
but may be expanded to include co-branding and rebranding for high-volume
partners, he says.

Leader ‘Soft Launches’ Partner
Program

By Khali Henderson

Leader2Leader allows employees and
managers to organize their work product in the way that best suits their needs.
This includes voicemail, faxes, e-mail, documents, spreadsheets, conference
calls, calendars, video — whatever tools a business might use every day.
Licensing for the product is between $10 and $20 per month depending on the
features employed.

Commissions on the product range
from 2 percent to 5 percent for referrals to as much as 20 percent for agents.
The range is determined based on the split of support responsibilities between
the partner and Leader Technologies.

The company provides three tiers of
support for fielding general customer inquiries to more complex professional
services questions to technical support. It also provides comprehensive training
either in-person or via Web seminars using the company’s technology.

McKibben says the training involves
two tracks — one deals with how to sell it and the other how to use it. He says
there are as many as 15 modules on the product side and about five on the sales
side.

McKibben says the company already is
working with two partners — a systems integrator and a CLEC. Both are testing
the service. He expects a hard rollout of the partner program "will occur
once the early alliances have reached critical mass."

He adds the company will pursue its
existing base of partners already selling LeaderPhone, the company’s
conferencing service.

 

Links
Citizens Conferencing www.citizensconferencing.com
ClearOne Communications Inc. www.clearone.com
Communitech Inc. www.communitech.com
CyberBazaar Pvt. Ltd. www.cyberbazaarindia.com
Cybozu Corp. www.Share360.com
Expertcity Inc. www.gotomypc.com/var
First Virtual Communications www.fvc.com
Frost & Sullivan www.conferencing.frost.com
GBH Communications Inc www.gbh.com
Global Crossing Ltd. www.globalcrossing.com
Konftel North America www.konfteltech.com
Leader Technologies Inc. www.leader.com
Polycom Inc. www.polycom.com
Polycom Inc. www.polycom.com
Quagga LLC www.quagga.com
Raindance Communications Inc. www.raindance.com
Sonexis Inc. www.sonexis.com
SpeakSpace Inc. www.speakspace.com
Verio Inc. www.verio.com
WebEx Communications Inc. www.webex.com

 


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