The Near Term Success of UC Depends on the Channel
Yes there are successful UC resellers, VARs, and system integrators out there, but they are few and far between.
Over the past 4 years the communication vendors have been evolving their products and business models to address the Unified Communications (UC) market. And, as in the past, the critical element required to make the vendors and the market successful is not where it needs to be.I'm talking about the channel. Yes there are successful UC resellers, VARs, and system integrators out there, but they are few and far between.
If you look at the success stories touted by the major vendors, you see a handful of channel partners--but only a handful. And, if you look at many of those partners, you will see there are not many people in their organizations that understand and can deliver UC solutions. Some of the big name customers whom the vendors bring on stage at industry events have had to change channel partners because the partner that was handpicked by the vendor did not meet expectations.
The challenge of new technology and associated products waiting for a channel to evolve is nothing new. The communications industry has gone through three of these cycles over the past 20 years, starting with CTI, when resellers needed to understand how to link telephone systems and computer systems together. During this time, a small group of those early channel partners formed an association and appropriately called themselves the "CT Pioneers". They took the "arrows in the back" for the industry as they delivered solutions that required a new level of integration.
In the late '90s, a new layer of complexity--data networks--was added that the channel needed to accommodate, as IP PBXs took center stage. When Cisco acquired Selsius, it planned on leveraging Selsius' existing reseller base. Cisco soon found out that the resellers were not achieving the anticipated results, so the company swung its attention to telephony dealers, and while there was some improvement, sales still did not meet expectations. Over the next few years, Cisco developed programs and provided incentives to help make its resellers successful.
In today's UC environment, there are several new layers of complexity--desktop applications, integrating communications into business processes, and integrating communications silos. While the last item seems to be disappearing as the vendors provide integrated solutions, actually this puts even more pressure on the reseller, who must support new, possibly unfamiliar technology (e.g. an e-mail VAR supporting video, or vice versa).
There are many resellers that are slow to join the "real" UC market. They sell products that are branded as UC, but are nothing more than an IP PBX. For the UC market to be successful, the resellers will have to embrace UC and the new layers of complexity that go with it. Failing that, resellers will see declining revenues, as telephony prices decline, and declining margins as the IP PBX is commoditized.
The vendors who will be UC market leaders are those that can help the resellers make this migration from IP PBX selling to UC application design and implementation that will communications-enable business processes. It will take innovative programs, training, and support from the vendors to help their channel partners prosper. It will be interesting to see which vendors are up for the task.Yes there are successful UC resellers, VARs, and system integrators out there, but they are few and far between.