A New UC Channel is Emerging
Advice for prospective vendors and channel partners as they reach a crossroads.
The UC channel is at a crossroads. One path is very complex, the other is very simple, and different types of channel companies will pursue the two different paths.
The complex path is for solution integrators (resellers, VARs, system integrators, etc.) that have evolved over the past 20+ years. In the early 1990s, these SIs had to learn how to integrate computer and telephone systems (CTI). In the late 1990s, they had to add VoIP and data networking to their knowledge base (IP-PBX). In the mid 2000s they had to add desktop applications and business process automation to the mix (UC). The future for these SIs looks to get even more complicated with the consumerization of IT, bring your own device (BYOD), mobile solutions, analytics, cloud, virtualization, etc.
At the UC Summit in La Jolla, CA, last May, we saw an early indicator that this channel is preparing for the challenges ahead. The attendees all appeared to have plans, or were working on plans, for how they will sell and support the new products and technologies that the vendors will be delivering in the near future. (However, I should note that the UC Summit is an invitation-only event and the attendees tend to be channel leaders, so it's not a representation of the broad mix of resellers out there.)
The other path, the easy path, brings back several memories. If you look at history, every time a new channel was needed, it somehow developed. When the FCC made the Carterfone Decision in 1968, intercom and paging companies evolved into the first interconnect companies. Later, a group known as trunkers emerged to deliver low-end solutions to the market. When RBOCs started selling Centrex, their solutions were sold by a new type of reseller that acted as agents for the RBOCs. All of the products sold by these channel companies were very simple compared to the products sold by today's SIs.
The introduction of cloud and hosted services is creating an opportunity for a new channel. The vendors for these products have invested heavily to make them easy to configure, install, maintain, manage and service. Most have pricing models that make them easy to purchase.
Some vendors think they are so easy to install and maintain that they try to sell them directly through a sales portal. My advice for these vendors is: To maximize your opportunity, you need a channel. Some of you get caught up in your own product promotion and forget that not everything is in the cloud. Customers need CPE, and SMB customers need someone to act as their IT department. You need channel partners.
It is easy to look back and see how the channel evolved. It is more difficult to see where and how a new channel might come to be. When looking at what characteristics a channel partner may need to succeed in the emerging cloud market, you find qualities similar to those of the agents that sold RBOC Centrex service. Their business model supported monthly annuity income from sales, as opposed to the big paydays most SIs have become accustomed to.
My advice for the channel partner is: To maximize your opportunity and differentiate yourself from the competition, you need to become your customer's IT department. For the SMB market, this may be as simple as supporting wireless and wired networks and the cloud service you are selling. For the SME market, you will need to help your customer integrate communications into their business processes. A vertical market approach can help simplify this process.