From the biggest boardrooms in corporate America to the smallest privately held companies; across health care and financial services, manufacturing, retail and all industries in between; whether it’s the CEO or the director of IT, the message for value-added resellers is loud and clear: Help me take costs out of my business or show me how to grow revenue.
Value-added resellers have been doing this for years. Convergent technologies -products and services that unite telephony and VoIP networks with data products and services such as e-mail, database and customer relationship management applications -simply give resellers a whole new platform with which to do this. It’s no longer just the voice network and its applications, or the data network and its applications. It is a brave new network with endless possibilities.
In recent months, some of the world’s largest corporations -Bank of America and Ford Motor Co., to name two -announced plans to replace legacy communications systems with new IP-based phones and networks.
Reasons cited for this shift include the ability to reduce network costs; make it easier to complete employee adds, moves and changes; and to provide their workers with more feature-rich communications systems.
But the benefits of convergence are not just for the big boys. Convergent technologies are changing the way even the smallest businesses look at their communications. It is leveling the playing field between small companies and larger competitors, allowing any organization to take advantage of the cost savings and productivity improvements.
By embracing convergent technologies, organizations gain enormous flexibility to manage voice and data networks together, administer the combined networks through familiar interfaces, and add features at the server and desktop level. They can expand into more markets without adding a lot of overhead. They can change their business models of how and when they communicate with their customers. They no longer need to be at a desk from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can do business from anywhere at any time without sacrificing the productivity tools they’ve come to rely on in the office. They can control telephony operations in ways that were not previously possible.
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A recent survey sponsored by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) and conducted by IDC suggests that the move to converged applications is good news for value-added resellers and solutions providers. The survey of North American executives with responsibilities for purchasing voice and data products and technologies found that they have a strong preference to purchase converged applications from value-added solutions providers and resellers. This is due in large part to the comfort level they have with their trusted resellers, developed over years of good advice and service. Resellers can leverage their solid, stable relationships with customers and emphasize the quality of their services rather than the prices of the products.
The executives surveyed by CompTIA and IDC also view converged products and services as ‘transitional”bridging hardware-centric and applications-centric solutions -that will require reliable guidance from trusted business partners. By building stable CPE solutions that provide centralized management value-added resellers can help their customers easily transition from single applications to converged applications.
Finally, a majority of large organizations expect converged applications to be composed of products from many different vendors. This is good news for solution providers who sell, service and integrate products from multiple vendors. They can capitalize on buyer preferences for single-vendor accounts.
The CompTIA/IDC research also indicates, that resellers must be attuned to subtle changes in the buying triggers for converged applications.
Corporate buyers are no longer content simply to spend money on a product that’s better than last year’s model. They must be able to demonstrate to executive management that a purchase will either lead to cost savings, or deliver productivity gains with a short-term -in many instances less than six months -payback on the investment.
The reseller’s ability to convey the of value of converged applications -benefits to business applications, money saved over time, quick return on investment -is critical to positioning and selling these solutions.
The move toward converged applications also is resulting in a shift of responsibility for making buying decisions. The influence of the corporate telephony department is on the wane. IT departments are playing a bigger role in setting communications strategies and making purchasing decisions as organizations move toward deployment of more converged voice and data applications.
‘Power decisions’ are coming from the IT department. More than four out of five organizations (82 percent) said the telephony departments that were once standalone entities now report to someone with IT in his or her job title. Many large purchases are now vetted and acted upon by a committee consisting of both business and IT managers and end users. This reflects a growing trend among organizations to more closely link business objectives and IT objectives. So while telephony is not going away, the corporate telephony department may.
Convergence will continue to impact communications in such a way that all we have to do is to think of a new way to do things and the technology will support it. Technologies coming together to solve our business and life style challenges; but more importantly, letting us find whole new ways of doing things. Unified messaging, voice over IP, find-me technology, speech access, video phones, Web conferencing, and on and on.
Jeff Myers, is vice president of sales for Axess Communications in Littleton, Colo., and a member of the Convergence Group advisory council for the Computing Technology Industry Association.