**Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of profiles featuring Channel Partners advisory board members. Meet Levinson and the rest of the board by attending Cloud Partners, a Channel Partners event, this fall in Boston. Register here.**
VoIP. Those letters describe a service provided by Vic Levinson’s company, but he forbids his employees from using the acronym. His beef: It confuses customers.
“We have always been an industry of people that love our acronyms …” the Prime Telecommunications president said. “My purpose in this business is to help people communicate. And the most important method of communication is not only to be understood; it’s to not be misunderstood.”
Levinson says when end users repeatedly invoke the acronym, it’s generally a sign of cluelessness. He says they often simplify voice-over-IP to a Vonage or magicJack product that’s installed on a computer. But in fact, it’s much more complex.
“They don’t understand that voice-over-IP means the way we transmit the voice as packets over a network … [and] requires things like prioritization and quality of service …” he said. “When somebody just goes and says, ‘I love VoIP,’ or, ‘I hate VoIP,’ or, ‘I need VoIP,’ what are they really taking about? What is it they really want?”
The Chicago businessman touts the importance of getting past the telecom industry’s “alphabet soup” of acronyms. QoS (quality of service) and SLA (service-level agreement) also make his list of ambiguous abbreviations. As Levinson puts it, the mark of a true expert is the ability to explain something like VoIP to even a technologically confused layman.
“It can be summed up in a word: educate, educate, educate,” Levinson said.
For years, Prime Telecommunications considered itself a voice specialist, but Levinson says the expertise of the company is expanding. Now, he says, voice is just “another application on the network.”
“For many years, we were only concerned with the voice and the voice access, and the majority of our technicians – the majority of our staff – were very adept at working on the voice side of the house, and that was where we focused our attention,” he said. “Now, it’s all about the network.”
The company’s branding has also shifted along with its area of expertise. Whereas Prime Telecommunications formerly called itself a “traditional voice VAR legacy interconnect,” Levinson now calls his group “technology solutions professionals.” Their approach reflects a time of convergence in the services and products telecom and IT companies offer. IT VARs, managed print-services companies and video-surveillance businesses previously “played nicely in the same sandbox,” but IT, voice and video are …
… no longer segregated.
And it’s not just product portfolios that have changed.
“MSPs are VARs. VARs are MSPs. Manufacturers are into the services end of things,” Levinson said. “Labeling what it is that you do exactly – it [has] become just a confusing environment.”
Levinson speaks highly of community; his career history suggests that he’s one to grow roots. His time with Prime Telecommunications since its inception numbers 22 years, and he’s working in his birthplace – the Windy City. His clientele has included thousands of businesses from the greater Chicago area, ranging from small enterprises to multi-state companies.
“The vendors that we’ve chosen to work with all have a local presence in the Chicago market – a facilities-based presence,” he said. “If they don’t have a facilities-based presence in Chicago, chances are we won’t deal with them.”
Levinson grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and stayed there for college at Northwestern University. After getting his MBA from Boston University and working jobs selling computer systems and refurbishing telecommunications equipment, he found himself “enamored with voice” and started Prime Telecommunications in Chicago. That was in the early ‘90s, during an era that Levinson says highly prized the medallions you earned from manufacturers.
“Back in the day, it was a question of pushing out equipment,” he said. “[But] the challenge has always been, ‘How do you integrate the best and most reliable sources of hardware and connectivity services for your clients?’ And that was how we based our business.”
For those looking to emulate the longevity Levinson has found at Prime, he recommends what he calls a triple-decker sandwich: tenacity, core values and the ability to adapt. The underlying philosophy is to pursue the best interests of every party involved in a deal and establish meaningful relationships with clients.
“We’re into providing them with technology that can adapt to the changing environment that is both modular in its approach and that can constantly be updated to provide our end users with absolutely the most resilient solution they can have in a very changing climate.”